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Thursday, 25 June 1998
Page: 4119

Senator TIERNEY (3:08 PM) —The Australian Labor Party have a colossal hide taking note on this matter given their record over 13 years and what they did for youth over that time in terms of allowances and jobs. Let us look back to the record of the Keating government on youth unemployment.

Senator Mackay interjecting

Senator TIERNEY —Would you like to keep interjecting on this point? It was 27 per cent when you came into office. What was it when you left?

Senator Mackay interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Mackay! Senator Tierney, please address the chair.

Senator TIERNEY —It was 35 per cent when you left office.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Tierney, you are not addressing the chair.

Senator TIERNEY —Wow! What a terrific record the ALP have—and they have the terrific hide to get up on this issue to talk about the youth of this country. You should hang your head in shame.

Let us have a look at what you were doing with allowances during that time. You come in here critical of what we have done. It is a pity Senator Neal has left the chamber. We will not worry about accuracy, will we, Senator Neal? The figure that you quoted on disadvantaged people was 50 per cent out, and you did not mention that 137,000 people are better off under this system. Why are they better off? They are better off because we have replaced the old system of five allowances with one common youth allowance.

Let me tell the Senate and the people of Australia what was wrong with your old system. People on the employment, education and training committee—a number are here today—realise what was wrong with it because we carried out a major study on Austudy and took advice from students and young people right around Australia at that time. They told us that, if you were at university and on Austudy, you were better off if you went off Austudy and went onto the dole, that you could pick up a higher rate and a whole lot of extra benefits if you did that. Under the Labor government there was no incentive to study; people preferred to lie on the beach. And you left it that way for 13 years.

We are not cutting money from the common youth allowance; we are putting another $25 million into the common youth allowance. They have gone a bit quiet over there at the moment—and no wonder—because this is a much superior scheme. Not only can the students who are on Austudy now get more money; there is no incentive for them to go on unemployment benefits, and they can pick up things like rent assistance which they could not pick up before. In other words, we have created a seamless web system. It does not matter whether you are on unemployment benefits or whether you are on some sort of benefit because you are studying; you can actually move between the two without being penalised—and they used to penalise them.

People complained time and time again that, when they switched from one system to the other under the Labor government, they would have to pay money back and were fined because when they moved between two systems the computers were in two different departments and, of course, they did not speak to each other. We have administered the new youth allowance system through one computing system. It is a seamless web. They go from one to the other—from training to unemployment or unemployment into train ing—because it is a common youth allowance.

This is a superior system. This is a system which the Labor Party and the people opposite probably wish they had implemented. This government has implemented it. It has put more money into it. It has benefited a greater number of people. Under this system, students and the unemployed, in very large numbers, are much better off. It is time the Labor Party recognised that. It is time they recognised not only the failure of the arrangements they had for youth but also their total failure to the youth of this country in allowing such a high level of unemployment.

What are their policies to correct this? They got up here today and criticised the youth allowance. What are they going to do? What is your system? I invite future speakers to tell us what Labor policy is in this area. Are you going to keep the common youth allowance, or are you going to go back to your old system and disadvantage those who want to study and better themselves? I invite the next Labor speaker to tell me what their policy is. Are you going to keep up this high level of expenditure that we have implemented under this Howard government initiative?