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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1342


Senator PETER BAUME(4.46) —Almost exactly one year ago, on 18 October 1984, the Senate discussed a matter of public importance relating to youth unemployment. I thought that it was a very balanced and constructive debate but now, one year later, the problem remains as a cancer eating at the hopes of our young and at their belief in the credibility of national structures. It is appropriate that my colleague Senator Amanda Vanstone should have proposed this matter of public importance before the Senate. Its terms are:

The failure of the Government to give real priority to the issue of youth unemployment.

It was proposed by Senator Vanstone and supported very ably by my colleague Senator Robert Hill. The extent of the problem is still frightening. Unemployment rates in Australia today are still high. At the end of August 1985, the unemployment rate for those between 15 and 19 years of age was still more than 20 per cent. The unemployment rate for those 20 to 24 years old was, in comparison, less than 12 per cent. As Senator Siddons pointed out earlier, the unemployment rate for those over 25 years is around 6 per cent.

If one translates the figures which Senator Siddons and I have used it can be seen that in Australia today young people between the ages of 15 and 19 have a rate of unemployment that is about 170 per cent the rate of their older cohorts, the 20 to 24-year-olds. Those between 15 and 19 years have an unemployment rate about 250 per cent that of the general community, and an unemployment rate about 350 per cent that of their cohorts more than 25 years of age. Those are very serious figures. The effects of youth unemployment are well known. They were set out by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in his August 1985 statement when he launched what he called the `Commonwealth Government's Strategy for Young People'. The Prime Minister said:

In addition-

to unemployment-

too many young people are inadequately housed, too many receive inadequate health care, the welfare needs of too many are not being addressed, and there are too many alcohol and drug related deaths among young people. There is a growing sense of powerlessness, and of isolation from and rejection by, adult society.

He estimated that at June 1985 about 130,000 young men and 95,000 young women-more than 200,000 young people-were unemployed. That is equivalent to about the total number of electors in four Federal electorates. About nine per cent of all young people in Australia were officially recorded as unemployed and seeking full time work. According to the Prime Minister, they were spending on average between 30 and 50 weeks out of work. There can be no more serious a national problem facing us. We discussed it last year and many of the points that were made during that debate need to be repeated. It was our concern at that stage that the Government was contributing to the sustaining of this high rate of unemployment and that young people themselves were losing hope about this society and the chance they had of participating in it.

On that occasion I drew attention to a survey of youth by Australian National Opinion Polls Pty Ltd, commissioned for the Government, in which a number of views of young people had emerged. More than 80 per cent of young people believe that it is difficult to find a full time job in a city or in any area in which they live. A large majority-more than 60 per cent-of young people overestimate the level of unemployment among the young. In other words, they see the problem as so severe that they are despondent about it and overestimate it. They expect unemployment levels to continue. They do not expect improvement in the near future. The survey reveals feelings of helplessness, depression and boredom. It reveals that young people sleep in in the morning with nothing to do. The whole pattern is of people dropping out of society.

The issue is not just one of jobs. It is the issue of a generation which wants to take part in our society and feels that it is unable to do so because it cannot find work and cannot get any sense of self-fulfilment. The response of this Government has been to announce that its priority one is youth unemployment, when clearly it is not, and to announce it in a way that serves the Government's purposes rather than those of young people. The Government's response is to have Senator Giles tell us that technical and further education is flowering at the moment. She did not mention that this year TAFE colleges turned away 60,000 people wanting to do no more than improve themselves and get access to jobs. She did not draw attention to the fact that this Government has cut in half the funds for next year for participation and equity which goes to improving the chances of those most disadvantaged. Is that the Government's priority for young people and their need for employment opportunities and training? The Government has cut PEP in half. If it wants to tell us that Priority One: Young Australia means the employment of young people it has to explain how that cut fits in to the attainment of that priority.

We are concerned about the Government's whole handling of the Priority One program. The announcement was made before the program was ready. I say to Senator Giles that, in spite of the arrangements that have been made, I suspect that not one young Australian is presently in training as a result of that program. There may have been some arrangement, but I do not think any young Australian is benefiting from it. The program was announced before it was ready, before any immediate action was possible, before any apparatus to put it into effect had been set up and-very conveniently-just before the Budget, when the Government needed some good news. It served the purposes of the Government and it served the Prime Minister's own convenience and political ends to announce it then, before it could be put into effect. It did not help young Australians to have it announced in that way. The Government has called its program Priority One, but young Australians are not its first priority. They never have been. The Government's first priority is its own preservation in government.

We have been told that the bulk of traineeships will be in the public sector. Senator Harradine made a very telling point this afternoon. He said that the Government could itself have become a major participant in Priority One. It could have given the lead. The Commonwealth Government, through its own Public Service, could have become the agency through which young people took part. It seems that that has not happened.

I have heard this afternoon from Mr Jonathan Fowler of the Australian Small Business Association Ltd, who was listening to this debate and saw fit to phone in with the experience of his Association. He says that despite this program, Priority One, being launced on 20 August-a convenient pre-Budget announcement for the purposes of the Government-the first that his Association heard about it from the Government was on Tuesday of this week when an officer from the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations rang him and asked how his association was going in developing trainee proposals. Mr Fowler reported to us that he told the officer that his Association knew nothing about Priority One, much less about how it could make use of the provisions of the program for the benefit of young Australians. Following that one call the Department has sent a Priority One kit by hand delivery to the Australian Small Business Association and has arranged for a meeting with that Association on Friday, 18 October, this coming Friday. So much for consultation with business. There has been no consultation with one of the umbrella organisations for small business in Australia and very little action to put trainees on the ground.

I refer to the advertisements which appeared when the announcement was made. They were large, double page advertisements in the best parts of our national Press. What were they headed? They were headed `We've just given Australia a new sense of priorities'. Whose photograph did they contain? They contained the Prime Minister's photograph, of course. Although the advertisements were allegedly about Priority One, they were really about advertising the Government. When I looked at those advertisements I thought: `Hello, this is interesting'. Let us see what the advertisements said about the program details. Of course, they said nothing. Let us see what they said about how one applies to take part in the program. They said nothing. Let us see what they said about how to make contact for further information. They said nothing.

These advertisements had nothing to do with young people. Any honourable senator can look at the one I have here. They are self-aggrandisement statements by the Government making a good fellow of itself. They did not even give the information which young people would need if they were foolish enough to believe that this program was being put in place rapidly for them. Young people are not the Government's top priority. The Government's top priority is inward looking, itself. The advertisement was about the Government and the Prime Minister. It did no good for the young. Senator Cook told us that the Government will provide places. How many places have been provided to date? How many young people are in training today? We suspect that the answer is very few.

Another point has to be made. Youth unemployment is an expression of the economic malaise in which Australia now finds itself. The resolution of youth unemployment will involve the restoration of business confidence and business capacity in the country. These are matters which have to be addressed. It is no good saying that because we are applying a band-aid here, whether or not it is a good band-aid, we are attacking the problem. All the Government is doing is pumping out water and doing what it can while the ship continues to leak.

This Government has now been in office for two and half years. It has been in office through two elections and three Budgets. The level of youth unemployment today is the responsibility of this Government. We are looking to the Government, after two and a half years, for results, actions, and programs in place. Promises are not enough. If the Labor Party wants the people of Australia to believe that after two and a half years, in its third year in government, the situation we face is not its responsibility, or if it is not willing to take responsibility for the level of youth unemployment, let it say so.

The time has now passed when Mr Hawke and the Labor Party can escape the consequences of their inaction and clumsiness. If they cannot act effectively after 2 1/2 years, they never will. Today's situation is Labor's-the result of Labor's stewardship and Labor's three Budgets. It has had the benefit of the improvement following the breaking of the drought. It has had the benefit of its great prices and incomes accord and its three Budgets. Youth unemployment is still 350 per cent higher than the unemployment rate for adults. There is still a crisis because the economic recovery has been insufficient to allow most employers to take on youth. This year, 1985, is the International Year of Youth. Youth are celebrating it in Australia with enormous rates of unemployment and with a lack of hope. It is not good enough. It was entirely appropriate and proper that Senator Vanstone should have brought this matter before the Senate today for discussion.