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Paul Keating: Young Australia Policy Statement

Prime Minister Paul Keating has released a Youth policy for the forthcoming election.

Keating delivered his Young Australia Policy statement in an address at the Frankston Cultural Centre in Melbourne.

Text of Paul Keating’s Young Australia Policy Statement.

In the course of this campaign I won’t deliver a more important policy than this youth statement.

That is not to say that we count the interests of young people above the interests of anyone else.

We recognise our primary duty to our children and we know that the nation’s interests depend upon them.

And we recognise that there are great differences of attitude and perspective from one generation to another.

We recognise that young Australians have special problems and special needs.

We have been addressing these things and with today’s statement we will do so even more intensively.

Yet the fact is we cannot very usefully separate many of the things which most matter to young people from the things which matter to the rest of us – and to Australia.

Young people benefit as much as the rest of us from a healthy economy, and strong employment growth.

As much as the rest of us they benefit from a stable, cohesive society.

And, perhaps even more than the rest of us, they benefit from those elements of a social system which protect wages and conditions, provide universal health care and other social assistance and make it possible for Australian men and women to readily save for the future.

They benefit from these thrice over.

First because they can participate in them and receive the benefits directly.

Second, because the benefits flow to the households in which they grow up – the families on whom they depend for much of the security and much of the early opportunity in their lives.

Third, because these measures strengthen the bonds of nation and community, and these determine both the quality of young lives and the faith and purpose in them.

So I would say to young Australians and their parents – I’d say it to all Australians – next time you hear someone say that they are for families, ask them if they are also for wages and security of employment, and for universal health insurance.

Next time they say they are for young people, ask them the same questions.

Ask if they were among the people who spent a decade trying to pull down Medicare, and destroying the protections in our industrial relations system, and opposing wages rises as a matter of political course.

Ask them how they can claim to want to help young Australians if they oppose the principal supports of Australian families and communities.

Ask them for instance, how it will help young people to introduce an industrial relations system in which new applicants to the job market will not have the protection of awards, but will have to bargain individually with the employer in a secret process without the independent scrutiny of the Industrial Relations Commission? How will that help the 370,000 young Australians who this year will face a new employer?

Ask them, and who knows, you might find that they are same people who just three years ago were passionately arguing for a three dollars an hour youth wage; a massive shift of public funds from public to private secondary education; full fees for university; education vouchers and knocking everyone off the dole after nine months.

You just might find that they are the same people.

And while you are at it, I suggest you ask them what plans they have for the nation’s future.

You will have to put up with the cliches and the truisms. You will hear them say the nation’s future is the future for young Australians.

So to whom will they entrust that future? You might have to ask a few times before they tell you who will be in charge of our foreign relations and who will be in charge of our trade.

I have said many times – if we can get Australia properly integrated with the region in which we live we will set up young Australians with jobs, opportunity and all sorts of life chances that no generation of Australians has ever had.

If we can continue the momentum of APEC young Australians will benefit beyond measure – from the $40 billion in extra national income and the 500,000 new jobs that will go into creating the wealth and which will flow from its re-investment here.

The businesses that young people will work in and run in the near future will very likely be dependent on the success we have now in our trade and foreign relations.

Small business is vitally important to the employment of young Australians, and the more our trade flourishes in the region and the world, the better it will be for small business.

Our schools and universities are important to young people now; and they will still be important to them in ten years time if they are exporting their services to Indonesia or Thailand or Mexico or Hungary – if they are earning income and creating jobs from which the whole country benefits.

I could give a very long resume here of the changes which are already occurring in the patterns of our trade abroad and the way these trading opportunities are re-shaping our economy – and the way these changes are creating jobs.

In the eighties – some of you may have noticed – I was particularly focussed on the need to make the Australian economy competitive and open to the world. I was determined, as the Government was, to see that our manufacturing as well as our mining and farming would succeed in the global economy.

More recently – some of you may also have noticed – I have been particularly focussed on the need to open up new opportunities for Australia, and in particular Australian business, in Asia.

This has in no way been at the expense of domestic policy. The most cursory look at the record of the last four years will demonstrate this. From One Nation in 1992 to the Environment Statement of just a week ago – I think it is true to say that no government has been more active than this one.

In fact, the ends of our domestic and foreign policies tend to fuse. The driving force in both is jobs and opportunities for Australians. That is what the Asia-Pacific means – jobs and prosperity.

Nothing could be so important to the future of ordinary people and their families as successfully taking on this challenge.

What greater responsibility does a government have than to set up the essential conditions for the country’s future prosperity?

Nothing must be allowed to divert us from it. We cannot say – we’ve made enough progress for the time being, let’s disengage the gears, let’s slip the whole thing into neutral and glide to a gentle halt.

And what can be said about the direction of foreign, trade and economic policy can also be said about social policy, education policy, cultural policy, industry policy, environment policy, policies for primary industry and regional development.

I am not into soothsaying as a rule, but let me tell you what I think the future can be if we maintain our present momentum and direction.

If we maintain our present progress I think it is safe to say that within a decade – when our eighteen year olds are settled into work and families and taking on the mantles of leadership – we will be, among other things:

  • Very much a partner and player in the fastest growing region in the world.
  • We will be a strong and influential country, drawing ever increasing strength from manufacturing and services as well as primary and mineral products.
  • We will be drawing great strength from our cultural diversity and our wise management of it.
  • As in other developed countries, the vast majority of jobs will be in knowledge based industries – in services and manufacturing. We will be among those countries whose people are highly skilled and educated, which means among the strongest countries. We will be reaping the rewards of our massive investment in training and education, and our decision not to leave a huge pool of unemployed – and unskilled – behind.
  • Our environment will not only be in much better shape, with the Murray Darling in recovery, our farms increasingly sustainable, large parts of the continent preserved forever, our cities cleaner, our coasts much better managed – not only will our environment be in better shape, but we will be exporting the skills we have developed to countries where the need is urgent.
  • We will be in the forefront of technology: many thousands of Australians will be employed in hi-tech industries, especially software manufacture. Many thousands more will be engaged in cultural industries, including those which make content for the information highway – film, television, multimedia and so on. The benefits of the investment and the direction we set in Creative Nation will still be flowing.
  • We will continue to be governed in our ways by the principles of democracy and equality and, perhaps most importantly in the modern world, by tolerance of difference. We will be a unique Australian social democracy, and quite remarkably well-placed to succeed and play a creative role among the vastly different countries of the vast region in which we live.

This is where the jobs and opportunity, the excitement and the security for young Australians will be. You may doubt that our efforts in these directions will produce such results – but you can be absolutely certain that there will be no such results without them.

And, within ten years, if we go on building support –

  • Australia will be a republic. The anomaly will be over. Australia’s head of state will be an Australian.
  • What is more, I believe we might well have, if not a world free of nuclear weapons, then a world which has made substantial progress towards that goal.

These things are not certain, but they are possible. And they are only possible if we maintain the direction of policy. Change direction or lose momentum and the possibilities are lost.

We all depend upon each other in this Australia, and – be it the interests of young people, or aged pensioners, or farmers, or women or small business-people – our policies are both more just and more uniformly effective if they address the interests of the country as a whole.

With this statement today I think we observe that principle.

These are initiatives for young Australians. And like the programs they build on – they are initiatives for all Australians.

In particular we are building on Working Nation – the White Paper on Employment the Government delivered in 1994. Working Nation was the biggest investment in employment and training in the country’s history. It was the manifestation of the Government’s decision not to leave the unemployed – victims of the recession and structural changes in the economy – on the scrap heap.

In taking that decision, the Government set a direction for Australia which was in keeping with those long traditions which generally go under the title of “the fair go”.

It was also in keeping with the belief that to leave these people behind would constitute a waste of human resources and efficiency, in the long run an unacceptable burden on the economy and, of course, an unacceptable threat to the peace and cohesiveness of Australian communities.

Working Nation has not yet solved the national problem of unemployment and youth unemployment, but it has solved the problem for many thousands and it is solving it for many thousands more.

Since Working Nation was introduced the number of young unemployed has fallen by 20 per cent. Of the 1.2 million Australians aged between 15 and 19, 88,000 are presently looking for, and unable to find, full-time work. The figure was 158,000 in 1983 when John Howard was Treasurer. It was 113,000 in 1994 when Working Nation was delivered. It is now 88,000 – I repeat 88,000.

The task is to keep that figure of 88,000 falling. And that is the principal initiative in this Young Australia statement.

Today we announce measures to provide the opportunity for education, training or employment to all 15 to 19 year old Australians by the turn of the century.

These measures will include an eight fold expansion of student places in the Jobs Pathway Guarantee; support for programs involving up to 15,000 work placements for school students under the Australian Student Traineeship Foundation; provision for employers to take on school students as part-time trainees and receive traineeship subsidies; 4,000 new trainees in the Australian Public Service; and 100 per cent wage subsidies for employers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander trainees.

Central to our efforts must be the creation of smooth transitions from school to work. And that is very much the theme of these initiatives. We need to continue the process we have begun in the last couple of years to make work increasingly part of our schools and training a fundamental part of the work place.

I think there is another point that needs to be made about youth unemployment.

In Working Nation and in this and other statements, the Government has committed very large sums of money to solving the problem. Not everyone agreed that we should even try to solve the problem. The Coalition said it was a waste of money. But the vast majority of Australians want to see it solved. And the solution in part depends upon that majority – it depends on the community at large.

The fact is that the jobs we have created in Australia, the employment and training – a lot of the solutions come from the community. They are coming from the efforts of individuals and community groups, and voluntary organisations, and trade unions and businesses.

We said in the Green Paper preceding Working Nation that if as a nation we decided that unemployment is a problem we will not tolerate, then it falls to us as a nation to solve it.

Governments must take the lead and maintain the national effort; but we will only succeed if it really is a national effort.

State and territory governments have to do their bit. As a positive example, the Commonwealth has developed assistance packages with the South Australian and NSW governments to create upwards of 2,000 traineeships within public sector agencies. If this were matched by all the states and territories, we could make it 8,000 by 1996.

Local government has to do everything it can.

And, perhaps above all, Australian businesses must do their bit.

The fact is, some Australian companies have gone out of their way to take on trainees, and some companies – some very profitable companies – have not taken on a single young Australian.

Some have recognised their responsibility. Some have turned away from it. I ask those who have turned away to think again – think what a difference it makes to be employed. And what a difference it makes to the chances of gaining employment if you have training and work experience.

Think what a difference it would make if we doubled the number of companies taking on trainees.

There is little the Commonwealth can do beyond encouraging companies to pull their weight. However, with this statement, a commitment to incorporating training will be numbered among the industry development criteria taken into account in awarding Commonwealth Government contracts.

Young Australia increases the assistance given to unemployed young people which will enable more effective and quicker case management. It doubles the post-placement assistance given to disadvantaged young people from 13 to 26 weeks – assistance that may well make the difference between sticking with a job and giving it up.

While we recognise that unemployment among young people demands the most urgent attention, these initiatives are also calculated to meet the needs of the vast majority who are in work or some form of education or training.

The generation of employment and protection of the environment are two of Australia’s great contemporary ambitions. We will expand the highly successful Landcare and LEAP schemes and allow placements on an individual basis, which will make the scheme accessible to small businesses and farming families. And we will create Green Volunteers to enable young Australians to work on environmental projects.

The statement contains a number of other initiatives on a wide range of fronts. I will only mention some of them here, and then only briefly.

We have added $6 million to improve health education under the National Youth Health Policy.

We will provide $6.7 million for a national media campaign against drugs.

We will provide $23 million to assist homeless young people, including assistance with their education.

Young people are often regarded as the perpetrators of crime, but they also account for over 40 per cent of all the victims of crime. We will introduce a new National Youth Crime Prevention Strategy called Safer Young Australia, and introduce a pilot Youth Action Panel in South East Queensland – an idea modelled on a highly successful program in the United Kingdom which engages young people in the task of making the community safer.

To help with the specific problems of youth in rural Australia, we will devote additional funds from the Rural Access Program for projects in rural and regional Australia; and a Rural Youth coordinator will be appointed to the Department of Primary Industries.

The Government will also fund a free and confidential help line for young Australians up to 18 years of age.

The national youth radio network, Triple J, will be expanded even further. We have taken it from Sydney to all the capital cities and then to all regional centres of more than 20,000 people. From today, we will extend it with a further 56 regional transmitters to every regional centre in Australia with a population of more than 3,000.

We will also commit $2 million to the expansion of J Net, the Triple J web site. J Net will provide new ways for young people to talk to each other and it will help develop sophisticated Australian content and technology.

I began by saying that the best policies recognise the common interests of Australians. If you read Young Australia you will see, I think, that this statement does just that – and at no point is this more obvious than in the new programs to give young Australians access to, and an interest in, the processes of government.

The ultimate objective must always be to encourage young Australians to feel that they have a stake in the future of this country, and some influence on it.

In a period of unprecedented economic, technological and cultural change such as we are living through, this is no easy task. Bridging the gulf between generations never has been easy, but in these times the forces of alienation are probably harder to overcome than they have ever been.

Yet the need to build that bridge remains as great as ever.

This statement addresses the obstacles to our success. In delivering it I think we should also recognise the forces working in our favour – for, in truth, I believe they decisively outweigh the forces against.

In an era of extraordinary change we remain a cohesive, tolerant society. We have a sophisticated web of social security, education and training. We have a population who believe in compassionate, wise government interventions. And we have a country with a way of life and opportunities unsurpassed in the world.

All these things are in massively in our favour.

And we have one more thing – and all my experience of them persuades me it is the most important – we have young people and all their talent and their aspirations.

I do believe we should be full of confidence.

FRANKSTON CULTURAL CENTRE, FRANKSTON, VICTORIA

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