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Senate committee to inquire into implications of sustained high levels of youth unemployment

JENNY HUTCHISON: Economic rationalists, those who put efficiency and monetary savings above all else, are now being blamed for youth unemployment, threats to personal privacy, even moves to dismember the postal system. Does this mean death for the con-rats?

We will also hear about some astonishing finds in the archives of former parliamentarians, but first, the Government's youth unemployment summit - what did it achieve, and what other ways are there to tackle what Prime Minister Keating termed, the social evil of youth unemployment.

I am Jenny Hutchison, and this is the Parliament Program.

TERRY AULICH: Hi, I am Senator Terry Aulich. We know there is a lot of talk and debate going on at the moment about unemployment, particularly amongst young people, and the point is, we have got to keep chipping away at the problem. I chair a Senate committee which is looking into the implications of long-term unemployment amongst young people. We want to find out first-hand, from you, how young people are dealing with unemployment. How do you get work experience? What sort of effect does being unemployed have on your lifestyle, your health, or your family? How do you feel about having no job when others have got one? We would also like to hear your views on things like income support and a youth training wage.

Write to the Senate Committee on Employment and Training, Parliament House, Canberra. The committee will visit the States in September and October, to talk to young people. We have also set up a voice mail box, so that you can ring through a detailed message. Phone 06 277 3030. We look forward to hearing from you.

JENNY HUTCHISON: That's a radio advertisement directed at young people, seeking their input to a Senate committee inquiry into the implications of sustained high levels of youth unemployment. It's from Terry Aulich, who explains what his Senate committee hopes to achieve.

TERRY AULICH: Well, I think as everyone panics and tries to do things in the usual instantaneous form that governments and bureaucracies like, in other words, you find the solution as soon as possible, put some system into place, and you go away and leave it. We have decided that we will spend quite some time on this, literally going to places where many bureaucracies won't go. We will take advice from many local Members of Parliament and we will talk to young people, we will talk to groups who work with them. We will try and find out what schemes currently in operation, are working quite well, maybe in pilot form. We will have a look at the whole question of whether or not the unemployment benefits themselves, are sufficient to enable young people to maintain dignity and a lifestyle that's compatible with their peers, and whether or not the wage system currently for young people, is in fact, an incentive for them to seek training to try and improve themselves. There are a number of other areas we are going to look at but the key thing is for us to sit down and talk mainly with young people, or those who work very closely with them. And that's not going to be done in one or two days.

JENNY HUTCHISON: And yet we have had this week a Government Youth Summit and we recently had an Opposition consideration of this problem, and they were very much trying to talk about things to be done now, so are you saying that you reject that sort of approach?

TERRY AULICH: Well, not entirely. I think the point of a summit is that it actually focuses everyone's mind on the major issue, and I think the major issue is just what we are doing to young people in this country, and I might say, what we are also doing to the middle-aged unemployed, as well. I think those two groups are in a sense, our investment in the future and I include the middle-aged unemployed as well, in that. Now, we have virtually neglected that area for a very long time, in the name of economic rationalism, this stupid philosophy which has dominated Australian politics now, for something like ten years, with both political parties. And the human cost of that philosophy is now only just starting to be realised, so what a summit does is actually bring that home to a number of politicians who might well have been instrumental in pushing policies which created that very unemployment, or if not creating it, at least exacerbated it.

JENNY HUTCHISON: It's interesting because politicians in the previous sitting weeks, frequently spoke about youth unemployment, but they were talking about it, which was one of the lines of young people yesterday. Now I know you spent quite a lot of time at the summit yesterday. What were your impressions?

TERRY AULICH: The impression I got, above all else, was that people were quite dissatisfied with the formal structures that are currently being used to employ, educate and train young people. DEET didn't come in for too many pats on the back, as a department. The State Governments weren't considered to be particularly bright or active in this area. And basically, people were saying to the Prime Minister, you take it under your wing, in your particular department - that is the Prime Minister's Department; you run the issue; you make sure things are done; and if we have to, let's go round some of the formal structures which are bogging change down now; and let's get some pilot schemes up from people who really know what they are doing, at the coalface. So that was the strongest message that came through to me, and I think, also to the Prime Minister. He was listening pretty carefully to that.

JENNY HUTCHISON: So maybe too late, but at least a start could happen.

TERRY AULICH: Yes, but I think we have to go back to the point that I made before, that this dry economic rationalist viewpoint that's been dominating particularly the public service in Australia, that's dominated the British and American political systems, is an unmitigated disaster, and it's just starting to show through now. You cannot have deregulation; you cannot drop tariffs; you cannot take away protection for appropriate industries in a country, when the rest of the world is not doing it. Someone described it as baring your backside in the streets of London and Rome because they are not doing it, but we are, and we are exposing ourselves to the cold of unfair competition in so many areas, and we are suffering the consequences. Now people will not come to that conclusion because it is embarrassing for both political parties to accept that they have been conned by an economic philosophy that is now beginning to show itself as an absolute failure and socially destructive, especially for our young people who are, after all, the future of our society.

JENNY HUTCHISON: It was mentioned to me by a young person that the general community attitudes towards the unemployed have changed quite dramatically in the last six months, a year, as against still quite a significant number of people who earlier would have said, you are unemployed, you are not really trying to get a job, that now there is very widespread acceptance that for young people, it's bad luck. You know, we understand it's not necessarily your fault.

TERRY AULICH: I think that is true. Let's say, the percentage of people who are sensitive to the problems of unemployed people is increasing. But from my readings, for example, of the great depression, strangely enough, when one of four of the major breadwinners was unemployed in this country, there was still a very significant proportion of the population, particularly the influential proportion of the population, who believed that the unemployed were in fact, unemployed because of their own problems, not the problems of society or of the economy. So I wouldn't be too confident that we are going to have a very sensitive, caring society that understands what unemployment is about, because the only person that really understands what it is about is someone who, when they are asked at a party or socially, what do you do, and they have to answer, I am unemployed, they are the people who really know what it is like, because all of us are defined in most ways, by our jobs.

JENNY HUTCHISON: It sounds like there is quite a wide range of matters you are going to be covering which means that you won't be reporting for some time. You may, in fact, even find the report overtaken by a federal election.

TERRY AULICH: Well, I hope not. I mean, the committee talked about that and we decided that we were going to move as quickly as possible, hopefully to bring in at least a major discussion paper before Christmas, on the basis that what we have got to say, representing the views of many people in the community, will stir the debate and particularly make governments and bureaucracies think a little more deeply about the issue. Because one of the dangers of just having a summit or say, a new parliamentary approach to the issue, let's say a Bill which does this or that, or some budgetary increases, one of the dangers of that is that people set in place structures which are not relevant and they think they have done the job, so they then rest on their merits. And we have seen a lot of that happen in this country - Ministers saying, the department has got it in hand, and the fact is the department hasn't got it in hand. And I don't know what they have got in their hand but quite frankly, it's not the solution, because in many cases, they are living in a very comfortable city, well paid, most of these decision makers, well paid, well away from where the real action is. I mean, they ought to be going to places like Burnie or Launceston or Newcastle, and just see what it is really like in those places. It is very nasty when you get something like 60 percent of the young people unemployed, in one particular town.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Senator Terry Aulich, and the telephone numbers for contacting this committee, they are 06 277 3520 or 06 277 3030.