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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1620

Dr CHARLESWORTH(9.56) —It is clear that this Government, on coming to office, inherited an economy with massive structural difficulties. By any measure the performance of the Government since that time has been very good. Indeed, the inflation rate has been halved, growth has been restored, unemployment has fallen and employment has grown substantially. In just 22 months, 341,000 jobs have been created and the Government is well on target to create half a million jobs in its first three years in office. By comparison, members of the Opposition, in their 88 months in office, created exactly the same number of jobs that we have created in 22 months. Additionally, there are very encouraging signs in the home building industry, car registrations and retail activity, and also the Government has embarked on restructuring programs in the steel industry and the motor vehicle building industry. This is only a start.

Tonight I shall address one of the structural problems. Again, it has been inherited by this Government but it is, perhaps, one of the most important in that it faces us all. I refer to the problem of youth unemployment. When we came to office 30 per cent of our 15 to 19 year olds were unemployed. The figure is more respectable now, at 25 per cent, but I am sure that honourable members on both sides would agree that it is far from optimal. This issue was canvassed in the Age today. While I disagree with the editorial view with regard to the pace at which the Government is pursuing this problem, there are two excerpts from that editorial which I think have merit. The first states:

. . . one in four young people cannot get a job, and that is not a solid foundation on which to build a society.

I believe that all of us would agree with that comment. The second and perhaps the most relevant aspect of that editorial reads:

We can no longer afford to talk about the problem. Imaginative policies must be introduced which will give young people some long-term hope.

Again, I believe that all people in this House would endorse that view. During the last 15 years there have been long term and permanent changes in the labour market and the organisation of work which has progressively excluded teenagers from full time employment.

Mr McVeigh —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I have never listened to so much drivel--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mildren) —There is no point of order.

(Quorum formed)

Dr CHARLESWORTH —I am delighted that so many of my colleagues are here to listen tonight as this is, of course, an issue of great importance. Between August 1970 and August 1984 full time employment for teenagers fell by 156,000. In August 1970 52.7 per cent of teenagers had full time employment. By August 1984 33.6 per cent of teenagers had full time employment. There were improvements in part time employment for teenagers but the vast majority of these were in full time education. Within the Public Service the number of appointments for teenagers and young people fell substantially.

Even sustained growth will not reverse this trend. During the second half of the 1970s the then Government started to recognise the difficulty but, as usual, its response was ad hoc and piecemeal. The special youth employment training program had, and still has, merit but, of course, there was little concern in that program for the level and quality of training it provided. The community youth support scheme was introduced and grudgingly maintained. Trade training programs, for instance the Commonwealth rebate for apprentice full-time training, were introduced and developed to support apprenticeship schemes and in 1979, just before an election, we had the school to work transition program. All of these programs had a place. All had value. All helped but they were ad hoc programs, not co-ordinated, and they showed no vision. The numbers of youth unemployed continued to grow.

A crisis now existed in youth unemployment. It was only the trade training programs which really improved the position of these young people within the labour market. The challenge which we must face now is to supply the opportunity for those young people to gain the skills necessary for them to fit within the labour market. Every young person needs a chance to acquire those skills. A recent Australian Nationwide Opinion Polls Pty Ltd poll indicated very clearly that amongst young people unemployment was the major issue. They wanted work and help to get it.

What about Australia's performance compared with that of other countries? In Austria, where the population is exactly half that of Australia, there are 180,000 trainees. In Australia, alas, we have only 140,000 apprentices and trainees. It has been shown in countries such as West Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria that small businesses are providing almost 50 per cent of those jobs and traineeships. The Kirby report unashamedly opts for employment based vocational training schemes. I believe the Government has already started to move in the correct direction. The participation and equity program increased the post-compulsory education participation rate and the structural changes within schools make formal education more attractive and relevant. A review of the youth income support scheme is being undertaken. In adopting the recommendations of the Kirby report, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report and the Bureau of Labour Market Research report this Government will be heading towards traineeship employment schemes.

The Office of Youth Affairs has been moved to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the community employment scheme has broken the cycle for many long term unemployed people. The Government's task is to provide leadership but the whole community is responsible for this problem. It is too simplistic to say, as do our opponents time and again, that the answer is to deregulate youth wages. That would, to a degree, displace adult workers. It would not solve structural problems and certainly would not improve the skills of our young people. It would not involve the whole community. The former Government talked about deregulating. It wanted to deregulate the airlines and we got that strait-jacket called the two-airline agreement. The former Government talked about deregulating financial structures and it failed. It talked about attacking Telecom Australia with deregulation. It sounded good, it sounded Gucci, but the Government never had the guts to do it and it never delivered.

It is my belief that what we need are not the tired solutions of the past but an independent manpower task force, an authority for employment and training, something which is detached but which has long term goals. We need an authority which is flexible, which has discretionary powers and a mandate for a trainee policy. We need tripartite representation on that board and we need to set ourselves targets now that we can achieve in the foreseeable future. The Kirby report suggests 75,000 trainees is attainable by 1988. We need such an authority set up so that we can market and deliver those results. Youth employment needs to be co-ordinated with early retirement, permanent part time work, job sharing and the youth allowance restructuring which is being undertaken. At the cornerstone we need the ethos that we will provide for all school leavers an opportunity for further education, training and employment. We need to decentralise the decisions so that they can be taken at a community and local level.

Perhaps our apprentice schemes are too inflexible. Perhaps we need to look at them. Perhaps we need to talk with small employers at the local level who can employ someone for three days a week who can then be trained for the remaining two days. Perhaps we need to slash some of the red tape that presently exists. One of the possibilities is forgoing the holiday loading for trainees. Perhaps we need to look at the workers' compensation arrangements that can be made between small groups. Group schemes can be set up. Certainly, State costs and charges such as payroll tax discriminate against employment and need to be reassessed.

I do not believe that one in four of our young Australians are not worth the effort. I do not believe that one in 10 or one in 20 are not worth the effort. We must have a sense of purpose and we have to break free from some of the structures which are choking us and our initiative, no matter how well we may be intentioned. There is a crisis in youth employment. Our opponents have failed but, unfortunately, as a result Australia is failing. It is not a time for petty point scoring. There is no purpose in that. We are all responsible. We must invest in our young people. They deserve a chance and we have to give them that chance.