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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2343

Mr JULL —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Given that literacy and numeracy difficulties underlie much of youth unemployment, what action is the government taking to ensure that young people do in fact have the skills to get jobs? Is the minister aware of any alternate policies on the issue and has he made an assessment of them?

Dr KEMP (Education, Training and Youth Affairs; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Fadden for his question. I know he is concerned with the young unemployed people in his electorate. I think most Australians believe that the ability to read and write is part of the educational birthright of young Australians. When this government came into office, we found that some 30 per cent of young people coming through school did not have adequate literacy or numeracy skills. This government is now engaged in a rescue mission for Labor's lost generation, for the 30 per cent of young people who missed out on these vital skills during the 13 years when Labor was in office.

From last week, Centrelink is referring young people who are unemployed for six months or more who present with literacy and numeracy difficulties for assessment. If they present with serious problems as a result of that assessment, they are being referred to the appropriate course to raise their literacy and numeracy skills. I believe that most members of the community think that if they are working hard to provide support for young people who are unemployed, it is fair that young people should be prepared themselves to put in and address the major obstacle to employment. The government has put $143 million into this program and contracted some 69 providers.

I regret to say that the reaction of the Labor Party to this wonderful initiative has been an extremely negative one. We have seen the member for Batman refer to it as a hollow stunt; $143 million and 69 providers—a hollow stunt. Senator Lundy says that it is just going to further disadvantage the disadvantaged. In other words the party that created the disadvantage wants nothing to be done to address the disadvantage.

There are one or two on the other side of the House who realise that this absolute policy vacuum has got to be addressed if the Labor Party has any credibility. Mark Latham, the member for Werriwa, has said that the published policies of the Labor Party, federal and state, have fallen short of the new thinking which is required to address the major issues facing Australia. He has been quite honest, up-front and frank about what the problems are.

I noticed the other day that the member for Melbourne, Lindsay Tanner, has indicated that he is fed up with the situation that has been created by the weak leadership of the party and its weak leadership group, and he is calling for a commitment to a specific literacy goal on behalf of the Labor Party. His view is that the Labor Party should aim to lift numeracy and literacy above 90 per cent over the medium term. Well, that is a start. It is actually less, I have to say, than the commitment that all the states and territories have already agreed with the Commonwealth—that every child coming out of primary school should be able to read, write and count at an appropriate level—but it is light years ahead of the policy of the Labor Party. Mr Lindsay Tanner, the member for Melbourne, knows that the weak leadership which is leading to this policy vacuum is, in the end, going to damage his political party and is already damaging it in the eyes of the Australian people.

The new thinkers of the Labor Party are making a direct challenge to those who are currently responsible for its failures. Lindsay Tanner has an education policy, the member for Werriwa had an education policy until it was butchered by the Leader of the Opposition's office—Mike Pezzullo and John Angley—but it is the invisible member for Dobell who is carrying the can for the leadership of the Labor Party at the moment, and he shows no signs of getting them back on track.