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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2314

Senator TROETH (3.56 p.m.) —I wish to contribute to this debate on behalf of the coalition. I also would like to take note of the 1994 UNICEF report on the report Progress of nations, which highlights the shocking statistic that nine per cent of Australia's children live in poverty. This is the third highest number in the industrialised world. It is a far cry indeed from Bob Hawke's infamous and unrealised proclamation that `by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty.'

  I would wish the Senate to note particularly that the UNICEF report noted that Australia is ranked ninth out of 23 industrialised nations for deaths of infants from presumed abuse per 100,000 live births. These figures were obtained between 1985 and 1990 and anecdotal evidence suggests that this position has not improved. I find this quite unacceptable.

  Senator Spindler referred to Senator Abetz's remarks earlier in the week on smacking children. I feel sure that Senator Spindler knows as well as I do that Senator Abetz was referring to this within a parental discipline framework. I am sure that Senator Spindler would not suggest that there should be no parental discipline.

  As Senator Spindler points out, the UNICEF report also ranks Australia sixth highest amongst industrialised nations in our youth suicide rate in children aged between 15 and 19. It is important to note that these unfortunate people who commit suicide simply decide that life is no longer worth living. One wonders what factors of living in Australia in 1994 make them take this decision.

  A number of main causes have been suggested as responsible for youth suicide. Among these are employment, financial stress, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse. Unlike the Australian Democrats, the coalition has concrete reasons for believing that there should be more action by government and that there is a real need for government to take urgent action.

  Recently, the Victorian coroner, Mr Hal Hallenstein, found that young male suicide rates were higher in areas of high unemployment. For example, in the non-metropolitan areas of Melbourne, both unemployment and male suicide rates were higher than in other areas. The western non-metropolitan area had the highest unemployment rate among 15- to 19-year-old males—February 1994 figures—at 15.2 per cent and the highest suicide rate at 26.9 per cent per 100,000.

  The pain of the recession that we had to have has been borne disproportionately by our youth. High unemployment and financial stresses place great strain on families and family breakdown has the potential for long lasting detrimental effects on children and teenagers. The high level of youth suicide is undoubtedly correlated to all these additional stresses endured by our youth in the wake of the government's failed economic policies. Youth workers themselves have said that they fear `widespread youth unemployment has bred a generation of cynics and caused social and economic problems that will haunt the nation for decades.'

  The Australian Bureau of Statistics unemployment figures for May this year show that unemployment among 15- to 19-year-olds looking for full-time work increased from 32.2 per cent to 32.8 per cent during May. So much for the recovery. According to the ABS figures, in the three months to February 1994 some regions of Australia had more than 50 per cent of their youth population out of work. Fifty-four per cent of north Melbourne teenagers were unemployed and the Richmond-Tweed Heads region on the north coast of New South Wales also had an unemployment rate of 52 per cent. Mr Freeland, senior lecturer in social work and social policy at the University of Sydney, recently said:

If you leave up to 20% of your young people feeling cynical and hopeless and resentful of society you could have long term social problems and you could have long term economic costs.

This is the legacy the Labor Party will leave young Australians: cynical, hopeless and resentful of society. The government brought out its white paper in May. What was in this for young people? Nothing. Working Nation claims:

. . . simple loyalty to our fellow Australian will take us a long way in the fight against unemployment.

I do not need to stand here and tell honourable senators that the government has not shown any loyalty to our young people. National youth organisations themselves know this to be the case.

  It is no wonder our young people are cynical. They are very familiar with the litany of broken promises under Labor. Our youth know not to expect anything from this government. Indeed, the only thing 32.8 per cent of them have received is a place on the dole queue. The white paper will not change that. All it will do is mask the real unemployment figures by shuffling people into training programs. There are no real job creation initiatives in the white paper and nothing to realistically tackle the biggest problem facing today's youth.

  Another area in which the Labor government has failed young people is the area of youth homelessness, as revealed by the Burdekin report, which was brought down in 1989. On 14 April 1994, Mr Burdekin, the author, was quoted as saying:

Australia has totally failed many of its young people . . . We now have over 700,000 children living in homes in which no one has an income.

So much for five years of Labor government. He described as `a disgrace' one of the inquiry's findings that every young man prostituting himself on the wall in Darlinghurst in Sydney had been a ward of the state. Mr Burdekin said that this was because all too frequently the state was flick-passing young people to crisis refuges which lacked the capacity, training and professional backup to look after them.

  I have heard of many instances where children leave home and, for a variety of reasons, no attempt is made to see whether reconciliation is possible. I refer to a tragic case in Queensland where a young girl died while receiving the federal government's youth homeless allowance. The girl died after taking drugs and drowning as a result of being under the influence of drugs bought with the money. A doctor giving evidence at the inquest into the girl's death said:

Departmental guidelines required a child's reason for him or her leaving home to be verified, but this was not done in many cases . . .

She went on:

I've had a number of reports of people who've gone into the department and been given the youth homeless allowance without verification of their claims and who have worried their parents frantic.

The girl's mother said she had:

. . . pleaded with a number of departments for assistance in guiding her daughter through some difficult periods in their lives but without success.

She said `When Peita'—her daughter—`was given this money, I lost control of her.' The treatment needs to be given before children leave home, not after they leave home and as an inducement to their leaving home. This case, and others like it, is an example of the Labor Party's social agenda that does not account for individual consideration—in this instance, with a devastating outcome.

  I will conclude by noting another report which relates directly to UNICEF's appalling figures of the number of Australian children living in poverty. The mortality rate of Aboriginal babies is four times the national average. The editor of Australia's Health 1994, Dr John Donovan, said that without the elimination of socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and poor housing, `the burden of disease on Aborigines would remain.' The need for government to address its priorities and take urgent action in this area is imperative.

  The government has already shown that it is not committed to the goal of producing real employment opportunities for young people. The statistics and the recent increase in youth unemployment are testimony to this. Conventions, such as those mentioned by Senator Denman, and money, as mentioned by many of the government's economic spokesmen, are no use. We need real solutions. Young people in Australia know that the Australian government offers them no future and it is a shame that so many young Australians have to live with that knowledge.