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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1472

Senator McKIERNAN(5.35) —The Senate this afternoon is discussing a matter of urgency which was moved by Senator Vanstone. It states:

. . . in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The Government's cynical abuse of the employment hopes of young Australians and the need for it to immediately address the abject failure of its education and training policies.

We have heard contributions from two Opposition senators this afternoon. I agree with Senator Hill: This is a very important, perhaps the most important, matter confronting Australians; that is, employment, training and education of young people. Our Government accepts that it is a priority. That is why we have devoted so many resources to the trilogy that affects youth-employment, training and education. I propose in my contribution to this debate this afternoon to give some examples of what the Hawke Labor Government is doing; also to do some comparisons with the previous Liberal Government, led by the then Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, with John Howard, the present Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, as Treasurer; and also to look at the abysmal mess we inherited on attaining the government benches in March 1983. It is important to look at those things and remember that when this Government attained the treasury bench in 1983 this country was in decline. We had suffered negative growth in the previous year. We had double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment. Things like that will not be changed overnight and will not be addressed by the piecemeal policies and the stop-start measures that we had when the Liberal Government was in power.

It is the role of the Opposition to put forward motions such as this afternoon's. It is its role to nitpick, complain, carp, criticise and pressure government to implement policies that the Opposition thinks are worth while. There is also an even greater pressure on those opposite: They are supposed to put forward alternatives. Unfortunately, this is an area in which the present Opposition is lacking. We are not getting any real alternatives, although I will pay a tribute to the previous speaker, Senator Hill. His was a balanced contribution and I think many elements of it need to be looked at very carefully-they could even be taken up by this administration. But unfortunately Senator Hill's influence in the Liberal Party is not particularly great because of the influence of some other sections at the moment within the Opposition ranks.

Of course, the Liberals have other matters on their minds at the moment-not only the leadership question, which is obviously occupying a great deal of time on the Opposition benches, but also what the Liberal's coalition partners, members of the National Party of Australia, are doing and what pressures they are exerting. The Liberals not only have the National Party but also, perhaps, the Joh Party to consider when putting forward constructive ideas to government. I have some sympathies with them in that regard because obviously they are not dealing with particularly rational people.

We also find out more of the Opposition's thinking with the leaked strategy document that fell off the back of a truck just over a week ago. It seems that a great section of Liberal Party members are not necessarily engaged in the constructive preparation of policy in preparation for the unlikely event that they were to attain the treasury bench in the near future. They are more occupied with the continuation of the disruption and destruction that occurred on the industrial front while Mr Fraser was Prime Minister of this country. That is perhaps a reflection of another pressure group operating within the Opposition parties at the moment. I refer, of course, to the New Right in the Australian political scene.

The New Right is about the destruction of the trade union movement; it is about the destruction of the arbitration system; it is about turning back any of the advances made on the industrial front in the life of this country. It is offering extremist policies, which are being accepted by a small section of the community but which would rival those of nazi Germany, some Eastern bloc countries or indeed some of the South American countries. Unfortunately, not only for the Opposition-the Liberal Party and the National Party-but also for the people of Australia, it is being listened to and is being given a voice. It is given a particularly big voice in one of our national daily newspapers, the Australian, which puts to the fore one of the leading spokespersons, Ms Katharine West, who not only wants to turn workers into serfs but also wants the unemployed youth to work for the dole. That has received some support around the place; but following the support that she received she went one step further in one of her articles, arguing that the unemployed should work for 1c a week. She did not specify 1c a week; but, seeing that we are in Australia, we calculate wages on a weekly basis. Not only does she want them to work for the dole but also she wants the dole money cut out and wants the unemployed working for 1c a week. When she was questioned on this she said:

I stand by that, If you pay young people half a wage, that's condemning them to a low self-image. You present them with a challenge and I've found that works.

If one loses self-esteem by being paid only half a wage, what does one lose if one is being paid only 1c? I said that it is unfortunate for not only the Opposition parties-the Liberal Party in particular-but the whole of Australia that some people are being influenced by extremists such as Ms West and her fellow travellers because these things can take off and get a momentum of their own, and we could end up in the bad old days of the 1970s and early 1980s when the nation as a whole was suffering because of the industrial disputation that we had.

The New Right wants to go even further, and again it is not in a constructive fashion. It wants to extend the working hours of those who are already in employment; it wants to reduce annual leave and annual leave loadings; it wants to reduce penalty rates for those who are already in employment. There is nothing at all constructive; it is rather like what we hear from the Opposition through its publicity released policies and also through the leaked documents that keep falling from those divided and disunited parties sitting opposite us.

Let me go to some of the achievements of the Hawke Labor Government in its period of office of 49 months, or almost 50 months-and it will be many, many more because it will get back as there is no alternative to it. The area in which I am particularly interested in terms of training, education and employment is that of apprenticeships. The Hawke Labor Government has a commendable record in this area. The Fraser Administration left office with only 35,000 new apprenticeship intakes in 1982-83. In 1985-86, the Hawke Labor Government had increased the intakes to 51,000-a record for this country and something on which we will build not only to give employment to the youth but also for the future of the nation. Ninety-four thousand young people, or some 9,000 more than in 1985-86, will be assisted in apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship courses as a result of the expenditure of $122.6m in 1986-87. This represents a substantial increase of some 13.2 per cent over the 1985-86 expenditure in this area.

That is just one area that is under debate here, and we have a number of them; so I will move quickly through them. It was argued by Senator Hill that some 23 per cent-plus of the youth of Australia are currently unemployed.

Senator Vanstone —That is true.

Senator McKIERNAN —We do not deny that 23 per cent of the youth of Australia are looking for full time occupations, but to say that 23 per cent of the young people of this country are unemployed is a misinterpretation of the figures. The people who use that figure forget that many young people in universities and in other places of training are not in the position of looking for jobs; therefore, they are not registered as young unemployed. I will put that in its proper perspective because I do not think I have done justice to it. An unemployed rate for teenagers looking for full time work of 23.3 per cent is often interpreted as meaning that over a fifth of all teenagers are unemployed. This, of course, is not the case.

Senator Vanstone —Tell them about the 75,000 more who are looking for work.

Senator McKIERNAN —In January 1987 when the unemployment rate was 21.3 per cent-I will repeat that for Senator Vanstone; in January this year when the rate was 21.3 per cent-the proportion of the total teenage population unemployed and looking for full time work was 8.8 per cent. It is not a figure of which we are particularly proud-we would like to see a zero in that column-but it is nowhere near what has been put forward by people on the Opposition benches, which is that 23 per cent or even closer to a quarter of the total number of young people are looking for work.

The Opposition, in its leaked document, continues on its destructive path. One of the promises in that leaked document was that a Liberal administration or a coalition government, or whoever leads such a government at the time following the next election should the Opposition be elected, would scrap the community employment program-a program that has created some 20,000 worthwhile community projects across this nation, in all States and Territories, and has created 111,000 jobs. What constructive policies is the Opposition bringing forward, in the cynical exercise of this urgency motion this afternoon, to build on what we have already started? It is planning to scrap the CEP scheme and put an end to those valuable community projects which are of enormous benefit to the individual communities in which they are working. Following the years of maladministration under the Fraser Government, many of these young people had no hope at all of ever getting a job. We have turned things around. We have lived with the difficulties that we inherited, and we have embarked on a job creation program which to date has resulted in the creation of 730,000-odd full time jobs in this country.

Senator Vanstone —Why are there 75,000 more people out of work?

Senator McKIERNAN —Senator Vanstone must be a bit thick or something. I have explained that question concerning the percentage of teenage unemployment. It is not 23 per cent. Senator Giles will probably pick up that question and deal with it at a wee bit more length. Her accent might help her to get the message through to Senator Vanstone.

Secondary education was another matter with which I had intended to deal at some greater length, but unfortunately my speaking time has almost expired. Under Fraser only 36 per cent of the students attending high schools were completing year 12. Already, in four short years, we have turned that situation around, and the figure is now close to 50 per cent. Our ultimate aim is to raise it much higher than that; but again there are some difficulties, not the least of which is the terms of trade which have gone badly against us. Unfortunately, time does not allow me to go into the rest of the material that I had intended to cover, but I am sure that my colleague from Western Australia, Senator Giles, will be able to enlarge on what we have already covered.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.