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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1992


Senator MARTIN(4.32) —This afternoon the Senate is debating a very important subject brought before it as a matter of public importance by Senator Harradine; that is, the need for the Government to take further action to relieve the unfair and unnecessary burden of youth unemployment. It is not enough to wring one's hands about the subject of youth unemployment. The Government and the Opposition have said much on the subject, as has indeed Senator Harradine, on a number of occasions in the Senate. The fact is that the problems of youth unemployment in Australia are clearly entrenched, and there are signs that they could get worse. The solution to the problem is not simple and I would not claim, nor would anyone, to have the blueprint for the solution. However, the source of the problem is perceptible in a number of areas.

We will not make any progress on the problem, however, if we take Senator Grimes's starting point. Whilst I recognise that much of what Senator Grimes, as Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, said today was genuine, his starting point was false. It is a starting point on many issues with this Government. Senator Grimes said that the employment situation in Australia had improved for two reasons: First, the improvement in the economy as a result, he said, of the Hawke Government's policies and, secondly, Government policies directed to employment. The fact that the Government talks in that way is in itself concerning, because if it truly believes that it has brought about this turnaround in the economy-as it refers to it-as a result of its policies, the future is very bleak indeed. In debate on the Budget delivered in August this year Government spokesmen gave no recognition at all, in reference to economic factors of the last 12 to 18 months, to the effect of the breaking of the drought and of the Fraser Government's wage pause. It needs to be said again that the effect of the breaking of the drought, in particular, last year was to inject into the economy a source of revenue for the Government, for citizens and for the country which was a one-off factor. This year's Budget shows no recognition of that. It assumes that major factors such as that will continue. As long as the Government's policies are predicated on that basis the Government will lead itself and this country into error. That is very serious for a number of reasons.

When we look at the very difficult situation of youth unemployment in Australia as part of the general situation, we must have our feet on the ground. It will take more than wringing of hands about the subject; it will take a great deal of courage before this problem is properly addressed if, indeed, it ever is. Senator Grimes is correct when he says that government employment policies are necessarily short term. The sad thing is that there are no indications of any long term programs that the Government might have in mind. Of course, a Hawke Government Minister has already lamented the inability of the Government, particularly in its last Budget, to look at long term factors. It is my personal view that that Minister-the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) -has one of the most important portfolios in Australia today, particularly on the subject of employment and unemployment in the future.

There is reason to be deeply concerned about the subject of youth unemployment in Australia. Whilst there has been a welcome reduction in the unemployment rate the ratio of young people looking for full time jobs to adults looking for full time jobs has increased. In other words, the drop in unemployment, such as it is , has had least impact on the young. I do not intend to canvass this afternoon the reasons we ought to be concerned about youth unemployment in the detail in which some other speakers have canvassed them. The reasons for concern have been fully stated. I just want to express my own personal concern, which is long standing and on which I have made speeches on previous occasions here and elsewhere, at the effect on the future of this country of so many young men and women being unemployed. Those young people are the parents of the future. The standards that they will have learned and will convey to their own children will of course be much lower than we might have hoped for or expected in the past.

The community employment program and other government make work programs do not address the problem in any realistic way. They are convenient ways to soak up, in the short term, a number of the unemployed and to be able to say the unemployment rate has dropped. However, these sorts of government programs do not offer any long term solution. There is reason for concern beyond the fact that they are just short term programs. The jobs that have been created in the last 18 months in this country have been overwhelmingly in the public sector. The proportion of people in employment in Australia in the public sector, relative to the private sector, has risen very markedly. That is a sign of failure of economic policies. It is certainly not the indication of national economic growth that the Hawke Government keeps on claiming. If there were genuine, sound economic improvement and growth in this country, it would be showing far more strongly in the private sector. If we are to provide jobs simply by increasing the public sector, we all might as well pack up and go home . There will be, in the end, very high taxes, circulating back through the government sector. I know a Labor government does not see anything particularly wrong with this, but the fact is that even this Government's own Treasurer, Mr Keating, has said that we cannot have any real economic improvement without growth and that means growth in the private sector.

The short term programs, such as CEP, are doomed to be short term and they are doomed not to solve the problem. It has been pointed out that as of January of this year 81 per cent of CEP programs were in Australian Labor Party electorates . There is absolutely nothing to indicate that 81 per cent of the problem of unemployment, or even of youth unemployment, is in Labor electorates. Indeed, on the Gold Coast in Queensland, which has one of the highest youth unemployment rates, if not the highest youth unemployment rate in Australia, we have an electorate which is anything but a Labor electorate.


Senator Robert Ray —Soon to be solved.


Senator MARTIN —Senator Robert Ray says it is soon to be solved. I am really entertained by that. Yesterday the President of the Labor Party in Queensland said that he thought magic might win the seat of Moncrieff for the Labor Party. I am not surprised to hear that members of the social Left believe in magic, but that is what they will need to win any seats on the Gold Coast.


Senator Jones —Preferences have not been allocated yet.


Senator MARTIN —Now we also have somebody, not from the socialist Left, who believes in magic. As I was saying, 81 per cent of the community employment programs have been centred in ALP electorates, which makes one think, with just a dab of cynicism, that perhaps the thrust of that program under the Hawke Government is more directed to holding Labor seats than seeking a genuine solution of the problem.


Senator Robert Ray —Turn them into Labor electorates.


Senator MARTIN —Perhaps Senator Ray is correct. Perhaps the aim of the Government in concentrating employment programs in Labor electorates and not turning attention to non-Labor electorates is to persuade those electorates to vote Labor to get their share of the pork barrels.

The time that remains to me is short and so I will have to deal, only briefly, with some other important points. The matter of institutionalised unemployment, that is, as institutionalised in Labor Party policy, is a matter of deep concern . It is not the Opposition's view, despite what the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) today in Question Time attempted to portray, that the problems of youth unemployment centre entirely on youth wages. However, without doubt, it is a major factor. So long as the Labor Party cannot be realistic about its attitudes on industrial matters, so long as it is tied apparently irretrievably to certain attitudes on industrial matters, this aspect , this one cause-but I emphasise not the only cause of youth unemployment-will remain with us and youth unemployment will remain entrenched. I draw the Senate' s attention to the editorial of the Australian of 27 September which remarked on a report on the international economic outlook published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The editorial stated:

Its estimate--

that is, the report's estimate-

that the Australian youth unemployment rate will remain during next year at almost 15 per cent takes much of the joy out of the recovery which seems to have become evident in our economy.


Senator Peter Baume —I wonder who wrote that?


Senator MARTIN —We used to have some comments from Labor Party spokesmen when they were in not in government about who wrote reports. I have not heard them volunteering any comments on this report. The editorial continues:

In a reference which is clearly applicable to our situation, if not specifically directed towards Australia, the OECD draws attention to the effect of the inflexibility of labour markets and the downward rigidity of wages in causing the disparity between economic growth and employment growth. While there are obvious advantages, such as a reduction in industrial disputes, in the present ''consensus'' or ''accord'' between government, employers and unions, the report observes that--

quoting from the report-

''the solidarity upon which (consensus-type arrangements) rest may make it difficult to achieve simultaneously greater wage flexibility''.

It is that inflexibility which is a major factor in unemployment in Australia and undoubtedly also in youth unemployment. The Kirby report of the Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs has been referred to this afternoon in debate. It points out, importantly, that the increase in relativities of award wages for all juniors in the early to mid-1970s was undoubtedly a major factor. The report states:

Overseas studies generally show that youth employment falls as their wages rise relative to those of adults . . .

BLMR research has found the employment of young males and (in particular) young females falls with increases in their wages relative to those of adults.

They are facts. In the past governments have not had reports and statistics available to them in the form needed for those governments to formulate specific policies in those areas. We have all known what the effect of high wages for youth was, but now we have it in report form and it cannot be avoided.

Another factor without a doubt is penalty rates. The tourist industry world wide is a major employer of unskilled and low skilled people. It is a major employer, notably in the United States of America, of young workers. It is a good industry for them to start in but the penalty rates in the Australian tourist industry-which even this Government's Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) clearly does not like, are in themselves a disincentive to employers. It is the entrenched attitude in the Australian Labor Party which would quickly disown the tourist Minister, which cannot give one much hope for the future. As I said at the beginning of my speech we need long term programs. The Minister for Science and Technology, Mr Barry Jones, pointed out after the Budget how loath this Government is, unfortunately, to look at long term programs. If we are genuinely to take the sort of action that is necessary to relieve the burden of youth unemployment the Australian Government must face the facts, not be hide-bound by those institutionalised factors I have mentioned, and have the courage to face the obvious solutions.