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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2362

Ms GAMBARO (4:10 PM) —The Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill 1998 , before the House this afternoon, is a bill of great importance to Australia's future. In fact, this bill is about Australia's future and about creating and maintaining prospects for young people. The importance of this bill lies in the fact that this bill will ensure that Australians will have jobs and job prospects, and that is what gives young people hope. It is only with a sense of hope and belief in themselves that young people will actually be able to carry this nation forward.

Members on both sides of the House will undoubtedly agree that youth unemployment is the scourge of modern Australia. Headline figures of 30 per cent youth unemployment seem to have become commonplace in the Australian press. In fact, over the past 20 years, youth unemployment has outweighed total unemployment at a ratio of three to one—that is, for every person unemployed in the general population, there have been three young people out of work. There is clear evidence that something needs to be done about the youth labour market. It is fragile and it has been that way for almost two decades.

In my own electorate of Petrie, I see many young people who seem lost and uninterested in life because they have little self-confidence. This lack of self-confidence no doubt stems from the fact that many of them are without jobs, and that is a great tragedy. My intention is to tackle this problem head on at a local level. Later this year I will be organising a youth forum in my electorate, and I hope to develop solutions to local unemployment problems. A major step in that direction was taken last week with the official launch of the area consultative committee. The Moreton Bay Coast and Country Area Consultative Committee brings together four local government authorities, the federal government and local business people, and they are all there with the express aim of enhancing local business competitiveness and employee skills, and to facilitate entry into the work force for young people.

For this aim to bear any fruit, Australia needs to have the labour market framework that addresses the particular needs and failings of the youth labour market. This bill does just that. The government's Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill will provide youth employment by making sure that young people can get the start that they need in their working life.

I am sure that we have all experienced a rather infuriating paradox as we begin our working lives, and it does not matter how long ago it was or how recently. Many times I experienced a situation when I was applying for jobs and I had the qualifications and the advertisement would read `experience required'. Of course, I did not yet have that experience, and the irony was that I really needed that job to get that experience. I am sure that I was not alone in this. In fact, I often hear this very same story now from young people who are doing exactly that—going for work in my electorate and being told that they need experience. How does one get experience? How do young people get out there and get that experience that they so vitally need—that experience that can get them a foot in that door, that experience that is so vital to the young person's prospect? They can get it by what this bill tries to do.

This bill ensures that young people will maintain their competitive advantage in the labour market through junior rates of pay. This bill will open the door to employment for so many young Australians. Young people need to have some sort of comparative advantage when they enter the labour market. The necessary advantage is based on some of the issues at play on an employer's mind when they are considering hiring a young person. And what are some of those issues that an employer thinks about when he hires a young person? Maturity is an issue, and the perennial problem of experience is an issue. That is why we have junior rates of pay. That is why we need to maintain the junior rates of pay.

A lot of the members on the opposite side here today have spoken about discriminating against young people, but actually their actions today and their opposition to this bill is the greatest discrimination of all. I heard today a number of speakers on the opposite side, including the member for Lalor, state that we were discriminating. Junior rates of pay compensate for a young person's lack of maturity and experience in comparison to much older candidates. That is why we need to keep junior rates. It is simple. It is straightforward. You cannot create jobs for young people by pricing them out of the market. This bill will not only help young people when they are trying to get into employment but also protect the jobs of many, many young people who are already at work, and that is a very, very important factor to note.

The former Keating Labor government legislated in 1993 and 1994 to abolish junior rates of pay. This bill will permanently exempt junior rates from these Keating provisions. The bill, contrary to the ideological babble that has been bandied around by the members opposite, is not about telling young people to take a pay cut. It is not about that at all. This bill is about ensuring that 420,000 young Australians are not priced out of their own jobs. In fact, it is common knowledge that if the government had not introduced these measures—and a number of speakers on this side have already alluded to this in the speeches that they have given before the House—220,000 jobs in the retail sector would have been in jeopardy. I hope the members opposite and their colleagues in the Senate bear this in mind when they vote on the bill.

As I said, this bill is not about pay cuts for young people; it is about maintaining the existing system of junior rates of pay. It is the Labor Party which wants to give people pay cuts. Yet again, those pay cuts will be the inevitable result of that special brand of Labor logic. The opposition wants a 17-year-old retail sector employee to get a $175 a week pay rise. Just imagine the scenario: a 17-year-old working at Myers would get an extra $175 a week if the Labor Party had its way. How long do you think that Myers could afford to pay that increase? Not very long at all. For every three employees that the firm has, how many new or extra jobs would disappear if that increase came into effect?

The fact of the matter is that if Labor's position was implemented we would have a 17-year-old person who would be out of work. It is as simple as that. And not having a job is the biggest pay cut anyone could ever get. Labor logic. It says quite a lot about the Labor Party. With policies like this, it is little wonder that thinking members of the Labor Party are often relegated to the backbench, and we see that quite often here in the House with people like the member for Werriwa. Only Labor could actually formulate such a diabolical position on youth wages.

What is even more galling is that the Labor Party pretends and possibly believes that they are acting in the best interests of young people. I listened to the member for Lalor today when she was talking about discrimination. They do not realise that the action that they are taking and the high level of opposition that they have for this bill plus the unfair dismissal provisions are great impediments for employers to take on young people. I am sure that young people are aware of what Labor sees as their best interests, and I am sure that they see right through that. You have only to remember the former member for Blaxland's comment, `Go and get a job!' some years back. But how could they if Labor had their way on junior rates?

Not only does Labor treat young people with contempt through their insidious policy on junior wage rates, but they also show of great deal of disdain towards the jobs that young people actually seek. I would like to reiterate a point made yesterday by Minister Reith in question time. Labor seems to be arguing that the jobs that this bill will protect are not worthwhile jobs. `McJobs are not real jobs,' is what the Labor Party is saying. `A job at Myers or Grace Bros is not a real job,' is what the Labor Party is saying. I would like to draw the attention of the House to comments made on this topic by the member for Melbourne. As the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business noted yesterday, the member for Melbourne—and I see he is in the House—argued:

Mr Albanese —Here comes a quorum.

Ms GAMBARO —That was good timing. He argued:

The ridiculous notion that some jobs are not real jobs but merely theme park jobs or McJobs must be abandoned. Many of the jobs in the old economy are no more fulfilling or better paid than such new jobs, and they are often dirtier and more dangerous.

Mr Albanese —Did you work for McDonald's?

Ms GAMBARO —What incredible insight! I worked in my parents' takeaway store—much greasier and a lot harder work.

Mr Albanese interjecting

Ms GAMBARO —Hear, hear! And I worked in my parents' fruit store. We have uncovered another thinker in the Labor Party! But how long will it be before another member is sent to the sin-bin for thinking this way. I have to applaud the member for Melbourne; at least he is able to think and he does think outside the realm that some of his other colleagues are so locked into. Judging by his comments on the 7.30 Report , it will not be long before he and the member for Werriwa form a shadow shadow cabinet in the outer Labor caucus.

These retro style ideological thinkers will not help to tackle the problem of youth unemployment. The fact of the matter is that a job is a job. But Labor's policy platform seems to have had difficulty dealing with changes to Australia's economy and society over the past 30 years. The fact of the matter is that Australia's economy is now a service based economy and that is what the members on the opposite side do not seem to understand. We are going towards a service based economy. That is where it is all happening and that is where all the jobs are going to be. And 75 per cent—it is probably more now—of our gross domestic product is generated in the services industry.

Let us look at the importance of the service sector to employment and the very vital role that junior wage rates play. Take the role of McDonald's. I talk about my parents' takeaway, but McDonald's is a very good illustrator here because it employs thousands of young people and 40,000 people overall. As I said earlier, the retail sector employs some 220,000 young people on junior rates and many young people had their start at places like McDonald's. The notion that these jobs are somehow qualitatively different from a job as a storeman or a job on a factory floor is absolute nonsense, but that is some of the stuff that is being peddled here today. Young people learn some very important skills when they work at McDonald's. They learn about teamwork. They learn about business processes. They learn about customer service and operating systems when they work for these firms.

Mr Albanese interjecting

Ms GAMBARO —I am very glad to hear that the member opposite has worked for places like McDonald's and understands the worth of that training. It has stood him in good stead.

Mr Albanese —It is why I am here today.

Ms GAMBARO —He has even managed to become a member of the House of Representatives, so I am very thrilled that he got that great start in life. Clearly and most importantly, they learn lessons about life—I am sure the member opposite did—and they develop a work ethic. I am sure he is working on that at the moment.

I would like to give you an example of another successful person who started on junior rates at a bakery. Tom Potter is CEO of a booming business called Eagle Boys Dial-a-Pizza. One of the members opposite—I think it was the member for Lalor—said that in these times of change it is impossible to envisage that a junior at the bank can go on and become the bank manager. I say that is appalling and I say that that is nonsense. There are opportunities for young people to work their way up. I have worked in the hotel industry. Many of the general managers in many of the hotels that I worked in, at the Parkroyals and the Travelodges, started off as the concierge and then progressed their way up through the ranks. So to believe that that does not occur is absolute nonsense.

Tom Potter started off in a bakery as a young person on a junior wage rate. His business is getting stronger and stronger every day nationally and he is branching out overseas—so much so that he has 150 stores and he turns over $80 million a year. Why do I tell you about Tom Potter? He is the very same person who, at an early age, was put on the success track that he is on today. Why? Because he started as a junior on junior wage rates.

It is interesting to note that federal Labor's position has not been taken up by its state parliamentary colleagues in New South Wales, in my home state of Queensland and in Tasmania. Why is that so? Do the members for Werriwa and Melbourne have the ears of the Labor state Premiers? Or are the state Premiers just thinking people who realise the absolute folly of abolishing junior wage rates? I hope, at least for the sake of young people and for the sake of my home state, that they continue to be that way. And I hope that the Labor Party will recognise for once in their history that they are doing a great disservice to Australia by not supporting this bill.