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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 387


Senator MESSNER(3.09) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This paper covers the Kirby report on labour market programs. It is one that has been looked to with a great deal of interest by many organisations and people in the community, and, of course, it touches on the very vital question of youth unemployment. This is International Youth Year and, consequently, there is, no doubt, a considerable amount of community attention and media attention on the question of labour market programs as they affect youth. While youth constitutes a relatively high proportion of the total number of unemployed-I think the number runs currently at around 21 per cent of the total-it may not be the fastest growing area of unemployment. Perhaps that is one consideration that the Government ought to take into account when reviewing the report. It is clear that people who are now over the age of 50 are finding it extraordinarily difficult to find work. They have a vastly different problem from that of youth insofar as many of them are disemployed after giving, say, 20 or 25 years of service to a firm, and they find it extraordinarily difficult to be retrained for other work. That group needs special attention.

Perhaps the key issue in the Kirby report, something which has deservedly attracted a great deal of attention in the media, is the question of the trainee wage. It has been referred to by some as a cut in youth wages which would lead to an improvement in youth employment. When the report was released last December, it is interesting that the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), in his original statement, made great play of the fact that the report denied that cutting wages for youth would in fact increase youth employment opportunities. Yet the very existence of the report demonstrates that the opposite is true.

The report, amongst its major recommendations, seeks to subsidise training programs directly from the taxpayer. It recognises quite clearly that youth wages are substantially too high. That is implied in Mr Kirby's report. It demonstrates that effectively transferring the cost of training from the private sector to the taxpayer brings in a de facto subsidy for youth wages. The Government refuses to acknowledge that point. Obviously it is the key point and one which we from the Opposition side of the chamber see as recognition of the vital point that we have been making about the ability of this country to create jobs for youth.

There has been much argument about this matter. The idea has been greatly supported, as can be seen in today's edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. It reports that the Bureau of Labour Market Research has stated that it believes that subsidised wages for young workers in the public sector, as part of a scheme to reduce Australia's alarmingly high level of youth unemployment, are a vital element in attacking the problem. I think Senator Harradine was referring to that a little earlier today.


Senator Harradine —I was not referring to youth wages; I will be referring to them in a moment.


Senator MESSNER —I thought the honourable senator was talking about the BLMR report. The question does deserve a great deal more attention by the community and indeed is one which we will be pursuing from this side of the chamber with a view to giving support to the general thrust of the Kirby recommendations as we see them. The recommendations implicitly recognise the need for subsidy for youth wages, admitting the de facto point that youth wages are too high.