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'Here's the rub': address to the 28th National Convention of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia, ANU

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A speech to th e 28th N ational

Convention of the Young lib e ra l M ovem ent of A ustralia

... ....... .by ..

Senator Ian Camnhell .

...Shadow M in iste r fo r Youth..

A ustralian National U niversity.

Friday January 11,1996



Got the politicians and the banks Using our lives as septic tanks Here’s the rTjb, they want to be thanked Whatcha gonna do

Another report on the economy Another suit telling us what we need Here’s another guy you wouldn’t feed Aw hang it up

“Cutting It Fine” (Lovelock/Steedman/Leone)

- Celibate Rifles

Mr President,

The last time I spoke at a Young Liberal National Convention was at St

Anne’s College in Adelaide in 1983. Malcolm Fraser delivered the keynote

address in what seemed to be an election policy speech, and the issue of

the day was the Gordon-Below-Franklin Dam.

My last contribution was in a debate on a motion supporting an Indian

Ocean Nuclear Free Zone, and traversed peace issues and disarmament.

I hope a change of government occurs as soon after this conference as it

did after my last Young Liberal Convention.

Although there are a few similarities about the political circumstances of

January 1983 and January 1996, I think I will leave that sort of analysis to

Kerry O'Brien and his friends.

There is one similarity that some commentators won’t notice and that I feel

compelled to share.

Most won't remember but prior to his speech in '83, Malcolm Fraser had

been carrying a debilitating and very painful back condition that literally laid

him out for weeks. The Young Liberal Movement Convention was his first

appearance for many weeks.

Of course, the media paid enormous attention to the speech (without even

the prompting of the Young Liberal Movement activists saying Malcolm

was about to launch the youth policy).


Very few people, apart from Prime Minister Keating’s closest political allies

and advisers, know that Mr Keating is suffering from a far more debilitating

and dangerous ailment - described for laymen, as simply political


The symptoms vary from week to week, but the more they take hold of the

patient, the more the patient goes into denial mode.

A classic sign to most observers was the statement - “it doesn’t get any

better than this” - just after he put up interest rates 2-and-a-half percent.

Shortly after he showed another “denial phase" symptom when, with our

youth unemployment rate the fifth-highest in the OECD, he told some

young students in Adelaide to “get a job”.

To be more serious, it is an honour to be asked to close your conference.

I have followed proceedings through the media. It says a lot about the

very foundations of the Liberal Party of Australia that its youth wing

continues to attract sound coverage in the media that generally brings

great credit to our Party. It is very healthy for the future of the Liberal

Party that the Young Liberal movement is thriving.

From my own point of view I have enjoyed working with Leon Beswick over

the past 12 months on youth issues.


It is excellent to have on tap through the Movement such a wide network of

young people across Australia.

However the past year saw us reach out to an even wider spread of young

people through the National Youth Road Tour, a consultative process

meeting with 1200-plus young people and youth workers in 23 centres,

from Melbourne to Cairns.

Ten days and 5200km on the road improved the participants' appreciation

of youth hostels as a clean and economical form of budget

accommodation, and increased their annual intake of fast food by 500%.

But more importantly it highlighted the degree of the crisis facing many

young Australians, particularly in regional areas.

It also hammered home the point that, because of the significant

differences between regions and even communities within one region, it is

vital that the delivery of Commonwealth programs is both highly flexible

and involves the community as much as possible.

The National Youth Road Tour also taught me another important lesson

that I hope you will remember throughout your political lives - listening,

consulting and talking does take time, but is time well spent. It's worth

consulting properly rather than introducing policies and programs that are

out of touch with what is reality.


A simple example of this is that the genesis of the euphemistically-entitled

“Working Nation” statement was a panic reaction to the feeling in Labor's

ranks that something had to be done about long-term unemployment "or

we’ll be dead at the next election”.

The trouble is that despite the doctored jobless figures and artificially

inflated employment statistics we saw yesterday, many of Working

Nation's programs simply aren’t working.

And worse, some of the programs it replaces, like JPET were working but

were rubbed out.

I find it remarkable that 16 months after the commencement of Working

Nation, Mr Crean would institute a consultation process, albeit one limited

to about 700 people nationally and conducted through the optimistically-

named Youth Access Centres.

The government pointed to this process as the cornerstone of its response

to the damning Morris Report on youth homelessness, even though it had

stated that only 10 percent - or just 70 - of the young people it spoke to

were actually homeless.

It is fascinating to contrast the Keating government’s recent shambolic

approach to youth consultations and policy to the thoroughness of the

Hawke government under the Priority One initiative.


In fact the history of Youth Affairs policy under Labor is that it started very

well - very well indeed - but ran out of puff quickly and significant advances

have been virtually non existent for the past four or five years.

In the next fortnight, the Labor government tells us that it will release a

Youth Statement. It was foreshadowed by Mr Keating’s office in

September during the first leg of the National Youth Road Tour and was

promised within a month.

Needless to say, it didn't appear and although the Prime Minister and the

Minister for Employment, Education & Training are still vacillating over who

will actually belatedly deliver it four months later, it is timely to look at the

context in which it will be made.

Of course if it is to have the status of other recent government

announcements it will have to be called “something Nation” - probably

“Young Nation” or “Youth Nation” - to add to the Keating "build a library in

monthly sets" series that began with “One Nation”.

They have “Creative Nation”, “Working Nation” and even a greatest hits

compilation called “Shaping the Nation" - although they had to check with

Jane Fonda and Jenny Craig to make sure there was no copyright on that


We have already heard of a range of measures - such as capitalizing Job

Search allowances to start new enterprises and setting up mentoring

programs - that might be announced in the government’s “Young Nation”

statement, but the one to put your money on is very obvious.


This is a policy move that will effectively reduce youth unemployment from

almost 30% to less than 10% within weeks. *

No unemployed young person will get one new job, but the youth

unemployment rate will drop.

This will be achieved by redefining the youth unemployment rate to provide

“a more accurate measure”.

The government has already made its intentions to do this crystal clear

through leaks to the media.

Because statistics at the moment look at the workforce and exclude those

in training and education, the Ministers who seek this change believe they

don’t paint an accurate picture.

This policy proposal is sure to work well.

If you include lots of people who aren’t looking for work in the Labor force,

you could get the rate way down. In fact if you broaden the age categories

down to say, five-year-olds, you could probably get the rate down to single


The other reason why this is a certainty to happen is that it is exactly

what’s occurring with regional unemployment.


If you happen to visit regional Australia you will find a youth unemployment

crisis. But as at a few months ago the government decided not to release

the regional figures. *

As recently as yesterday, the Department of Social Security changed the

publication of regional Job Search and Newstart statistics, so as not to

include Regional Youth Training Allowance figures.

Prior to yesterday we weren't allowed to know how many unemployed

there were actively seeking fulltime jobs in a region.

Now we can't be told how many are receiving unemployment benefits.

Nevertheless, my own view (which is obviously from a severely biased

perspective) is that it doesn’t really matter what this Keating Labor

government says in “Young Nation”.

Younger Australians have pretty well switched off and don’t believe

anything they hear from Mr Keating.

Young Australians are particularly cynical about politicians.

In my view this cynicism is a very bad thing although in light of the library

of broken promises, it is fair.

I believe that one of our great responsibilities is to repair and reconcile

young Australians with government and with politics.


Young Australians must feel that they have ownership of their nation.

Young Australians do not want tokenism, they do not want patronising,

they just want to be part of the action. *

Youth have borne the brunt of the dismal economic mismanagement of

this government.

Some of the worst examples of that are contained in a report, Going

Backwards II, that I released last week.

It showed that young single adults made up one-fifth of all Australians

living in poverty.

It showed that the average pay of people in the lowest-wage earning

bracket declined by $1100 per annum in real terms in a decade under

Labor, while the wages of people in the top bracket soared by nearly

$4000 per annum.

The bad news for the low earners is that average home repayments

increased by $3220 a year in the same period.

A quarter of the lowest decile is made up of young people, which leads to

the conclusion that home ownership has moved a long way out of the

reach of this generation.

Going Backwards II showed that numbers of young homeless in Australia

doubled in the years 1991-94.


That up to 23,000 have been identified as homeless, with as many as

9000 more living independently but in need of support.

It showed that youth unemployment still runs at a rate three times that of

general unemployment, reaching its highest point since the start of Labor's

much-hyped Working Nation training scheme.

It showed that youth suicide is the single biggest killer of our young -

striking down more than AIDS or road accidents.

And it showed that only 8% of promised Federal funding to combat the

tragedy is flowing this financial year.

In short, Labor has delivered low wages and high unemployment and all

the social consequences that go with that.

It is a matter of even greater concern for today’s young that the legacy of

Mr Keating as Treasurer, and lately as Prime Minister, is that they will be

paying for his mistakes for years to come.

I refer you to a statement and a graph on page 103 of this week's edition

of "The Economist” that shows Australia's disastrous current account

balance as by far and away the worst in the O.E.C.D. It states that

“although Australia has a small trade deficit it has huge debt service



Incidentally, on the same page it does an international comparison of

Prime bank lending rates and shows Australia has the second-highest in

the world - a full 3-4% points higher than our major trading partners.

These interest rates affect opportunities for young people very harshly.

High interest rates make housing more expensive, both for the provision of

rental accommodation and for those wishing to purchase their first home.

They make it less viable for business to borrow money for expansion and

creation of new jobs. They make it harder for younger Australians to start

their own businesses.

Making the economy expand so that all Australians can reasonably aspire

to work, not only for economic survival but also in a way that gives them

job satisfaction, depends on the development of new enterprises and new

small business.

You can try to develop the very best policies for social welfare, the

environment and health - and a Howard Government will do just that.

But try as you like, if you don’t have new businesses being created the

renewal of our nation and the hopes and dreams of our people will wither.

Young Australians should have hopes and dreams.

There should not be 234,000 Australians under 25 looking for a fulltime job

and many, many more working far fewer hours than they would like.


You can take the recent jobless statistics with a grain of salt.

The fact is that the stress of the employment outlook that weighs so

heavily on senior high school students means that much of the joy,

adventure and fun of being a teenager has been wrecked.

Understandable concern . about getting good exam results has crowded

out many other important concerns that occupied previous generations.

Nonetheless, many of the wonderful ideals that young Australians have

shared and fought for are more important than ever.

The fight against war. . .the fight for our environment. . .the fight for a fair

go for indigenous Australians are three issues that have attracted

passionate support and interest from youth.

Often in the past involvement in the peace "movement", environmentalism

or land rights activism has involved young people in the political process.

This is very healthy for a nation and our Party should have, as one of its

aims in Government, restoration of a climate for more involvement and

political activism for young people.

Young people should feel they can have their say and that they will be


Young people should care enough to do so.


That will only occur if young Australians no longer feel alienated in their

own society. 1

A Federal Government that actively seeks out the views of youth, that

seeks to be inclusive of those views, can help to change the deep and

destructive cynicism which is a feature of Australian youth in the '90s.

The Coalition is doing the right things by committing to a Minister for Youth

and by guaranteeing a minimum of 10% youth representation at the

Peoples Constitutional Convention.

We will need, however, to do more than that.

The most important thing we have to do is deliver our policies as promised

and deliver a quality government.

Unlike Labor, our goal at the first term of Federal Government has to be

the delivery of all our commitments by the end of that term.

As John Howard has said on a number of occasions, it would be far better

to promise half of what you would like and deliver it all than to promise the

world and deliver little.

This is not to downplay the importance of the agenda of our Party in

Government; nor is it to say we should not be ambitious in our quest for



In fact we should be wary of being too conservative in this quest. On the

contrary, we should be extremely progressive.

The time for change in Australia is long overdue.

But that change, and the process by which it is carried out, must recognise

that all Australians have a stake in the process.

Government can drive change but to be effective, it must be carried out by

the people.

To be the great nation that Australia has been for most of the century we

will need to be able to have the potential to lead, to be ahead of the game,

and to adapt.

To move Australia from our current state of economic risk towards a

secure future will require the commitment of all Australians.

At the opening of this conference, the Leader of the Opposition outlined a

policy approach to Industrial Relations that reflects this ethos by offering

security and choice.

Australians, particularly young Australians, want and deserve security.

The new approach offers a path of sensible and progressive reform.


It has been scorned by the "out with the old and in with the new" Industrial

Relations hardliners and equally criticised by union bosses who want to

hang on to out-moded structures. *

Young Australians do not believe grandiose promises of economic nirvana,

environmental Camelot or New Dealist social welfare.

They are a generation that's pretty damned realistic about what

government can and can't do.

In many areas, government needs to do a lot more a lot better and in other

areas it should admit failure and re-define its role.

In Youth Affairs policy, in policy development and program delivery the

next Coalition Government can, and will, do a lot more.

Contrary to the bleatings of the Labor Party and the odd indiscretion of

some Young Liberals, the Youth Affairs Policy will be released at a time

designated by the Leader.

It is, along with the range of policies that have special interest for and

impact on youth, a policy that promises things which can be delivered.

It is our challenge in the days and weeks ahead to offer Young Australians

the credible alternative national government that most of them are looking



I do hope that when we meet at your 29th convention we are able to

review almost a year of solid performance in Youth Affairs in Government.