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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1460

Senator VANSTONE(4.28) —I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The Government's cynical abuse of the employment hopes of young Australians and the need for it to immediately address the abject failure of its education and training policies.

Today the Opposition is seeking to highlight the depths of the problems being experienced by the Government with its Priority One: Young Australia scheme and, in particular, the Australian traineeship scheme which is meant to give hope to all young Australians for training and jobs. We want to highlight these problems not simply for the sake of highlighting them; we have been aware of them since the inception of this program and we have raised them in this chamber and in the other place. Senator Mason, who will speak in this debate, is aware of them. He has spoken on the problems of youth unemployment before, as have Senator Harradine and Senator Siddons who will join in this debate.

Young people who are still on the dole queue are most certainly very well aware of the ineptitude of this Government to solve their problems. The media is aware of the unemployment problems of young people-it is so aware that it is not here today to listen to what we have to say because it probably already knows how bad the problems are. One cannot promise 75,000 trainees per annum in 1988-89 and in 1986-87 have only 2,300 without everyone realising that something is wrong. One cannot have 30,000 students still waiting for their Austudy payments because of an administrative bungle in Senator Ryan's office without somebody knowing something is wrong. One cannot have students wanting to get into courses at universities, technical and further education centres and other places of further education and finding that there are no places for them without people realising that something is desperately wrong.

As I have already indicated, we do not seek to highlight the problems because people are unaware of them-quite the opposite, they are aware; they are fed up. The polls are telling this Government just how popular it is with young people. No doubt the Government has noticed the article in the Sydney Morning Herald of Monday, 23 March headed `Hawke and the ALP lose their charm for the young voters'. That article tells the Government that since November 1984 it has lost 11 per cent of its support amongst 18- to 24-year-olds. So the Government is starting to get the message, and we are hoping today to strengthen further that message that something has to be done. We highlight the problem in the hope that, instead of the Government meekly admitting that its targets for the Australian traineeships were `a bit high', it will take some action to remedy the defects in its plan. We are not seeking a confessional, but a commitment to remedy the errors.

When asked by Senator Chaney about the Priority One program and its failure in Question Time today, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button), as Minister representing the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-the prime mover of the Priority One program-basically said that Senator Chaney's allegations that the situation is now worse were correct and that he had nothing to add. It is shameful for this Government to have nothing to add to such a disgraceful situation. He certainly should have been briefed. If the youth of Australia really is the Government's number one priority and this is not just some media hype catchcry, then the Leader of the Government in the Senate should always be adequately briefed on the problems in Priority One and what the Government is going to do about it so that, through the Senate, he can tell all Australians and especially young Australians what the Government is going to do to remedy the problem.

I do not think that is too much to ask-not from a government that came to office in 1983 and had a 1983 Budget, a 1984 Budget, a 1985 Budget and a 1986 Budget and is preparing for a 1987 mini-Budget. It has had plenty of time. It is meant to be running the country. It will be no good for Government senators to get up in this debate and wail on about perceived inadequacies in the Fraser years; they should not have taken on the job if they were not up to it. Four years and four Budgets later, looking into the fifth year-half a decade later-this Government is responsible for the fiasco.

It is true that since this Government came to power, there has been a very minor reduction in the total numbers of youth unemployment. I would not seek to deny that. But that is more than accounted for by the increased numbers staying at school because of increased retention rates. In other words, the situation for jobs has in no positive way been affected by Priority One. In fact, quite the opposite, the situation has worsened. The current figure for unemployed 15- to 24-year-olds is 75,000. When the scheme started it was 64,200. The Government promised that in 1985-86 it would have 10,000 trainees, moving up to an annual turnover of 75,000 per annum. It is not too much, therefore, to expect in 1986-87 to have about 30,000 trainees, to have 50,000 trainees in 1987-88 and, hopefully, in 1988-89 to get up to 75,000 trainees. We had the campaign launch and we have had huge advertising-and I am still not sure whether it was for the Prime Minister or for Priority One. We have had Press advertisements, radio advertisements, film clips at the cinema, billboards across the country and television advertisements-all at vast expense.

Senator Chaney —Anything to advertise the Labor Party.

Senator VANSTONE —Anything to advertise the Labor Party, as Senator Chaney says. What do we now have as a result of all that effort and spending? We have 3,400 trainees in place, cumulative over two years. We got approximately 1,000 in the first year and approximately 2,300 this year. The cumulative total should be 40,000. That puts the Prime Minister's word still at about 10c in the dollar, which is not a very good rate. These are the promises that the Government offered to the young of Australia. It led them to believe that they would be fulfilled and in that way cynically abused the employment hopes of young Australians. Mr Hawke said, in one of the many glossy leaflets that go out with his very sincere photograph on them, that the target for the bicentennial year, 1988-that is, next year-is 75,000 young people in traineeships and that at least this level would then be maintained year by year. Well, I have news for the Prime Minister: He has only 2,300 this year and I cannot see a jump up to 75,000. He further said in 1985:

. . . we really believe that come the beginning of the 1990s-

not very far away; it is 1987-

. . . we ought to have been able to eliminate unemployment as it's developed in the 16 and 17-year-old group . . .

The Prime Minister was then interrupted by a young person in disbelief- and no wonder. Then, in September of 1985, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) in the lower House said:

We will halve the unemployment rate for 16-and 17-year-olds.

Mr Willis has made a promise that he has not been able to keep. He has let young people down. Many people here might say: `What's new?' Members of the Press gallery back in their offices might say: `What's new? We have heard all this before. We knew that at the time'. The Opposition said it at the time. We said that there was not enough consultation with business and with unions and that on that basis it just would not work; the Government had not got its act together. We repeated this in February 1986 and asked the Government to address the problems. It admitted that the targets were too high and then did absolutely nothing to change the situation. It would be no news to most unemployed Australians that Priority One is not working. Let me give some examples of the number of people who have got some benefit from it. In my State, two years down the track, 42 people have got traineeships; in Tasmania, the number is 28; in the Northern Territory, 26; in the Australian Capital Territory-a few more public servants here-237; and in New South Wales, which is especially favoured, 1,320. I could go on, but it is just a dismal picture. That is the problem-there has been no progress, no plan modification. Nothing has been done to alter the rate of progress. The simple fact is that young Australians in their thousands are continuing to be demoralised every day. They are losing hope every day, no longer believing that even the Prime Minister of this country will tell them something they can rely on.

The scheme has been a failure in one very particular aspect; that is, the involvement of private enterprise. All the glossy leaflets tell us that small business will have at least 60 per cent of the traineeships. We can endorse that as a principle for traineeships, because we all know what a disastrous situation the Australian economy is in, and we cannot afford to keep spending to get out of our problems. We cannot afford to keep expanding the Public Service. The promise that 60 per cent of trainees would be in small business seems a good one. Of course, then there would be another percentage added on to that for big business, not leaving a very big percentage for government. That seemed a good idea, but the figures show that there are 3,070-this is the cumulative total, remember-in the Public Service and 319 in the private sector, just under 10 per cent. That is an absolute disgrace. I am referring to figures for trainees now in place. We have lots of promises from the Government of notionally created traineeships somewhere on a piece of paper, but no benefit is going to young people. Of the ones actually in place, less than 10 per cent are in the private sector. What that means is that 90 per cent are in the public sector, on the taxpayers' money, simply because the Government has to prop up a scheme in respect of which it did not have its act together in the first place and because it has not had the stomach to remedy the problems in the meantime. We did not need to get a letter from the Small Business Association of Australia saying:

The Association has no confidence in any scheme the Federal Government put up for Youth Employment to date, but is most concerned with the amount of money wasted on promotion P. R. printing etc in setting up these schemes. If these funds had been used more wisely in promoting business climate for profit, how much better off would be our great country.

I could not agree more with the Association. The Government admits that its targets have been a little too high, but it does not fully admit the problem. In September 1985, not long after the traineeships were announced, there was a public announcement that the first traineeships in the private sector had been secured and that Ansett was to have 300 trainees. In March 1987 twelve of those trainees started work as clerks. That is less than a 5 per cent delivery in 1987 on a 1985 promise. We cannot get much worse that that-twelve out of 300 between 1985 and 1987. The traineeships were to cover a wide variety of areas within the transport industry. Unfortunately, the Government ran into a snag with the Federated Storemen and Packers Union. It ran into that snag because it did not negotiate with the unions when it should have-that is, before it raised the hopes of young Australians. The unions stopped it. Unions in a wide variety of areas are holding up the private sector development of traineeships. I do not blame the unions for doing that. They are entitled to stick to their guns for what they want and have a brawl with the Government. My complaint is that the Government most certainly should have sorted all of that out before it announced the scheme. It is simply propping up the scheme with Public Service trainees.

In June 1986 I asked Senator Button about the failure of the Government's scheme in the private sector. In October, many months later, I got a reply from Senator Walsh. It was an interesting reply. He told me:

. . . nothing has gone wrong with the Government's plan for traineeships in the private sector. As at 26 September 1986, 4809 traineeships had been created of which 1415 are in the private sector.

That is typical of what is wrong with this Government. It will not admit the situation. Senator Walsh replied to me about the number created, not the ones in place. The two are very different. The numbers created on paper by public servants are far larger than are the numbers of people getting a real benefit. The Minister does not admit the problem. He said: `Nothing has gone wrong'. Sixty per cent of the traineeships in the program were meant to be in the private sector, in small business, but less than 10 per cent are in that sector. Yet he says: `Nothing has gone wrong'. One cannot rely on a word that the Government says in that respect. What the Government must do is set to work with business and modify this plan-or develop another one, if it cannot modify this one-to attract the private sector because only in the private sector, and in private sector growth, can we look to create jobs for young Australians.

I note that this matter was raised last week in the other place. There Government members consoled themselves with recent reports that, relatively speaking amongst Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, we had done a better job in regard to youth unemployment. I assure those honourable senators opposite who will speak that it is no help to say to young people in my State who cannot get a job-the one in five, getting towards one in four-that they are relatively better off. I will not visit a local Commonwealth Employment Service office and say: `Look, I know it's tough but, guess what, relatively speaking we are better off'. That is no answer to young people who are unemployed. The situation is the same all around Australia. It is no help to the 199,900 15- to 19-year-olds. It is no help to the 335,400 15- to 24-year-olds who are desperately looking for a job.

Senator Siddons —Senator, from the figures I saw, I don't think it is true to say that the young people are relatively better off.

Senator VANSTONE —That may be, Senator. I have not investigated that matter. But the point I am making is that, if one is relatively better off but does not have a job, it is no help. Not only is it no help; it is no answer to the charge that has been laid today, namely, that the aspirations and hopes of young Australians have been cruelly and cynically used; that the Government is staring at the failure of a scheme that it has promoted; and that it is refusing, or is incapable of, a remedy. The charge that is being laid today is that something is wrong and that the Government is not doing anything to fix it. I see from the papers that the Prime Minister has made some stirring speeches and, as I understand it, has claimed that he has access to a light on a hill and everybody should follow him. I suggest to him that he should turn his torch on to a darker part of the lives of young Australians-the young Australians who do not have jobs, who hoped for traineeships, who wanted to be among the 75,000 who would have them next year, and who do not have a chance in hell of being among them. While he is busy trying to get himself into the history books, thousands of young Australians are simply looking for work.

I think it is appropriate at this point to remind the Senate of a cartoon published last year. It was a very good cartoon. It showed the Prime Minister sitting at a big desk. He had a punk hairdo. Do honourable senators know the sort? It was the sort in which the hair goes up in spikes. One imagined, although the cartoon was in black and white, that the spikes were rainbow coloured-anything to appeal. He was casually filing his nails with a big file-a rasp, a carpenter's file-and was oblivious to the rest of the world. The caption at the bottom of the cartoon read: `Youth of Australia Priority II, don't call us, we'll call you'. I remind the Government that there are 335,400 people waiting for a call-75,000 more than when this scheme started. That, in itself, is a matter of urgency.