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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1470

Senator HILL(5.20) —The Senate is debating the following 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.

There is no more important subject that the Senate could be debating today, and we are indebted to my colleague Senator Vanstone for moving it here this afternoon. If we look at the teenage figures, we see that youth unemployment is running at 23.3 per cent. The latest figures I have, for February of this year, show a staggering 23.3 per cent. A year earlier the figure was 21.1 per cent, so almost one in four of Australia's young people are unemployed. If we compare that with the all-age figure of 8.4 per cent, we see how tremendously disadvantaged the young people are compared with the total community. I might say in passing that the figure for young women in fact slightly exceeds the figure for young men.

This picture of one in four young Australians being unemployed is clearly a massive indictment of the Hawke Labor Government and its policies, or the lack of them. If that is not bad enough, the picture gets worse: Since the Government introduced its glossy cover story Priority One: Young Australia trainee scheme with, as honourable senators will remember, a $1.6m publicity campaign of billboards, television adverts, phone-ins, et cetera, youth unemployment has in fact risen 2 per cent. Honourable senators will no doubt remember that during the phone-in to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) calls were intercepted and vetted by Commonwealth public servants to ensure that the callers were going to make the right comments and that they were going to be supportive of the Prime Minister.

Senator Tate —Oh!

Senator HILL —That is quite correct, I might say. If the Minister goes back and reads the reports of the Estimates committees of last year he will find out that that is exactly what happened. That phone-in cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. What a disgraceful waste of public money it turned out to be. Not only were the listeners of Australia unable to get a reasonable cross-section of the reactions of young Australians; they received a selection of calls, as I said, vetted by officers of a department.

Listeners to this debate today will remember the boast of Priority One: We were to have 10,000 traineeships by mid-1986 and by next year, 1988, there were to be 75,000 new traineeships each year. Where are we up to with that? By the end of January this year there were only 3,600. So seven months past the date on which there were supposed to be 10,000 traineeships, the number has not reached even 4,000. Perhaps the most disappointing figure of all is that, of those 3,600, only 14 per cent were in the private sector. Therefore, there is no hope of this Government getting anywhere near its target. The failure is largely the result of the intransigence of unions and their refusal to negotiate traineeship clauses in awards and, of course, a government lacking in intestinal fortitude to press the matter lest in some way it upsets the special-otherwise known as cosy-relationship between it and the union movement.

What do the young people of this country, the market which we are talking about and which was to be reached by this program, think of Priority One? We received a recent and most fascinating insight from the Government's own polling. We learnt that almost half of the young people interviewed cited unemployment as the major and most important issue affecting their lives. So certainly a very high percentage of young Australians recognise the importance of unemployment, and that is not surprising when looking at the figures. But what of Priority One? Forty per cent did not even know it existed. Only 20 per cent thought that it would be of any benefit to them. Only 6 per cent thought that it would do something worth while. Six out of 10 young people believe that their employment prospects are a low priority with the Hawke Government. And, of course, they are quite right. The highest priority of this Hawke Government is its re-election and not the interests of young people. The interests of young people are camouflaged by the glossy literature that was supposed to create an impression of help and assistance for young people, which has not turned out in reality.

That disappointment of young people in this Government is now being reflected in recent Morgan gallup polls which show a growing disillusionment of the youth group towards this Labor Government. Support for the Prime Minister among young people has fallen by almost one-quarter in the last two years. As I indicated, I am not surprised, considering that 23.3 per cent of teenagers in this country are presently unemployed-a tragic figure.

I am also not surprised that Priority One has been such an abject failure. I can remember a year ago making what I thought were some constructive comments on Priority One. I said that the limited resources available should be limited to disadvantaged youth. Rather than target the money in such an appropriate way, the Government wanted to get the widest possible electoral effect provided to the widest possible cross-section of young Australians. The effect has been that only the smartest, those with initiative and those with parents who have contacts have gained the benefit, at the cost of those who really need help from government.

What is so frightening about all of this is that the Government is blind to its failure. If it had come in here today and acknowledged its errors and put into effect substantive changes, it would certainly receive recognition from this side of the House. Rather, we see and hear such comments as that from the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Willis, who on the introduction of the traineeship scheme claimed that the rate of youth joblessness could be halved. As I have said, it has increased by 2 per cent. By making such an extravagant claim he built up a false expectation. The position continues to worsen. Of the February figures, he said:

Although youth unemployment increased by 2 percentage points in February, it would be rash to interpret this as a marked deterioration in the youth labour market.

It is time that this Government stopped misleading young people and faced up to its failure. The people of Australia are sick and tired of being misled by this Government. In the 48 months that the Australian Labor Party has been in power unemployment has in fact averaged 8.5 per cent, which is 2 points greater than the average under the Fraser Government. Yet the perception is so different. For all but a few months the employment record of this Government has been worse than that of the previous Government.

The average duration of unemployment has risen dramatically under Labor, from 29.6 weeks in December 1982 to 45.2 weeks, almost a year, in December 1986. Unemployment is now higher than it was for all but five of the 86 months of the Fraser Government. So the perception that unemployment has improved under Hawke is the product of the taxpayer-funded publicity campaigns to which I referred just a moment ago and is not the product of fact. Those young people between 15 and 24 years of age tragically make up nearly half of the unemployed in this country.

That tragedy, of course, apart from the cost to individuals, is the enormous waste of talent to the nation. It is not only the traineeship scheme which has failed so dramatically. Those who aspire to tertiary education are being denied access by this Government. If ever there was a time that the higher education level of this country should be lifted to compete with an ever more sophisticated and technologically competitive world, it must be now. Yet last year, under this Government, 14,000 students who were qualified for courses of their choice at tertiary institutions were denied entry. This year, some 30,000 qualified students have been told that there are no places.

As for students most suited to technical education, the position is even worse. Last year, a further 100,000 students were locked out of technical and further education colleges. This year, another six digit figure is anticipated. So Australia's young people cannot get into traineeships, en masse are not getting places in tertiary institutions and are being turned away in droves from TAFE colleges. Could there be a more serious indictment of a government than facts such as those? As I indicated, apart from the tragedy for the individuals concerned, as a nation we simply cannot afford this waste. The fact is, if we do some comparisons, that 19 per cent of the United States work force is qualified to first degree level. Australia does not even come out at half that figure-it is a mere 8 per cent. According to the Economic Planning Advisory Council, the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds participating in education is half the comparable participation rate in the United States.

But it is not only that we are failing vis-a-vis developed nations, we are being overtaken also by developing nations. One has only to spend a short time in such a place as Singapore, around the tertiary institutions, to see what is happening elsewhere. The failure to train young people now will limit their future potential in the work force. We will have to suffer for decades for the neglect of a mere four years of the Hawke Government. Education is an investment that few in the Government appreciate. Higher education is not humanities alone, nor sciences alone. It is the skilling of people to meet future challenges, to come to grips with problems and overcome them.

Turning young people away from higher education or merely filling in time by tacking on more of their time at school is absurd. We need to be training our engineers, scientists and technicians to make us a force in manufacturing and in the provision of services. We need to have an economy based on the full range of technological demands from the lowest to the highest. We simply cannot sustain any technological base unless we skill up our people for it. This Govern- ment has failed to meet that responsibility. It is time training subsidies were redirected to disadvantaged youth. It is time that the private sector met its responsibility and it should not require inducements of $1,000 per student. The private sector has a public responsibility to provide training. I invite those on the other side who are interested to look at the West German example.

The Government must help by ensuring that trainee wage levels are provided in all Federal awards with a lower commencing salary but with it an obligation to provide training. This is what we will introduce when we get into government. Furthermore, we will encourage the States to do likewise. The Government must address its employment practices. Not enough of Australia's young people are getting a fair go in the Commonwealth Public Service-a fact that has been brought home to us time and time again by Senator Harradine. Too much money goes in short term job creation and employer subsidies. About 70 per cent of the Government's budget in that area goes into short term job creation schemes. Many of the short term job programs offer no significant training. It is a method to provide money for other social and community objectives, but it provides little long term benefit to the young employed. In fact, it rather camouflages the problem.

A redirection of significant portions of the budget to university colleges and TAFE colleges so that those young people qualified and wanting training can get it would be worth while. Young people should be given the best schooling available. We should provide them with the best possible post-school education and training. We should ensure an industrial structure that enables them to get a start. If we do that, we are half-way towards getting them a job. The other half which we have not time to deal with today are the macroeconomic circumstances to require employment, lower interest, lower taxes. If the Government concentrated in that area it could fulfil the demand of providing employment opportunities.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.