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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1340

Senator GILES(4.34) —We are debating this afternoon a matter of public importance, namely:

The failure of the Government to give real priority to the issues of youth employment.

This matter was proposed by the Opposition and has already been spoken to by a number of Opposition members. I waited in vain to hear the issue debated seriously by Senator Vanstone, the proposer, but I was unable to obtain from that contribution very much in the way of elucidation about what exactly the Opposition would do given the opportunity. Nor was I able to hear from that contribution any acknowledgment of the Opposition's role in developing the state in which we now find ourselves in Australia. We have a very serious social problem which sees up to 100,000 young people leaving school each year and seeking employment without the vocational preparation which is necessary for them to ensure employment.

Rather than take the approach of the coalition, which when it was in government produced a number of ad hoc, hastily cobbled together, completely inefficient and inadequate schemes to try to boost employment, the Australian Labor Party has approached the matter very carefully and has finally put together a cohesive approach as a result of a number of very thorough studies which has been done in conjunction with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development-a report by the Kirby Committee of Inquiry into Labour Market Programs and a review of youth support schemes, just to mention a few of the preparations which we made for this very important task.

The Australian tradition of early school leaving ages compares very poorly, as we have heard this afternoon, with west European and Scandinavian countries, where the provision for education and other forms of support provide a safety net for young people until they are well past the ages of 15, 16 or 17, at which age in Australia it has been traditional for them to be cast out of the nest, as it were. In response to a question earlier this afternoon the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) explained that in most western European countries and in northern America it is common for young people to stay at school until they are 18 or 19, but in Australia the record has been very poor indeed.

By taking up the recommendations of the Kirby report on training, and rationalising youth payments, we have initiated a number of measures which we confidently anticipate will have a profound and positive influence on the life and career chances of 16- and 17-year-old young Australian people. Important elements will operate to achieve this. Firstly, we can assume that, with the increase of secondary allowances, secondary education participation will continue to rise towards the goal suggested by the Karmel Quality of Education Review Committee. Secondly, we have targeted 1988 as the date by which our traineeship system is to be fully developed. With a decline in this age group as a proportion of the population we anticipate that very few 16- and 17-year-olds need face the prospect of unemployment by the 1990s. In addition, there should be a noticeable reduction in the unemployment rates of 18- and 19-year-olds as the traineeship proposal is extended to older age groups.

We were questioned earlier in this debate about the implementation of our new traineeship program and I remind the Senate that we really have not been very tardy about this. The announcement was made by the Prime Minister in mid-August. By 25 September agreement had already been reached with Western Australia for a proposal involving 500 trainees. By 2 October the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) was able to announce a traineeship with Ansett Airlines of Australia. It will provide for an initial recruitment of about 80 young people as trainees, and it is expected within 12 months to employ 300 young people under the scheme. By 16 October, which is today-less than two months after the initial announcement of the scheme-we are told that already there are 36 group proposals before the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, varying from some that are very small to some that are very large. I do not believe we have been dragging our feet at all on this and I imagine that we may in fact have created an all time record for the implementation of a program.

From the outset, however, we are hoping that all school leavers will be eligible for this scheme although, as the Prime Minister said in his statement, 16- and 17-year-olds will have the highest priority, especially those young people who have not completed Year 12. We focus upon this group which is educationally and often socially and economically most in need of attention and most at risk.

A traineeship involves an agreement between an employer and an employee for the provision of training to achieve particular skills. A system of certification is also included in the scheme. This does not replace the apprenticeship system but will cater for industries where on the job training can be greatly enhanced by approved off the job training. Initially, this will involve the finance, retail and tourism industries. I am taking this opportunity to explain the scheme, realising that many people will be interested to hear details of how it will operate. The trainee is to be paid by the employer at a wage agreed between trade unions and employers, but it will be at least $90 a week.

I thank Senator Harradine for his contribution which very clearly analysed the position of poorly paid 16- and 17-year-olds, very many of whom have no security, no prospect of advancement and get very little in the way of training. These traineeships will run for a minimum of 12 months. In that period, at least 13 weeks must be spent in approved off the job training-usually one day a week. Training will be conducted by accredited authorities, predominantly in technical and further education, but private courses may be accredited if they satisfy the State Industrial Training Division, which is a tripartite organisation including representatives of TAFE and other training authorities.

We were questioned earlier about how TAFE could possibly cope. It will cope very well. After years of neglect by Federal and State conservative governments, TAFE is beginning to bloom. This scheme will assist in the development of the real contribution that TAFE can make to the community outside its traditional role. The TAFE colleges will be substantially compensated for involvement in the scheme. The money awarded, $1,700 per placement, may be used for either capital or recurrent funding. A review is already under way to see what extra capital funding will be required in the event that the system is overstretched. In the short term, TAFE in my State of Western Australia is apparently capable of coping with the 1985-86 target number and is well on the way to filling the 2,500 traineeships included in a recently announced youth package for that State. I am happy to report that I have just discovered that Western Australia has the highest secondary retention rate in the nation.

There are clear advantages for employers in the scheme. Every effort is being made to simplify procedures, recognising that the paperwork involved has acted as a deterrent in employment schemes in the past. State and Commonwealth governments have co-operated in this scheme so that one stop shopping caters for the requirements of both. Unlike apprenticeship formalities which, I understand, go to about 12 or 14 different pieces of documentation, only two forms need to be completed. One is an application to become an approved employer of one or a number of trainees and the other is in order for an agreement to be registered. Many employers will already have been approached and will know that the Commonwealth Government will provide training fees to the employer both for the training required on the job and for the off the job training part of the program.

In many cases, employers have already responded. As I said earlier, I understand that 36 group proposals, ranging from quite small to large, are now before the Department. The Ansett Airlines proposal has been read about, I think, by all honourable senators and is seen as a model for a group training scheme. Young people who are interested in the scheme can get detailed information from the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations traineeship committees, the Commonwealth Employment Service, schools, TAFE institutions, colleges, CES careers reference centres, youth organisations and from State departments of labour. One very important feature of the scheme is that consumers or clients-the trainees and employers-will together make the decisions about the training components of this system, advised of course, by relevant trade union and education authorities as necessary.

The scheme has the capacity to tailor the formal and informal training to the needs of the individual. Training may be broadly based and have transferrable as well as occupational skills, the aim being to enable young people to become adaptable as well as productive. Equal participation of women is an objective of the new system. Special attention is also to be given to particularly disadvantaged young people, including Aboriginals, the long term unemployed, those with disabilities and non-English speaking migrants. Up to 15 per cent of traineeships will be reserved for such special cases, who tend to have missed out badly in the less thoughtfully designed schemes established by the previous Government.

Traineeships will help give young people a foothold in the labour market, enabling them to build up skills and experiences across a wider range of industries than do apprenticeships, and more equitably between the sexes. By developing a capacity to cope with change they will contribute to increased competitiveness in the longer term and a greater likelihood of achieving sustained high rates of growth which will, in turn, speed the reduction in youth unemployment.