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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2489

Senator CHANEY —I refer the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce to the release today of the labour market statistics for April which show that, while there was a welcome slight fall in unemployment last month, unemployment is virtually stagnant at around 8.3 per cent. Is it a fact that the teenage unemployment situation worsened during April with another 1,600 15- to 19-year-olds out of work, bringing the rate for that age group to 23.1 per cent? Why have the Government's policies failed to move unemployment from what the Australian Bureau of Statistics describes in the document issued today as the plateau which has been experienced since October last year of 8.3 or 8.4 per cent? Does the Minister accept that unless next week's mini-Budget does more than just reduce government spending and unless other measures are taken-for example, the Government's industrial relations package provides for a more flexible labour market-there will be little chance of achieving the increased private investment necessary to create jobs for the more than 600,000 Australians out of work?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney has asked a number of questions which relate to the labour market statistics just made available, and he particularly referred to the unemployment rate for teenagers seeking full time work. I make the comment about those figures that care needs to be taken when looking at single month figures. In quarterly average terms the teenage full time unemployment rate was 23.1 per cent for the three months to April 1987, which is up on the 21.5 per cent figure for the three months to January 1987. That is not a satisfactory result, but it must be remembered that the teenage unemployment rate does not represent the proportion of teenagers who are unemployed because of the high and growing proportion of teenagers who are in full time education; nor does it take into account the fact that the proportion of the 15- to 19-year-old population unemployed and looking for full time work in March 1987, the most recent months for which figures are available, was 9.2 per cent. Nonetheless, the basis of the question relates to a static level of unemployment and I must say that the Government, in having regard to macroeconomic conditions, is generally encouraged by the fact that unemployment has not risen more significantly than it has. If one looks back to the introduction of the Budget, there were predictions, which I do not recall precisely, about levels of employment which I believe were higher than is currently the case.

Senator Chaney also asked whether further impact could be made on the unemployment figures by more flexible labour market programs. I am sorry, I have forgotten his second point, but it certainly related to the mini-Budget and whether it was sufficient to cut government expenditure in the context of the mini-Budget. The cutting of government expenditure in the mini-Budget is directly related to the question, in policy terms, of interest rates, which again is relevant to the capacity of firms to employ people. The question of a more flexible labour market is something that Senator Chaney would be fully aware the Government has been addressing in a particular way. The second tier of the current wage system provides a little more flexibility than was there in former times. Flexibility in general is to be increasingly encouraged, but one must do it at an appropriate rate, having regard to a number of restraints which operate in Australia.

Finally, and this is a very personal view, I think one of the problems with the unemployment levels which currently exist is not just a question of the aggregate jobs available but a question of matching jobs with available skills-and not only matching jobs with available skills but also matching jobs with regional requirements for employment. They are difficulties which are not overcome quickly, I believe. The Government has instituted in a number of areas training programs which are designed to enhance skills in particular areas of labour market requirements. In time I hope that those policies will have significant effects on the overall levels of unemployment, particularly among young people.

Senator CHANEY —I ask the Minister a supplementary question. I thank him for his very full reply, but I wish to raise a further point. The Minister referred to the fact that there is a high and growing proportion of young people in education and the inference was that that reduced the impact of the unsatisfactory figures for unemployment in the 15- to 19-year-old age group. Is it a fact that with a high and rising proportion of that age group remaining in education there is therefore a smaller proportion of the total teenage population seeking jobs? The fact that there is a worsening of the unemployment figures in those circumstances is a rather serious indication that the availability of jobs for that age group is being squeezed even more than the figures would indicate.

Senator BUTTON —I must agree with the assumptions behind Senator Chaney's supplementary question. It is a relative matter as to how quickly we can deal with those things, and I appreciate that. The Government has a number of schemes in place to try to help particularly with teenage unemployment. I refer to schemes such as Jobstart and the formal training assistance for youth scheme. The Commonwealth Employment Service is also paying particular attention to the needs of young people. Going back to what I said earlier about matching jobs with skills, I must say that there is at least substantial anecdotal evidence of a shortage of labour in a wide variety of areas in Australian industry. That is a problem which must be continually addressed.