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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2334

Mr EMERSON (1:46 PM) —The reason we are debating the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill 1998 is that the government has no strategy to deal with unemployment. Unemployment is the scourge of Australian society. It causes a loss of self-esteem and tragedies in homes. It is not just the loss of the nation's productive capacity that we are dealing with; it is a problem that has tragic human consequences.

There is nothing more tragic, of course, than the waste of human potential through youth unemployment. In presiding over high levels of youth unemployment in this nation, we are creating a real danger that unemployed young people will be condemned by society to joblessness and alienation. This causes our young people to strike out at the society that has spurned them. The legislation before this House is very important because it gives us an opportunity to talk about this issue of youth unemployment and the remedies to it.

Instead of developing an integrated plan for tackling youth unemployment, the government has embarked upon a program of punishing young people for the government's own failure. The key to getting young people into work is to ensure that they have the education and the skills to command a job at a decent pay. Nowadays, young people who leave school early—and there are still very many of them who leave well before year 12—face the prospect of being condemned to joblessness. We are now in the information age. That is where the jobs are and we need to generate the skills in young people so they can get those jobs. If we do not do that, we are failing them.

Under the previous Labor government, the proportion of young people completing year 12 increased dramatically from 36 per cent to more than 70 per cent. But what have we seen since 1996? This government has actually cut education funding by $130 million. That is a $130 million cut in government school funding. The Howard government has not committed itself to providing a decent education for disadvantaged young people at all, and this is what we must do. We must lift the skills base for these people, instead of withdrawing funding and then coming into the House to debate this issue of youth wages.

The government is punishing young people again through the Common Youth Allowance. On 1 July last year, 46,000 young unemployed people had their benefits cut. The Common Youth Allowance for 15 to 17 year olds is a complete fiasco. In Logan City, which is in my electorate of Rankin, there is absolutely no funding for the young kids and they are being forced to return to school against their will. We were advised that, to fund the Common Youth Allowance for 15- to 17-year-olds, the relevant government department put in a budget submission of $140 million. In fact, the amount that was approved was $42 million. Assurances were given that that meagre amount of money at least would be distributed. There are children in Rankin being forced to return to school against their will and they are getting no funding, and I am quite sure that situation would be replicated right across the country.

At the university level, which is highly relevant to this question of youth wages, further punishment is being meted out to our young people. University grants have been cut by nearly $1 billion under this government, and 21,000 student places have been abolished. What direction are we heading in? TAFE funding was cut by $240 million. We are seeing a systematic deskilling of the young people of Australia, and then we come into this place to debate the issue of youth wages. If we had some proper skills based programs to lift the skills of young people, there would be no need to come in here to debate this issue.

What is happening is that the government is systematically punishing young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I fear that we are seeing a return to the days of privilege of the pre-Whitlam era—where privilege is being entrenched but, worse, disadvantage is being entrenched by this government. The government's proposal on youth wages is just one dimensional. They have no imagination whatsoever, and they have no commitment to solving youth unemployment in Australia.

I wish to go to the issue of work incentives for young people because this goes to the heart of the matter we are discussing today. The tax package provides, I am afraid to say, further punishment for young unemployed people. Education is supposed to be GST exempt. That is not the case. Most of the costs of an education will bear a GST. The families who are trying to educate their young people will have to pay extra costs for books, clothing, transport and a whole array of other things involved in getting young people into school, into training and then into university if they choose that course.

Let us have a look at another impact of the government's tax package on young unemployed people. Members would be aware of the modelling that has been done by Professor Dixon of Monash University and Chris Murphy of Econtech. They have predicted the following as a result of their modelling. They have predicted very large job losses in the tourism sector. They have predicted large job losses in the housing sector. In fact, the tourism task force has confirmed that there will be large job losses of up to 60,000 in the tourism sector. This is the result of independent modelling.

Where are our young people looking for jobs? Where is the greatest prospect of finding work? It is in our growth industries, our service industries. But we are debating a goods and services tax, including a punitive tax, on tourism. So we are here debating the issue of youth wages, but last year we debated the GST and the Senate inquiry is now debating whether there should be a 10 per cent tax on the education and job prospects of young unemployed people.

Let us look at a particular category of young unemployed people and it is a fairly large one—that is, people in the age bracket of 17 to 24 who have had their youth allowance cut or removed entirely by this government. There is no extra compensation to those parents who will be impacted financially as a result of their kids at home having their youth allowance removed or reduced and as a result of the impact of the GST.

Members opposite seem to be fond of quoting McDonald's. I will quote another McDonald—Professor Peter McDonald of the Australian National University. In a submission to the Senate GST inquiry, Professor McDonald said:

There is no compensation at all for the costs to parents of any child aged roughly 17 years and over despite the fact that nowadays a very high proportion of these young people are dependent or semi-dependent upon their parents. Income tests of the Youth Allowance imply that the government expects families to support children aged between 17 and 24 years, but this is not recognised in the new tax arrangements.

That is a point that has been reinforced by the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission. Mr O'Connor, the National Director of the Catholic Social Welfare Commission, said:

Tax package cameos being marketed by glossy advertising and snapshot references to `what is the total package worth to me?' are selective and do not give a full indication of the package's impact.

He went on to say:

It is a concern that for average families depicted in the tax campaign advertisements with two or three dependent children, there may be an additional `hidden' dependent young adult who is unemployed or studying with no financial assistance. They would add at least $130 each week to the family's taxed consumption and costs of living, according to the Institute of Family Studies this estimate does not include housing, transport, medical or dental expenses.

Mr Lloyd —Mr Deputy Speaker, I have a point of order. Could you bring the member opposite back to the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill? I believe he is speaking on a wide ranging area.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) — —I thank the member for Robertson. I call the honourable member for Rankin again, and I am sure he will speak to the bill.

Mr EMERSON —The reason I am talking about this is that the whole issue of incentives for young unemployed people to work relates directly to the measures that the government is proposing in this legislation. So I will finish what Mr O'Connor had to say, which was obviously of concern to the member opposite. Mr O'Connor said:

This estimate does not include housing, transport, medical or dental expenses. The invisible dependent young adult attracts no assistance under this package.

The government should be easing the transition from welfare to work for young unemployed people. This, in fact, was Labor's plan. I will point out a cameo about Bill that Labor actually provided in its package. It went:

Bill works part time earning $5,000. He also receives a part rate unemployment benefit. Bill currently pays $16.30 a week in tax and has $80 a week left over from his wages. Labor's tax rebate will enable him to keep almost all of his wages. Under Labor, Bill gets to keep $94.42 of what he earns. Under the Coalition package, Bill would be paying $13.42 a week in tax, keeping only $82.73 of his income from working.

That is where the solution to this problem lies—in providing an incentive for young unemployed people, an incentive that is totally lacking in the government's tax package and is totally lacking in the measures that it is proposing.

We on this side of the House are delighted with the bipartisan support that has been provided by the government for our target of reducing unemployment to five per cent. This nation needs an integrated plan for reducing unemployment and, in particular, for reducing youth unemployment. What we are seeing today is simply one reacting measure, one proposal. We need to have an entire plan that provides incentives to work and rewards for work. That is a plan that the Labor Party developed and presented to the people at the last election.

What we are seeing here are the world's great renegers. When they went to the 1996 election, they made core promises and non-core promises, but they reneged on their non-core promises and, dare I say it, a significant proportion of their core promises. We heard from the Prime Minister that we would `never ever' have a goods and services tax. He reneged on that commitment, too.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.