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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1295

Mr McGAURAN(3.39) —The one constant thread running through all of the Government's attitudes and policies towards young people is a gross underestimation of the integrity of young people. Does any member of the Government really believe that young people can be fooled and can be bought off? Does any member really believe that the shallow hypocrisy and the meaningless rhetoric of one government program after another really wash with the young? If any of them do believe that, I suggest they go into the schools and out into the community and meet the young people. They should go to the unemployment centres, the drop-in centres, and find out for themselves that the increasing cynicism of young people is directed at the Government. Does any member of the Government really believe that youth unemployment can be solved by the glossy and totally unsuccessful Priority One scheme, that the problems of education can be solved by the unworkable and complex Austudy, or that the drugs offensive can be solved by glossy public relations campaigns? The answer to all of that is no. But it seems to have dawned on no one in the Government that young people are not impressed by these things and that the Government is increasingly out of touch as it frames these massive public relations budgets.

The honourable member for Jagajaga (Mr Staples) sought to portray the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) as an all-knowing wise deity. In fact at one stage he said to us that the Prime Minister takes notice of young people. Well, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would be aware that the Prime Minister seeks to take notice of a lot of people; hence, since March 1983 when coming to office, he has allocated $34m on advertising, almost $34m on public relations and $22m on promotions in journals and periodicals, seeking to improve his image. So he certainly tries to take notice of people. More specifically, $1.6m was allocated for Priority One with its newsletters, billboards, posters and advertising. The expenditure of some $13m over three years in promoting its drug campaign has also been a waste of Government expenditure.

The honourable member for Jagajaga went on to say that the Prime Minister recognises that the young have attitudes, he understands them and he listens to them. Well, he had better listen to them and he will have to listen to them now because a Government poll of late last year-who else got it, of course, but Australian Nationwide Opinion Polls Pty Ltd, which seems to have a monopoly on Government polls-showed that almost half of teenagers and young people between the ages of 15 and 24 cited unemployment as the major and most important issue affecting their lives. As for Priority One, which is supposedly the linchpin of this Government's approach to youth unemployment, 40 per cent did not even know that it existed and only 20 per cent thought it would be of any benefit to them in any way whatsoever. Moreover, only 6 per cent of young people thought that Priority One would do something worth while. It further went on to reveal that six in 10 young people believe that their employment prospects are a low priority with the Hawke Government. So, if the honourable member for Jagajaga is correct that this Prime Minister seeks to listen to young people, he will have to reshape from the very bottom upwards his youth unemployment strategy. After all, what has the $1.6m publicity campaign brought for the Government? Well, there has been a 2 per cent increase in youth unemployment since Priority One started. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), commenting on the increase to an extraordinarily and tragic 23.3 per cent among teenagers seeking full time work, sought to down play that tragic rise and said:

Although youth unemployment increased by two percentage points in February it would be rash to interpret this as a marked deterioration in the youth labour market.

He should tell that to the young people trying to get a job. He should tell that to the increasing numbers of young people seeking employment. The honourable member for Jagajaga told us on this side: `Don't get too excited about what seems to be a hiccup in monthly figures on youth unemployment'. The youth unemployment figure may or may not increase next month, but that misses the whole point. By however much it increases or decreases, the figure is at an unacceptable level. If it decreases, it will not decrease by more than one, 2 or perhaps even 3 per cent. But does the honourable member for Jagajaga expect us on this side of the House to accept as a fait accompli, or as the norm, a youth unemployment rate of about 20 per cent? If he does so he, sadly, not only underestimates young people but also underestimates the Opposition.

If we look also at the problems of Austudy, which is supposed to bind together all the different allowances and incentives for young people to continue with secondary and tertiary education, we find again that the rhetoric does not match the practice, the implementation of a Government policy. As always, Austudy was introduced with haste, without proper thought and certainly without any real planning. So we now have a situation in which hundreds of young people at university have received no income whatsoever since late last year. There would hardly be a member of parliament in this place who has not had a stream of young people or parents through his or her electorate office. The Government has only itself to blame. Expectations have been raised. Political points are sought to be scored but no follow-through occurs.

Mr Blunt —They got the advertising out though.

Mr McGAURAN —Of course, as the honourable member for Richmond says, the advertising is always in place. It is always carefully thought out. It is always carefully implemented and it is always expensive. Austudy falls flat because the forms are complex. Also, the cross-checking and processing of them have been unacceptably slow, based mostly on an inadequate and untried computer processing system. There is even a problem in that supporting parents are at the bottom of the queue. Anybody receiving a benefit is placed at the bottom of the queue for the processing of Austudy applications. The point is that there should not be such a queue so as to people deprive of the necessary support.

The problems of education continue. It is an undeniable statistic that last year 14,000 young people who had the qualifications for tertiary education were unable to find places. This year that figure is expected to be in the region of 30,000. That will be 30,000 young people turned away from their due entitlement.

Mr Cobb —What do they care?

Mr McGAURAN —The honourable member for Parkes asks: `What do they care?'. That is not a rhetorical question because every time we ask a question of responsible Government Ministers, they never answer. Moreover, they seek to divert attention from their failings by referring to matters far in the past and without any substantiation.

The Prime Minister's shallowness and deceitfulness came to the fore during Question Time. When asked a question by the shadow Minister for Education, he sought to wrap it all up in macroeconomics and failed to direct his answer to the specifics of the question. Can the Prime Minister deny that, as at 30 January 1987, only 3,600 traineeships were in place? That is a long way short of the promised 75,000 by next year. More than that, only 14 per cent of these are in the private sector.

Mr Cobb —Another broken promise.

Mr McGAURAN —It is another broken promise, the promise having been that 80 per cent would be in the private sector. I noticed that the honourable member for Jagajaga lowered that estimate during his contribution by saying that he expects that some 40 per cent will be in the private sector in the future. That is a very substantial retreat from earlier estimates. The drugs offensive has fallen on deaf ears. As the honourable member for Gilmore (Mr Sharp) knows better than anyone, as he is Chairman of the coalition's drug force, this Government has failed to direct the money where it is most needed. Again, the public relations exercise is beautifully executed, with all of the cynicism and all of the abuse of taxpayers' money imaginable. But, as with youth unemployment and further and higher education, the people who really need the help lose out.