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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1290

Mr SHACK(3.04) —Running very strongly through the Australian psyche-indeed it is part of Australian folklore-is the dream of every Australian family to own their own home. The security and the safety that is provided by families owning their own home really provides means to yet other ends. This dream is an important element, it is an important ingredient of what Australian families are trying to do. The basic goal of every Mum and Dad, the thing that they are most striving for, is to give their kids a better chance and a better start in life than indeed even their own parents gave them.

In the 1950s and the 1960s when I and my brother were growing up our parents scrimped, saved and worked hard with one goal in mind-to give their boys a better chance and better start in life than their own parents had given them. It is what millions of Australian families have been doing for decades and they are doing it now. Indeed, it is what I am trying to do with young children. I am trying to give my kids a better start than even my folks gave me. The starkest contrast between the 1950s and the 1960s, and even the 1970s, is that the chances of succeeding in that goal are shrinking and receding. For the first time since the Great Depression, probably with the exception of only the period occupied by World War II, the living standards of Australian families are not going forward; they are going backwards. The blame can be laid squarely and fairly at the feet of the Hawke Labor Government. Australian families are finding it harder and harder simply to keep pace, let alone to get ahead. They are finding it harder and harder simply to maintain the standards they had four years ago when this Government was elected, let alone to get ahead.

If one looks at the taxes imposed by this Government, at the charges imposed by this Government, at the interest rate regime presided over by this Government and at the general structure of costs in our community, one does not wonder that Australian families are going backwards. Parents have an inner anguish about their ability to do for their kids what their parents did for them. We can see very clearly that the chances of Australian children, teenagers and young adults for the first time in decades are shrinking; they are going backwards. Young people are not looking forward to an ever-expanding horizon; they are looking at the prospects of contraction in the opportunities for education, training, jobs, housing and in their ability to save-and indeed in their ability to spend on those things they desire.

I turn now to education. Education is at once one of those foundation-stones upon which young Australians can build a prosperous life. It is also one of the springboards from which they can jump forward and make progress with their lives. We all know that any young person whose education fails to give him a solid grounding in the basic skills faces a life-long process of economic, social, political and indeed cultural disadvantage. The biggest issue outside the family home is mums' and dads' concern about the education that their kids are achieving and receiving. The biggest issue is the perceived decline in basic educational standards. Employers and parents, and even many teachers, are all too well aware of the number of young people who are finishing their education unable to read, write or spell properly, let alone count.

The National Association of Personnel Consultants last year estimated that half of the 600,000 unemployed lacked basic educational skills; that is, 300,000 people lacked the most minimal standards that employers seek. It is not their fault; it is the fault of misplaced priorities in education by government. Over the last decade or two there has been a downplaying of the basics in education. It is no wonder that the Business Council of Australia survey in mid-1986 found that the majority of employers in Australia lacked confidence in the school system, as indeed do many parents. Much of the responsibility lies within the State arena but I repeat now our commitment to work with State governments and the non-government school sector to develop, in government, a national monitoring system to measure and keep track of educational achievement in basic standards. This initiative will enable the school system to target resources and redirect priorities to ensure that fundamental educational responsibilities are fulfilled because our pressure on standards, if we are to fulfil our obligations to our children, must be upwards and we must not forget the basics.

It is disgraceful that this Government has now reduced access to higher education by year 12 school leavers to the level of the mid-1960s. At Question Time the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was trumpeting the Government's supposed achievements in higher education. But this year, for the first time since the mid-1960s, fewer than 40 per cent of last year's school leavers were able to gain a place in our universities and colleges. The reality is that the Hawke Government has taken higher educational access back 20 years and opportunities are not expanding; they are being reduced. Fourteen thousand qualified students were locked out of higher education last year. This year the estimates are responsibly around 30,000. If the trend continues unabated, 100,000 young Australians will have the doors of higher education slammed shut in their faces by 1992. What is the Government's response? It is deafening silence-nothing. It still cannot grasp the fact that there are more students waiting to study than there are places funded by the Government. The Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) has even tried to turn it back on the students who miss out, suggesting that they are too stupid to be accepted into higher education institutions. She refuses to acknowledge that because of the shortfall of student places, qualified kids are getting locked out. As we have stated in this place many times, a tertiary entrance score, a tertiary education admission score, or a higher school certificate score that would have got students in three or four years ago is no guarantee to get them in today. The personal anguish of many thousands of families who are realising that is too apparent to measure.

The coalition has released its growth plan for higher education. We intend to expand the system, to open the doors of higher education to thousands of students who would jump at the chance to invest in their futures if they miss out under the present system. It is another example of where the Hawke Government in higher education is reducing opportunities for young Australians, not expanding them.

If we turn to training and talk about those who miss out in terms of higher education, we will see that the picture in the training area, in the apprenticeship area, and in the technical and further education area is alarmingly worse. As any TAFE principal can tell us, the unmet demand for places is nearly 100,000 already. In the TAFE area we do not have to wait until 1992 to reach that figure. It is so serious that in some cases apprentices cannot get into the courses they need to complete their training.

The greatest tragedy and this Government's most abject failure in the area of youth is the traineeship scheme. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will recall that we welcomed the traineeship concept when it was announced, and we looked forward to its providing at long last some expanded opportunities for young Australians, but the Government has botched it completely. At the end of January this year only 3,600 traineeships were in place. Most of them are in the Federal and State public services and only 500 are in place in private enterprise. Not only has the Government failed to deliver its promised 10,000 places by June 1986-long past-but also it does not have buckley's chance of achieving its target of 75,000 by 1988. Traineeships are supported by young Australians and they are supported by the Federal coalition. It is an utter disgrace that the Government has lacked the courage to stand up to the union opposition to the necessary flexibility in trainee wages. The Liberal and National parties will have the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission insert a proper trainee wage rate in all awards to stimulate further opportunities for the training of young Australians.

While we are talking about employment, nothing is more important to any young person than a fulfilling, satisfying job and career. It is the key to their independence. It is the key to their identity and all the other options, both socially and culturally, that our community has to offer. When the Prime Minister launched the Priority One strategy he said:

We still have unemployment. It is improving . . . our employment programs are working.

The Prime Minister will have to eat those words and do so with embarrassment.

Mr N.A. Brown —What has happened since?

Mr SHACK —Youth unemployment is higher today-that is what has happened-than when the Priority One campaign was launched. As I mentioned during Question Time today when asking a question of the Prime Minister which he totally refused to answer, in February 1987 youth unemployment was 23.3 per cent. An extra 11,000 young Australians are without a job than when Priority One was launched. This Government has ignored the reality of youth wage relativities. Young people are being locked out of jobs because of the bloody-minded attitude of the union movement which has stood squarely in the way not only of employment opportunities for young Australians but also of the successful implementation of the traineeship scheme.

If we look at housing, what have we seen under the Hawke Government? We have seen the highest interest rates in history and a host of anti-investment taxes which have thrown housing into complete and utter chaos. Fewer home loans are available for young people, for young marrieds who want to start on the dream of owning their own home to provide security and sanctity in which to bring up their children. Those who are making mortgage repayments are paying exorbitant and artificially high mortgage repayments. The rental market is drying up rapidly. Rental charges have gone through the roof right around the country. So much for the Government's price watch scheme. It is a joke. One of the most basic costs, the cost of housing, has been forced up to punitive and record levels by the Government's misguided and mismanaged economic policies, impacting greatly on young Australians. Opportunities for them to own their own homes are not expanding. They are receding and reducing.

If one looks at the area of saving one finds that no other generation of young Australians has been taxed as heavily by any government as the present generation of young Australians. Young people have been able to work hard in the past to save and to achieve their immediate goals. They have been able to gain through overtime. But today their overtime is generally taxed at the 47c in the dollar rate which makes it harder and harder for them to achieve their goals, even if they do have jobs. Many cannot save. Many find it impossible to make ends meet. They are going backwards. One finds them in electorates around Australia.

Those who are forced into debt to meet their commitments are paying the highest interest rates in history on everything from a car loan to ordinary consumptive purchases on Bankcard. They are now paying 22 per cent on Bankcard purchases. Consumer debt amongst young people is higher than ever.

It has never been so hard as it is under the Hawke Government for young Australians to get a good start in life, to make it to first base in their independent phase of existence. This Government has dodged the hard issues and turned its back on young Australians, despite the prime ministerial rhetoric. It has done nothing about the real issues but has tossed them into the transparent and gimmicky Priority One scheme in an attempt to prop up the Labor Party's declining popularity amongst young people. It will take a lot more than cinema ads, phone-ins, billboard posters or even appearances by Bob on Countdown and Country Practice to convince young Australians that this Government has done anything else but ignore their problems and plight in all the fundamentals such as housing, education, training, jobs and saving. This Government stands condemned for its absolute failure of young Australians.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.