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Wednesday, 16 December 1992
Page: 5131

Senator AULICH —I present the report of the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training entitled Wanted: our future, a report on the implications of sustained high levels of unemployment amongst young people 15 to 24 years old, together with the transcript of evidence and submissions.

  Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator AULICH —I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

  Leave granted.

Senator AULICH —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate my tabling speech in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The speech read as follows—



Mr President,

The matter addressed in the report I have just tabled was referred to the Committee in June this year. Since that date we have received 112 submissions and held public hearings in five States and the ACT covering urban, regional and rural centres. In addition, individual Committee members have talked to a large number of young unemployed people, youth workers, teachers and counsellors as well as employers, trade unionists, government officials and academics throughout the country.

I would like to emphasise at the outset the Committee's unanimous endorsement of the Report's recommendations. Such agreement is perhaps surprising given the highly political nature of unemployment issues. It has been achieved because each individual member of the Committee has recognised that the future of our young people will not be secured by slogans or political grandstanding. It is a serious issue which demands non-partisan responses. Committee members acknowledge that there is no single solution to the complex problem of youth unemployment and that any approach which is to have a hope of succeeding will need to transcend party political considerations and draw upon the goodwill and resolve of all sectors of the community.

Youth unemployment is everybody's problem. It is the Committee's hope that this Report will serve both to emphasis this perspective and to suggest practical means by which the worst features of the impact of sustained unemployment might be alleviated. We stress this, given that a more permanent solution, in the form of full employment, is unlikely to be achieved in the short or medium term.

There can be hardly a family in Australia today that is not affected in some way by youth unemployment. Although concentrated among disadvantaged groups, youth unemployment is by no means confined to them. It affects people from all social and economic backgrounds and from all regions of the country. It afflicts people with PhDs and those who are illiterate. Their numbers are growing, as is the length of their unemployment.

Because today almost everybody knows a young unemployed person, most people also realise that the term "dole bludger" is now wholly unacceptable. The community seems generally now to recognise that most unemployed young people are eager to work and that many are making tremendous efforts to do so. The Committee was heartened by the resilience and energy of many of the young unemployed people it met during the course of this Inquiry.

We would also like to pay tribute here to the efforts of many individuals—parents, employers, teachers and landladies among others—who have recognised the plight of young unemployed people and are doing what they can to alleviate individual cases of hardship. The Parliament and the community generally would do well to reflect that, were it not for their generosity, the costs of youth unemployment, both to the individuals concerned and to the community generally, would be even greater. We should note here that the cost of unemployment generally is currently running at around $20 billion per year.

Before turning to our recommendations it is important to stress that the Committee does not wish to suggest that the personal consequences of unemployment are any less tragic for mature aged people than for young people. Our focus on young people is dictated by our terms of reference. As well, we are acutely aware of the potentially disastrous impact on our society of a sizeable group of alienated young people who have never worked and perhaps will never have the opportunity of doing so. They are cut off from the benefits bestowed by full time jobs and lack any commitment to the values espoused by mainstream society.

Our recommendations are based on the assumption that unemployment levels will remain high in the medium term and that, as the causes of youth unemployment are so complex and intractable in the prevailing economic situation, a range of approaches is required. The recommendations are focused around three main approaches.

The first relates to income support. Current income support arrangements have grown out of policies developed at a time of high employment. They were designed to assist small numbers of people for short periods as they moved between jobs. These arrangements are inappropriate for current conditions. While efforts have been made to modify income support arrangements in recent years, they remain complex, and often unnecessarily punitive and demeaning.

The Committee has recommended a number of changes designed to reduce their complexity. These include: the centralisation of income support arrangements in one department; the coalescing of all income support payments for eligible young people into a unified youth payment and simplification of the eligibility criteria for independent Austudy. In recognition of the need for a less punitive approach to the payment of income support the Committee has recommended that waiting periods for benefits be reduced; that greater flexibility be introduced into activity/work tests; that the "free area" of income which beneficiaries are allowed to earn before losing benefits is extended and that income support levels are increased to the revised Henderson Poverty Line in the first instance.

Our second group of recommendations relates to job creation. These recommendations are based on the view that we need a more creative and visionary approach to this task than has been evident in attempts to date and that we should build upon community concern and goodwill. We have recommended therefore that: employers should be assisted to take on additional employees through a 150% tax deduction on wages, replacing existing wage subsidy schemes; the establishment of a national employment corps, funded by the Commonwealth and the States and managed at local or regional level; that strategies be developed for the rapid expansion of job sharing and other proposals geared to a broader distribution of available work.

Finally, our Report discusses at some length the link between employment and training. While generally supportive of Carmichael and other proposals relating to vocational education and training the Committee is mindful of the fact that these proposals assume the availability of jobs (the so-called labour market entry points) so that proper, work-based training can be implemented. No attention has been paid to that significant group who will be unable to obtain jobs and thus will be denied opportunities also to participate in further training. Our recommendations are directed to addressing this discrepancy and to supporting and extending existing programs for enhancing links between schools and the work place. A national, competency-based approach to training is desirable, but the complexities of its implementation are considerable, and the Committee is not convinced that the implications for resources and coordination have been fully thought out.

I conclude, on behalf of the Committee, with an affirmation of the value of all of our young people. We believe that they all have something to contribute. If they are denied the opportunity to do so our society will be poorer for it, and ultimately we all will feel the consequences of this neglect.

Senator AULICH —Mr President, I intend to seek leave to continue my remarks at a later hour of the day. I simply commend this report to the Senate. I realise that we are pressed for time today. Can I say in passing that this is a unanimous report of the Committee. In many ways it deals with a tragic subject—the future of those of our younger generation who are suffering from the effects of sustained unemployment.

Senator Macdonald —Have you sent it to Mr Keating?

Senator AULICH —Senator Macdonald asked the right question: but he asked it from a biased political viewpoint. This is a unanimous report of all members of the Committee. We set aside our political backgrounds and biases in an attempt to come to grips with this pressing issue. We do not mention Mr Keating and Dr Hewson. We do not mention political parties.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Aulich, will you address the Chair and, Senator Macdonald, will you cease interjecting.

Senator AULICH —In response to Senator Macdonald, I simply state again: this is a unanimous, all-party—Democrats, Liberal and Labor—report. It addresses an extremely serious issue that affects all of us in a variety of ways, and I commend it to the Senate. I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later hour of the day.

  Leave granted; debate adjourned.