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Tuesday, 12 November 1985
Page: 1963

Senator VANSTONE —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer the Minister to daily Press reports over the past week outlining the extent of trade union opposition to the Priority One: Young Australia program and in particular to the concept of a trainee wage. Firstly, is it true that, since the multi-media announcement by the Prime Minister of Priority One prior to the Federal Budget, only one agreement has been concluded with a private sector employer under this scheme? Secondly, does the Minister agree that the range of union misgivings, together with the fears for the future of the program expressed recently by Mr Peter Kirby, indicate that the Priority One program was announced prematurely and lacked adequate prior consultation with employer and union groups? Thirdly, in light of the uncertainties surrounding the program and the high expectations raised among Australia's unemployed youth, will the Government now recognise that the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations is not equipped to handle this important area of public policy?

Senator BUTTON —Since this Government came to office the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations has handled a number of areas of public policy with singular success-areas of public policy which eluded any previous Government in this country. I saw the comments made by Mr Peter Kirby reported in yesterday's media. I believe that at this stage it is correct that the only agreement that has been concluded is one with Ansett Airlines of Australia, and I am aware from my own discussions with trade union leaders at the ACTU level that there are some misgivings in certain unions about the traineeship program. I think one should not be surprised at those misgivings. The program involves preparing an integrated package of policies in the area of education and training, income support and youth services. The Government is currently consulting further with business, unions and representatives of young people about the implementation of those programs. The youth traineeship system, apart from the qualifications to which Mr Peter Kirby referred in relation to particular unions, has the full support of the ACTU and business groups.

The Government is continuing to discuss implementation with the ACTU, businesses, and now individual unions. As I indicated earlier, such a fundamental change to the system of vocational training in this country would inevitably involve some difficulties of implementation as those involved in the system-business, the TAFE sector and unions-adjust to new roles, but the Government regards the Priority One program as a very significant achievement-an achievement which will be carried out. We have emphasised, as I have in this answer, our commitment to see that it is carried out-and carried out in the spirit of a continuing process of consultation with those sectors of the community which might have some concerns about the details of the program.

Senator VANSTONE —If I may ask a supplementary question, Mr President, can the Minister, having acknowledged the difficulties that still exist, say why the Government chose to announce this package before achieving the required consensus and in doing so unfairly raise the expectations of young Australians?

Senator BUTTON —The Government announced its intentions in relation to this matter. As I said in my answer to Senator Vanstone's first question, it was a question of implemen- tation of particular aspects of the traineeship schemes, which is being negotiated with the various interests to which I referred. That is a process which is inevitably likely to happen. It is a process that not only involves the trade unions but also involves an interface between unions and various other groups in the community concerned to see the traineeship programs implemented. I have myself witnessed or been involved in discussions between various groups, including unions, about the implementation of this particular program. I do not think it is a question of raising aspirations and then not honouring a commitment to those aspirations. I think, with respect, that those involved in the discussions understand this perhaps better than Senator Vanstone does and perhaps better than I do.