Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 23 October 1984
Page: 2178


Senator HAMER(10.46) —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise in the Senate in the appropriation Bills debate the matter of youth unemployment. This has been discussed a number of times, most recently in a matter of public importance raised by Senator Harradine. I found that debate curiously disappointing. It was curious because Senator Harradine and the Government, represented by the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, appeared to agree on the problem but the Government firmly rejected every line of action that might have done something about it. At least they did agree on the problem, and it is a very serious one. Some 25 per cent of our 15- to 19-year-olds are unemployed, and it is quite untrue to say they are not looking for work. Overwhelmingly, they are very anxious to get work and very disturbed at their inability to do so.

Despite the improvement in the economy in the last 18 months-an improvement, I point out, that was caused by the breaking of the drought, the effect of the Fraser Government's wage pause and the upturn in the American economy, none of them anything to do with the present Government-the proportion of young people among the unemployed has risen over that period. This is a very serious worry. It causes among the young despair, frustration and alienation because they do want to work and they do not like the feeling of being rejected by society. Some of them take it out on society. Senator Harradine cited some interesting statistics on crime in the State of Tasmania. He showed that unemployed young persons proportionally commit far more offences than other young persons in their age group. For instance, 54 per cent of offences for breaking and entering by 15- to 19-year olds were committed by unemployed youths, 70 per cent of motor vehicle thefts, 60 per cent of drunkenness offences, 58 per cent of fraud cases, 50 per cent of shoplifting offences, and 48 per cent of assaults. These were committed by young unemployed people. This is a very serious long term concern for our society.

What does the Government offer? Senator Grimes feebly offers as a palliative the community employment program. Over $400m is being expended on make-work programs, job creation programs, in which the level of skill of young people is not being lifted and as a result of which they will not be more competitive in the labour market at the end of the subsidised job. In fact, they will not even have a job when the subsidy expires. At a seminar on job creation Dr Peter Scherer of the Australian Bureau of Labour Market Research said:

A job was only 'real' if it achieved something other than putting someone on the payroll . . .

Jobs which did not fulfil any function were despised by the community and could be counterproductive for those holding them if their work experience was discounted as meaningless by other employers.

One shire council has written to me referring to these types of jobs as rotating dole queues, and said they are actively harmful to the people concerned. About all the Government is prepared to offer is the CEP and a mish-mash of job training schemes. What it is doing cannot be taken seriously.

It is obvious why the Government is not doing much. The President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions said last year that 90 per cent of people were in jobs, and his job was to look after that 90 per cent. The Government sees its job as being to look after the ACTU and the accord with the ACTU which has institutionalised unemployment in this country. In particular, it has institutionalised unemployment among the young because no one is looking after unemployed youth. We must ask ourselves why so many young Australians are looking for work and, secondly, why so many are failing to find it. The answer to the first question is easy. We have a very low proportion of young people aged 15 to 19 in full time education; it is a very low level by international standards. On the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development table of 24 developed countries we rank seventeenth, with 44 per cent of our 15 to 19- year-olds in full time education. We are down among Greece, New Zealand, Italy and Spain. We sometimes console ourselves with the thought that this figure does not include apprentices. We have many apprentices. We do have some apprentices, but at any time their number is between 3 and 4 per cent of the 15 to 19-year- olds. That does not take us far up the table. We are still very low by international standards. Australia has 44 per cent of its 15 to 19-year-olds in full time education, compared with the United States which has 75 per cent and Japan which has 71.4 per cent. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing these comparative figures of education retention.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

1. United States 75.0 (1979) 2. Japan 71.4 (1979) 3. Switzerland 70.1 (1977) 4. Finland 68.5 (1979) 5. Netherlands 65.0 (1979) 6. Norway 65.0 (1979) 7. Canada 64.9 (1977) 8. Belgium 61.3 (1975) 9. Denmark 57.4 (1977) 10. Sweden 56 .3 (1976) 11. France 55.9 (1979) 12. Ireland 50.5 (1979) 13. United Kingdom 46.2 (1977) 14. Germany 45.4 (1978) 15. Greece 45.4 (1975) 16. New Zealand 44.8 (1977 ) 17. Australia 44.4 (1979) Italy 43.9 (1976) Spain 41.3 (1978) Luxembourg 37. 3 (1978) Portugal 33.4 (1976) Austria 32.0 (1977) Turkey 12.7 (1975) Iceland (Not Available)

(Source: OECD Observer, March 1982, page 30, and March 1983, page 26.)


Senator HAMER —It is very disturbing that only 40.6 per cent of young Australians complete the final year of high school. In America the figure is about 80 per cent and the term 'high school drop-out' is one almost of criticism of someone who has failed to take advantage of the opportunities offering. By the American terms, two-thirds of our young people are high school drop-outs. We cannot accept this with equanimity. The first question to ask ourselves is whether our school leaving age is too young. Are we allowing young people to leave school too early, thereby encouraging youth unemployment by putting more young people on the market than the market can absorb? The minimum school leaving age in Australian States is 15 throughout, except in the case of Tasmania where it is 16 or the completion of year 10 schooling. This might be compared with the figures in other countries. In the United Kingdom the school leaving age is 16; in Japan, 15; in Canada it varies from province to province but is usually 15 to 16; in West Germany, 18; France, 16; Italy, 14; and New Zealand, 15. I think there is a case for the Tasmanian approach. It is deplorable that people leave school before completing at least year 10 education . It would be up to the States, but a case can be made out-the Commonwealth provides funding-for the States to see that students do not leave school before the completion of or attempt at year 10.

It cannot be conclusively said that having a low school leaving age causes poor retention. Take, for example, Japan, which has the same school leaving age as Australia, 15 in each case, yet Japan has 71 per cent of its 15 to 19-year-olds in school. We have 44 per cent. We can get a clue about what is happening by looking at our figures of the number who complete the full 12 years of education . In the non-Catholic independent schools the proportion is 92.9 per cent. In the Catholic schools, it is 51.3 per cent. In government schools it is 33.7 per cent. Considering those in turn, 93 per cent of students complete 12 years of education in non-Catholic independent schools. There is nothing to say that the intelligence of the children going to the independent non-Catholic schools is higher than that of those going to the government schools. I know one famous school at which a survey was done of the intelligence quotients of the boys attending. They were found to be exactly on the national average. There was nothing to say they were more intelligent or more suitable to go on to 12 years of education. One could perhaps argue that the parents are more able and prepared to support them throughout the education process, whereas in other families that might not be the position.

Let us look at a different point of view. There is nothing to suggest that the average affluence of parents who send their children to Catholic schools is higher than the affluence of parents of children who attend government schools. In fact, the evidence I have seen suggests that it is slightly lower. Yet in the Catholic schools the retention rate to complete secondary schooling is 52 per cent and at government schools 34 per cent. Why is this so? Why is it that in government schools there are so many high school drop-outs? It does not happen to anything like the same extent in the United States of America, Japan or Canada, countries of reasonably comparable affluence with Australia and where the parents get no assistance to keep their children in school. They support themselves because, obviously they and their children regard education as important. The fundamental problem is that for a high proportion of our children who go to government schools the parents and children do not believe the value of the education children get is a help in their future careers. This is very serious for the nation as a whole.

Another factor that is almost uniquely Australian is that 16 and 17-year olds are being lured away from school by the offer of unemployment benefit when they leave school. This is very unusual. Almost all other countries have insurance schemes and a person does not get unemployment benefit until he or she has been in work and contributed to the scheme. However, we offer unemployment benefit to children who have never been in work. We are luring children away from school by offering them support which other countries of comparable affluence do not provide. This seems to me to be a very mistaken attitude. We have a fundamental national problem of attitude to the importance of education. If we do not improve this attitude, we shall be doomed to slip further down the relative economic world scale.

I do not believe that in dealing with these matters the education profession, the teachers, are helping. There are many admirable and dedicated school teachers. There are also many who are not and who become teachers not because they wanted to be teachers but as a means of getting subsidised education at tertiary level. They now find themselves stuck in a profession for which they have no aptitude and in which they have little interest. Even worse, the leadership of teachers' organisations has fallen into the hands of people who are in no way, in my view, suitable for such a responsible task in the community and who are doing great harm to education in this country. It is not-although some people seem to suggest it is-that the resources are not going in to government education. I saw figures that prove to my satisfaction that if accounts were properly kept the cost of educating a child in an average government high school would be higher than the cost of educating a day pupil at Geelong Grammar. There is no way in which it can be said that we are skimping on resources for our high schools. The reason costs are so high is that the pupil- teacher ratio in the government system is higher than it is in the independent schools. That is not to say that the class sizes are not larger but that teachers do so much less class time. As a result of having relatively less class time, there are smaller classes and fewer options. But basically in terms of the cost of school teachers and of running the school, salaries are by far the largest item. The cost of running a government high school is higher than the cost of keeping a day pupil at Geelong Grammar.


Senator Crichton-Browne —Are you saying that the pupil-teacher ratio in a government school is lower?


Senator HAMER —There are more teachers for a given number of pupils in a government high school. That is not to say class sizes are not larger, but those same teachers teach very much fewer class hours per week than do teachers in independent schools. That is quite apart from the fact the independent school teacher does a great deal of outside school work which many government school teachers do not.

What is even more worrying is the way in which the government system seems to be constantly led away on trendy dead-ends. That system seems to pick up American concepts with a time lag of about 10 years and not learn anything from the American experience. We usually find ourselves adopting those methods at the very time the Americans are abandoning them as dead-ends. This too, I think, is very damaging to our education system.

Most serious of all is the attitude of teachers which seems now-I speak particularly of Victoria-to be more concerned with removing any controls on themselves than with the interests of the children. For instance, they do not want to have any external assessment of any description of how they perform. They want to stop external exams, which is a way of assessing their performance, and have them entirely internal. If internal exams were to be of any value-they would not be comparable-we would have to start making assumptions that the quality of students at each school was the same and that the quality of instruction at each school was the same. Both those assumptions are patently absurd. This removal of external exams will do great harm to our young people, particularly those who come from disadvantaged areas. Employers will not trust the standards; I can assure the Senate of that. They will be forced either to set their own tests, which they will not necessarily be very good at or, more likely, to assess the children by the school they came from. The results of children from fashionable or well known schools will be trusted and believed but a highly intelligent, able child coming from an unfashionable school will find his results disbelieved and will be very seriously disadvantaged. I am alarmed that the school teachers do not seem to see that point and are not prepared to do something about it.

Government schools perform a vital role in the community. I wish they were doing more. In the United States of America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the high schools were the vital melting pots which enabled the integration of people from all over Europe and converted them into recognisable, distinctive Americans. For many years we were taking in-we have ceased now-immigrants on a higher ratio to base population than America ever did . We badly needed and still need our high schools to integrate people from many backgrounds into Australians. If the government system is allowed to run down, if people opt out into independent schools, we will lose that vital function of independent schools. We must somehow urgently improve the quality of our independent schools. It has nothing to do with resources.

There are three things that I believe we must do. The first is to stop the geographical locking in of children to particular schools. Let them choose their own schools by voting with their feet. If schools are not performing we will find that they have declining enrolments. That will be the very clear indication of where quality education is being provided. The second thing is that we must have highly qualified principals of prestige and authority in our schools. The great difference between independent schools and government schools is the quality, authority and prestige of the principals. We badly need that. Finally, we must have a system whereby the principal has the right to hire and fire teachers. Until we can do that we will not have a satisfactory government education system and the nation and the children going to government schools will be the very great losers.

Even though we have an abnormal number of young people not in full time education we are still left with the question of why they are not able to find jobs and why youth unemployment is rising as a percentage of total unemployment. Throughout the 1960s, for instance, youth unemployment was running at a rate of about 3 per cent, which meant that virtually all young people who wanted work could find it. Now we have the horrifying figure of 25 per cent. It is self- evident that the real problem is our wage structure. The minimum wages are too high. The criticisms of that proposition which have been advanced by a number of people are so absurd that they are virtually undiscussable. In many awards junior rates have been eliminated. We have young people competing with experienced adults, particularly women re-entering the work force. Where the junior rates have not been eliminated we find that they have risen much more towards adult rates. In addition to that, we have the problem of penalty rates, which this Government has not even attempted to tackle.

Finally, the other great difficulty for young people is that many unions have imposed quotas on the number of juniors who can be employed which bears little relationship to the demand or the need of industries that arbitrarily force employers to take on adults when young people could and should do the job. But basically this is not really a matter of young people taking adult jobs. What it is really all about is re-creating jobs which have been destroyed by our wage structure. Take motels, for example. I remember a few years ago that during a radio program I criticised the effects of penalty rates on our tertiary industries and said that there had to be a job growth in the service industries. The managing director of a big motel chain rang up to say that he had done a costing of his motel chain and had found that the elimination of all penalty rates would reduce the cost of a room by only 30c. I replied that I had stayed in a number of his motels and that I was astonished that cutting out penalty rates would save anything at all because as far as I could determine there were no after hours services of any description ever provided at his motels.

That is what it is all about. These jobs have gone. One should try to get a meal late at night in a motel. One should try to get service. Try to work out who carries one's bag at a motel. All these jobs that used to be performed by young people have been lost because of too high wages and the effect of penalty rates. This can be seen in many other areas. When did you, Madam Acting Deputy President, last see a telegram boy delivering telegrams or when did you last get a second mail delivery a day? I have already mentioned hotel services. All of these jobs have been destroyed as a consequence of our wage policy. This has nothing to do with affluence. These sorts of services are provided in all comparable countries. These jobs have been destroyed in Australia and New Zealand because of our wage structures. As a consequence, these jobs and the employment opportunities of young people have been destroyed. What does the Government do? It does nothing.

Some jobs, of course, have been destroyed for good. Look at what has happened in respect of petrol stations and what used to be called pump jockeys and who now, I understand, are called driveway attendants. When one now goes to a petrol station one has to get out and fill one's car oneself. One has to pay the money to someone sitting behind a counter. No one checks the tyres, water or oil or cleans the windscreen. One does it oneself. All those jobs have gone.


Senator Button —Are you saying that Australia is unique in that respect, Senator ?


Senator HAMER —It is very much worse than in any country I have been to.


Senator Button —Oh, come on. Have you been to the United States?


Senator HAMER —The United States has a problem but it is not nearly as serious as ours. The Minister heard what I had to say about motels. He would find three or four times the number of mostly young assistants in motels in the United States as there are in Australian motels. I am making the point that once a garage has installed the remote control petrol pump it will not employ driveway attendants again even if penalty rates are reduced. Those jobs, regrettably, have been lost for good. The reason is that the penalty rates applicable at weekends, during which time a great deal of the work is performed, is one and a half times the award rate on Saturday and one a half times or double the award rate on Sundays.

We are imposing a gross penalty on young people by adopting the minimum wage. In fact, I believe there is no need for minimum wages at all. In my view wages would find their own level. There was no safety net when the minimum wage concept was introduced and there could have been gross exploitation in those circumstances. Now the unemployment benefit is available. If the wages that are offered are too low compared with the unemployment benefit people will just not take the job. They will say: 'I would rather remain on the unemployment benefit' . Adequate wages have to be offered to induce people to accept the work. If we allow wages to find their own level there will be a great increase in the number of jobs and this will be of great advantage to the whole of our society.

Of course, some of these jobs will be of a dead end nature and people will lose them when they reach 18 years of age. That is only proper because other young people should follow them in those jobs. However, the people who have had those jobs for a year or two years will have a far better chance of getting an adult job than they would if they had been on the unemployment benefit or engaged in make-work schemes. What the unions and the Government are doing is a cruel confidence trick on our young people. I admit that the whole problem is one of enormous complexity, largely because there are so many different agencies involved. The trouble is that at the moment they all seem to be pulling in different directions. We have State and Federal wage fixing authorities. We have employers, many of whom are perfectly happy with high minimum wages. They cannot provide services and, as long as their rivals also cannot, they do not mind. Many of these most damaging agreements have been made as consent awards. We have employers. We have the educationalists. We have firms employing apprentices. We have governments giving unemployment benefit. We do not need more investigations . The facts are known.

What we badly need is some co-operative plan to find our way out of this mess. I suppose if we do nothing, some of the problems may solve themselves with time. Time may or may not be a great healer, but undoubtedly it inflicts deep suffering, particularly on the young unemployed. Surely we owe it to the community to see whether we cannot by discussion work quickly towards agreed solutions to this very difficult problem. We must get all interested people together, and I think goodwill and commonsense might emerge if the facts are presented clearly and fairly. Of course, it might not work, but the alternative of sitting back and waiting for something to turn up is worse. We must try to solve this problem. After all, we have nothing to lose but our youth unemployment.