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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1345

Senator CROWLEY(5.05) —It falls to my happy lot to sum up this debate. I remind the Senate and people who are listening that this debate concerns the following topic:

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

That claim by the Opposition is a total nonsense. This Government came to office in March 1983, facing the worst economic crisis and recession that seven years of Fraser could produce. Absolutely appalling economic conditions prevailed. The Government set about immediately to give priority to the turning around of the economy of this country, and any set of statistics shows that it has done so. The Government did not fail to give priority to youth unemployment. It addressed it, along with every question of employment concerning all ages, immediately upon taking office. It did this by promoting economic recovery. Its record is quite splendid.

Now that it has dealt with the major macroeconomic issues it has turned its mind more specifically to focusing on youth unemployment. That in no way suggests that the Government has not given consideration to youth unemployment to this point. One has only to look at the Government's community employment program which has dealt with youth employment throughout this country over the last couple of years since it was introduced. It is nonsense to say that this Government has failed to give priority to the issue of youth unemployment. In fact, this debate has not addressed our Government's failure to give priority to this area. We have done so, and we will continue to do so. What we are debating today is a measure of the monumental disaster that was left to us from the Fraser years. We were left with not only double digit inflation, but double digit unemployment. That was the problem we faced when we came to government. That is what the Government has dealt with as a continuing priority. It has now this specific extra focus of the Priority One: Young Australia.

I notice that Senator Harradine is about to leave the chamber. For his edification I wonder whether I could tell him, in answer to the points--

Senator McIntosh —He is on his way back.

Senator CROWLEY —I thank the honourable senator for remaining to hear what I have to say. I will step out of sequence and tell him what I have had brought to my attention, for his information. As part of the Priority One project, in more recently released information, one of the aims of the Government is to establish 2,000 traineeships through the Commonwealth Public Service in 1985-86. It addresses directly the point that he raised. I can only say that we thank him for drawing it to our attention, but the Government beat him to the draw.

Senator Peter Baume —How many have you in place already?

Senator CROWLEY —I will refer to the remarks made by Senator Peter Baume in a moment. He was the last cab off the rank from the Opposition. I will deal with his remarks last, if he does not mind.

Senator Harradine —May I leave now?

Senator CROWLEY —Yes, you may, Senator. I have made the comment that I wanted to make. I simply remind the Senate again that the 11 per cent inflation rate we inherited when we came to office has now been almost halved. The rate of unemployment that we had on taking office has dramatically fallen. Although it is still very high, it is falling and it is continuing to fall at an increasing rate. The fall in the unemployment rate also covers youth. The fall in youth unemployment over the last 12 months-the figures were cited in this debate by Senator Cook-are of considerable encouragement. It is certainly not a matter of resting on our laurels. But they are an indication that the Government's efforts to this point are already bearing fruit.

Senator Vanstone spent her time in leading off this debate mainly by abusing our Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). I commend Senator Georges for taking a point of order so that the honourable senator had to withdraw her abusive and unnecessarily offensive remarks. One wonders why she would want to raise a topic for debate in order to abuse the Prime Minister. Perhaps that is a good measure of the substance of her argument. The Prime Minister-and every member of this Government-has a long-time and clearly stated commitment to young people in this country. The Government has addressed the needs of young people in a variety of ways. At this point it has taken the extra step of specifically targeting youth unemployment by way of the Priority One project. But the programs for drug education and rehabilitation and education programs that have already been announced, as well as the macroeconomic recovery that I have referred to, indicate that the Government has had youth unemployment as a priority all along.

Senator Siddons proposed the consideration of a new scheme. I must say it was somewhat sketchy and I did not really understand what he was proposing. In some ways what he was saying was that the lack of optimism, depression and gloom that young people can feel may be addressed, at least in part, by creating a job sharing program. He proposed that one job be set aside so that five people could each work one day a week in that job. While that is an interesting notion-and I suppose any step to create self-esteem and optimism amongst young people ought to be encouraged-it goes no way to addressing the question of youth unemployment, as the Priority One project does because it is so comprehensive in that it addresses the employment prospect, the educational needs and the income requirements. It is much more comprehensive, I think, than what Senator Siddons is proposing.

However, I can speak of my own experience. When I worked in a community health centre it was quite clear that unemployment amongst young people was, as it remains amongst those who are unemployed, a considerable problem. Largely that problem stems from the lack of optimism, the gloom and the lack of self-esteem and self-confidence that continuing unemployment engenders in young people. Through our health centre we proposed a scheme of voluntary work placement through kindergartens for young people who cared to take up the opportunity of answering an advertisement from our health centre. A number of people did exercise that option and did say, exactly as we expected, that getting up one day a week and going to work, having to be dressed, on time, learning to ride buses and trains again and in short being where somebody valued their contribution did improve their self-esteem and did increase their self-confidence. In fact, the majority of those young people went through that voluntary work program to get full employment.

To the extent that Senator Siddons's scheme might contribute in that kind of way, it is to be commended, but in no way do I think it would replace the proposal put up by the Government. I also take exception to Senator Siddons's claim that this Government is equally as responsible as the Liberal Government for youth unemployment in this country. I think that is a most unfair claim. In fact the already falling unemployment figures cited by Senator Cook earlier in this debate for people in the age group 15 to 19 in the last 12 months are an indication that the Government is addressing the problem and is already finding solutions to the problem. I might say that the Government does not hold itself fully responsible for youth unemployment. It can claim overall responsibility through the improved economic status and situation in this country. Both public sector and private sector are enjoying the fruits of that economic recovery and contributing to employment prospects for our young people.

Next on the list of speakers was Senator Hill, who took the opportunity not so much to express his care about the unemployment of youth as to give Premier John Bannon, shortly to face an election in South Australia, a good spray. One would know exactly why Senator Robert Hill did that. Not too long ago, after wickednesses in the Liberal Party leadership in South Australia, Senator Hill was appointed State President of the Party. He has a particular and particularly pertinent interest in the forthcoming South Australian election, so up he got today to do what Senator Vanstone claimed the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) had been doing. Whereas Senator Vanstone was wrong about the Prime Minister, I am right about Senator Hill. He was spraying the South Australian Government. (Quorum formed) I have the opportunity to get back into that wicked Senator Hill from South Australia, who was giving Premier John Bannon a nasty serve. The point that Senator Hill wanted to make was that Premier Bannon is not too serious about youth unemployment in South Australia because he has adopted a proposal with considerable similarity to the Commonwealth Priority One program. In fact, I am able to assure the Senate and the people of Australia that Premier Bannon is delighted to co-operate with the Federal Government in this initiative against youth unemployment. It is acutely aware of the difficulties of youth unemployment. South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria are the States that are best placed to take up the initiatives of the Federal Government in this Priority One program precisely because of the well matched enthusiasm and seriousness of their consideration of these issues.

The other point of similarity that Senator Hill failed to draw to the attention of the Senate or the listening public was that Premier Bannon in South Australia inherited from the previous Liberal Government the same economic disaster on a State level as the Federal Labor Government inherited from the Fraser Government on the Federal level. The Bannon Government, when it came to office, found that the coffers were in a parlous state. In fact, the Budget was in the red. Premier Tonkin had been using capital funding to maintain the recurrent budget in South Australia. So dreadful was that situation that Premier Bannon has had to spend the last 2 1/2 years devoting his main efforts to getting the major overall economy of South Australia up and running. This he has achieved with massive and wonderful success. I am delighted to have the opportunity in refuting statements made by Senator Hill to give my points of praise to Premier Bannon for his achievements in the major economic considerations in South Australia and for his addressing of the problems facing youth in that State. It is precisely because he recognises those difficulties that he is so wholeheartedly co-operating with the Federal Government initiative as well as promoting his own. I point out to Senator Hill that the young people who have already been asked about this have said that they are delighted with the initiatives of Premier Bannon and Prime Minister Hawke. They do feel that people at last are giving them an interest, are taking them seriously and are providing some educational training opportunities for them.

In the last minute left to me I would like to turn to an article in the Australian Society of September 1985 headed `Jobs for the Young'. The sub-heading is `The job prospects of young people look better than they have for a long time'. This article was written by Keith Windschuttle. There are two quotes in this article which do need to be put on the record. He says:

. . . the traineeship programme is the most positive government move made in Australia on youth unemployment. The Hawke government received a good press when it announced the programme and the issue was obviously part of the August turnaround of the government's popularity dive.

Senator Hill —Well promoted-that is the story!

Senator CROWLEY —That is exactly the story.

Senator Hill —Full page photos of Hawke and no details of the scheme.

Senator CROWLEY —The point is that that scheme was announced. I come now finally to Senator Peter Baume's contribution to this debate, scintillating as ever. He spent his time abusing the Prime Minister along the lines of the interjections now crossing this chamber. He suggested that it was a funny thing to announce it at the time of the Budget because there was no good news in the Budget. What a nonsense. The Budget, like the tax announcements since, as well as the Priority One: Young Australia projects, are good news for this Government and for the people of this country. It was announced as part of the Budget precisely because it is part of the Budget. The allocation of funding under the various headings was required to be put into those Budget statements so that this Priority One project could be set in train and implemented with the 10,000 training places proposed in its first year set in place. That could not have been done without those Budget allocations. It could not have been done without that announcement at the time of the Budget. I think the Opposition quite clearly failed miserably on this matter of public importance.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The discussion is concluded.