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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1339


Senator HARRADINE(4.25) —The question of youth unemployment is indeed a matter of public importance. It is a matter of concern which has been expressed by all sides of this Parliament. That concern, of course, is not only evident in terms of the strain placed on the Budget by the cost of unemployment but also in terms of the cost to individuals. The total cost to the Commonwealth of unemployment in 1985-86 will be in the vicinity of $5.5 billion. That amount will pale into insignificance when it is compared with the cost to the individual unemployed themselves, their families and the cost in terms of the social disruption and dislocation of Australian society.

It is no wonder, then, that the Government has embarked on the program Priority One: Young Australia. I would have thought that a real test of whether the Government has made young Australians priority one would be to examine what the Government is doing in the area in which it can have the most effect, and that is in the area of the Commonwealth Public Service. After all, the Government has a direct responsibility for that area. The fact is that in this International Year of Youth in which the Government has said that young Australia is priority one, the most recent figures released by the Australian Public Service Board show that youth employment in the Australian Public Service has fallen to an all time low. The fact is, according to the latest figures issued by the Public Service Board, that young people under 21 years of age constitute only 6.3 per cent of Australian Public Service staff. That compares with 22.6 per cent in 1966. Clearly, this tragic state of affairs for youth has been brought about by deliberate policy decisions, which still remain in force, denying youth, particularly girls, their fair share of Public Service jobs. The fact is that if the Government is serious about Priority One: Young Australia it must do something in the area for which it alone has responsibility.

I congratulate the Government for initiating Priority One: Young Australia. I look forward to some statement by the Government as to what it is going to do to rectify the tragic state of affairs that is taking place in each and every one of the departments for which each and every one of the Ministers are responsible. By the way, the statistic that I have just referred to puts paid to the main thrust of the Opposition's proposal to cut youth wages. Cutting youth wages appears to be the major thrust of its proposed solution to the problem. But the fact is that youth wages in the Public Service as a percentage of adult wages have hardly changed in the last 20 years. They have made no difference whatsoever. They have not contributed one iota to the serious decline in youth employment in the Public Service. As was said by Senator Cook earlier, the Opposition has not one scintilla of empirical evidence to show that the level of youth wages is contributing to youth unemployment.

I go to the matter of shop assistants' wages. What does the Opposition expect young people to live on? A 17-year-old shop assistant receives a net pay of $128 a week and at the end of the year of course has to pay the Medicare levy. If one takes into account the fact that shop assistants have to dress for the public, take themselves to and from work and pay board, they are really hardly any better off than they would be if they were on the dole. Let us face the facts about this. It is a poor panacea to say: `Cut youth wages and we will increase jobs'. It is important that we concentrate on training youth because employers have been spoilt; they have been able to pick and choose in the labour market. It is also important to give young people work experience, and to that extent what the Government is proposing is important. I will be interested to see what Senator Siddons is proposing as well. The essence of the matter is that we have to recognise that youth unemployment has a social as well as an economic aspect. The plain fact is that there are more people in or seeking paid work than there are jobs available. As the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said in his John Curtin Memorial Lecture in September 1983:

The plain fact is that no Government in Australia will now, or in the forseeable future, solve the problem of unemployment solely through the available methods of increasing the supply of jobs. At least equal attention must be paid to the question of reducing the demands for jobs by helping to provide socially constructive alternatives.

What more socially constructive alternative is there than the care and supervision of children at home? Whether the wife or the husband provides that care and attention is beside the point. One of the major problems that we face today is that many families are forced to have both partners out in the work force because they cannot make ends meet. Budgetary policies must be designed to protect the one-income family and to ensure that that family has the true freedom of choice to engage in that socially constructive alternative of caring for and supporting their children at home. I have been limited to 7 1/2 minutes and I am afraid that that time is up.