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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 828

Mr BLANCHARD(4.18) —When I was addressing the House last Friday in this debate I drew the House's attention to the issue of Aboriginal health. I pointed out that in regard to a wide range of diseases Aborigines fare very poorly compared with non-Aboriginal Australians. In fact, Aboriginals remain the least healthy identifiable sector of the Australian community. While the factors underlying the persistently poor status of Aboriginal health are complex, the major determinant is obviously the extreme social inequality experienced by Aborigines. There is a need for this Government to look more closely at its current policies in respect of Aboriginal health to see whether there are inadequacies and, if so, how they can be improved. We need a national plan for Aboriginal health similar to that which was projected in 1973.

I now turn to the plight of the Aborigine caught in the criminal justice system. It is a sad fact that Aboriginals are ten times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginals. In Western Australia, we have one of the highest imprisonment rates for Aboriginals in the Commonwealth. This issue requires urgent attention by State and Federal governments. A research project carried out in 1981 by Mr Broadhurst, of the University of Western Australia's extension service, found that, compared with other Western countries, the community attitudes in Western Australia were more severe and that this could contribute, in part, to Western Australia's high imprisonment rate. Of course, we must remember that it is the sentencer, not public opinion, who determines the sentence. However, it may be that the sentencer's attitude reflects that of the wider community.

I pay recognition to the work of the Aboriginal Legal Service in this respect. There is no doubt in my mind that the high rate of imprisonment to which I have already referred would be much higher but for its existence. All the lawyers, field workers and support staff who work in that service deserve high praise for their work.

I turn now to the issue of youth unemployment. There is concern on both sides of the House at the high level of youth unemployment. The unemployment rate amongst youth, especially those in the 15 to 19 years age group, is higher than for any other age group. According to Windshuttle in 1980, this is not a new phenomenon; only the magnitude of the current rate of unemployment is unprecedented. In 1984 some 23.8 per cent of youth aged 15 to 19 years were recorded as unemployed. The Kirby Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs estimates that the real rate of unemployment, including the hidden unemployed, is 33 per cent. The average duration of unemployment among the 15 to 19-year-old group has risen from seven weeks in 1973 to 26.4 weeks in 1984. No honourable member on either side of the House could be satisfied with that state of affairs. According to Benn, today's youth are destined to become the chronically unemployed of the 1990s.

It is generally recognised that the most vulnerable group of unemployed are young school leavers. Many youths who experience unemployment, particularly long term unemployment, have great difficulty in developing a work identity. The crucial months following their departure from school can have significant long term consequences in terms of their work and self-identity. Volunteerism and short term unskilled work are unlikely to instil a sense of work identity, as the Opposition naively advocates.

It was in response to the problems of youth unemployment in particular that the Government set up the Kirby Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs. The Kirby report addressed itself to many of the issues relating to youth and adult unemployment and made recommendations as to how the structure of labour market programs can be changed to make them more efficient and effective, considering the need for continuing restraint in the growth of public expenditure. However, it does not address many of the more fundamental issues of the nature of the economy and the market system which determines production according to profit rather than social criteria. The Kirby report recognises this shortcoming and acknowledges it as follows:

Even the successful management of the economy is unlikely to redress the unemployment problem. As long as the market remains the arbiter over the conditions of work and living, unemployment will persist.

The Kirby report acknowledges that increased youth unemployment is not due to the failings of schools or individuals. However, it appears to assume that by changing the characteristics of individual unemployed youth, unemployment amongst this group will be reduced by increasing their job prospects. Unfortunately, this is in contradiction to experiences over the past decade, which has seen growing unemployment amongst youth in a period when educational levels amongst this group have risen steadily to an estimated 66 per cent. How is it then that a new program of education will reverse this trend? Higher educational participation does not change the number of available jobs and cannot, therefore, reduce the stock of unemployed. Those with higher education simply displace less qualified people in jobs requiring skills below their level of competence.

The question as to where new jobs are to come from, the crucial issue the Government must address if it is to reduce unemployment, remains unanswered by the Kirby Committee. The Kirby Committee identifies successful macro-economic management as the answer to this problem, but does not tell us what this is. In fairness to the Committee, this was not its brief. However, it is the issue which must be addressed by the Government and, rightly or wrongly, it is a question that many organisations in the community had hoped the Committee would address. This is a question to which the community will continue to seek an answer. I thank the House for its attention.