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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 391


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.34) —I enter into this debate because the issue is very important, but I am also concerned about the misrepresentation of the position of the Opposition on this matter. Listening to Senator Cook, I was reminded of the character in Alice in Wonderland who said: 'Words mean what I say they mean'. Senator Cook puts the view that a training wage does not imply a reduction in youth wages. Is he suggesting that it is an increase in youth wages? Is he suggesting that youth wages would remain the same? The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) in his statement on the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs indicates that a special training wage will take into account not only the fact that people will not be at the workplace all the time as they will be somewhere else training but also 'the trainee's productivity whilst on the job'. I wanted to put to bed completely the notion that there is any suggestion on the part of the Liberal Party or the Opposition that there is some panacea, to use Senator Harradine's word. I assure Senator Harradine and anyone else who may have that impression that it has not been the view of the Opposition, nor is it now, that a suggestion that youth wages need to be changed, whether to a form of a trainee wage or something else, is some form of universal solution. In fact, honourable senators can look at what we said to the Australian people before the last election. I quote from the printed policy that we put out. We said that there should be a public inquiry instituted under the chairmanship of the President or the Deputy President of the new tribunal-that is the replacement of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission-into the 'criteria to be used in setting junior wage rates'. In other words, we picked up the view that was put forward by the Bureau of Market Labour Studies in a report that was put down in April 1984 that the issue was serious. We said it would be further examined in the way that I have just outlined.

This is a very serious problem affecting a very large number of young Australians. The Opposition welcomes the fact that the Kirby report is available to us and welcomes the fact that we now have this further study on youth employment patterns from the Bureau of Labour Market Research which has already been referred to in debate. But it is important to note the comment which was made in the Sydney Morning Herald and which was referred to by my colleague Senator Messner, who spoke on behalf of the Opposition, namely that the trainee wage, the size of which would be worked out on an industry by industry basis, is seen as a discreet method of reducing the level of youth wages. Again I go back to the statement of the Minister, the Hon. Ralph Willis, which we are debating. Mr Willis said:

A major feature of the traineeship proposal is for the determination of a trainee wage, which would be based on the time spent on-the-job by the trainee and the nature and extent of on-the-job training provided by the employer.

The trainee wage concept does not constitute a recommendation for cutting youth wages.

In the next paragraph, he said:

. . . it will reflect the fact that the trainee will be spending time in formal training away from the workplace, and will also take account of the trainee's productivity whilst on the job.

Senator Harradine expressed concern about the fact that many married women, for example, are now employed in the Public Service or the private sector and are holding jobs which in a previous labour market pattern were held perhaps by young people. This pattern is not just a function of attitudinal change and programs run by Dr Wilenski or anybody else. The reality is that for many employers those women are more productive and profitable employees than youthful and inexperienced persons. In many industries, including my old profession of the law, there has been a marked change in the last 20 years in the proportion of young, single, inexperienced people who are employed and married women who are employed. I am suggesting that part of the mix in this, one of the factors which is significant, is that those experienced workers are currently more economic to employ than less experienced workers. That is a factor which needs to be taken into account in determining what wages are to be paid in any circumstance. That is not a criticism of youth. It is merely facing the reality that for many employees training is obtained on the job. In the years inexperienced people are employed they are learning. They gradually become more productive employees. It is a reasonable proposition that that should be a factor in determining the level of wages which are paid at any particular time. I hope that we can have many debates on this subject, because I believe it is critically important to Australia's future. The Australian Democrats, in contributing to this debate, were less than just to the views which have been put by the Opposition, as also was Senator Harradine. I hope that in longer debates we will have a better chance to expand these matters and to deal with them in a more satisfactory way.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.