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Friday, 13 September 1985
Page: 525

Senator CHILDS —My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I ask whether he is aware of the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard, on the Four Corners program on 5 September that the biggest reason so many young people are out of work is that it is too expensive to employ them. What is the Minister's view on this issue?

Senator BUTTON —As I have said on a number of occasions in answering questions of this kind, the issues are very complex. Very simplistic solutions have been propounded to the complex problems. Being an astute politician, Mr Howard seems to have walked down that road. The Government has had this question of youth unemployment examined by a number of bodies.

The Government has had the benefit of a number of reports in relation to the matter, in particular, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development examiners and the Kirby Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs from which the Government's traineeship proposals for young people stemmed. There was, of course, some sort of academic debate about it in which the Flinders University Institute of Labour Studies has been a prominent participant. I think it is correct to say that all those studies have not in any sense identified themselves with the view expressed by Mr Howard; that is to say, it is too expensive to employ young people. They have adverted to a wide range of other complex issues which undoubtedly contribute to youth unemployment.

Senator Lewis —But surely you agree that it is one of the factors?

Senator BUTTON —Of course, Senator, I would agree. I happen to take the view that if we paid wages of 10 shillings a week to everybody in Australia we would probably have more employment than we have now.

Senator Lewis —That is ridiculous.

Senator BUTTON —Of course it is ridiculous. I made that point to indicate the absurdity of the honourable senator's interjection. The fact is that there is a far wider range of much more complex issues involved. I might just point to the experience of other countries for example-

Senator Chaney —But your Budget Speech said that the cost of employing labour is too high. Mr Keating said that in his Budget Speech.

Senator BUTTON —I do not think that that is quite a fair statement of what was said, Senator. If we look at the experience of other countries we find that those countries that have relatively high youth wages have no worse performance than countries such as the United States of America which has had a dramatic reduction of wages amongst young people. I think that neither the experience of other countries nor the views expressed by numerous expert bodies which have examined the question in Australia suggest that it is capable of the sort of simplistic rhetoric which Mr Howard indulged in and which I was asked about in the context of Senator Childs's question.