19 October 2020


I rise to support this very important motion from the member for Kingston. We know that no other young generation has gone through what this generation of youth are going through in Australia and right around the world. We know that young Australians have been disproportionately impacted as a result of this pandemic and what it means socially, economically and in terms of people's futures—how they think about what they want to become, how they think about where their place is in the world. As young people move from adolescence into adulthood, they will face a range of short- and long-term consequences that are going to impact on their social, economic and emotional security.

Here are some shocking statistics. Young people held 15 per cent of the 40 per cent of jobs lost in March at the onset of the pandemic. Nearly two in five young people are unemployed or underemployed. Fifty-one per cent of young people have felt their mental health worsen. Fifty-three per cent feel their study has been adversely impacted. According to the ANU, 44 per cent of young people living out of home could not make rent or mortgage payments in May. Thirty per cent of young people have made early superannuation withdrawals compared to the population average of eight per cent overall.

Of course, young people are far more than mere statistics. Greenway is a relatively young electorate. By median age, it is among the top 25 youngest in the country. What we are facing locally is the possibility of a lost generation if nothing is to done help our young Australians. This is a government that has abandoned young people over the past seven years, and we're seeing it again in this parliament. This government's American-style university fee hikes will see more and more young people saddled with increasing debt, just for trying to get an education and get ahead. They're facing shocking unemployment, and many of them are missing out on invaluable work experience in the formative years after school. They are grappling with disrupted education and training and severe housing stress, not to mention the toll on their mental health that all these challenges are causing. These aren't abstract buzzwords. These are real experiences.

Recently I engaged with a young Australian in my electorate, Harmony from Quakers Hill, as part of the Foundation for Young Australians Local and Vocal initiative. She explained to me how keenly the impacts of this pandemic were being felt by young Australians and how she believed more needed to be done to support them. Her key message to me was threefold: we need a plan; there needs to be a comprehensive strategy that is capable of being implemented; and governments need to think long term about young people. I'm very fortunate to represent constituents like Harmony in Greenway, but there are thousands upon thousands of Harmonys right around the country crying out for help, and it seems, unfortunately, that this government have turned their back on them.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, Labor has been calling for a COVID-19 youth recovery strategy. It must be genuinely co-designed with young people, include a comprehensive consideration of how various policy areas interact and how they impact on young Australians, and outline clear short-, medium- and long-term goals and targets—precisely what Harmony told me. The last time a federal government implemented a national youth strategy was in 2010, a whole decade ago, which could well be a million years ago now. Young people are now living through conditions and facing challenges that were inconceivable then. Rather than a coordinated response to support young Australians, what have we seen from the Minister for Youth and Sport? Mostly just silence. When Labor and large cohorts of the public pointed out the government's stunning failure to articulate support for women in the budget, the Minister for Families and Social Services flagged that women benefit from road construction, so there's nothing to see here: 'Just more bubble talk,' it was asserted. What an insult! Equally insulting is young people having to wait with bated breath to hear what, if anything, this embattled, missing-in-action minister for youth has to say about them. We aren't holding our breath, but I certainly hold out hope for the next generation of young people.

In essence, young people need more than marketing slogans and short-term measures from their governments. Whilst this Prime Minister loves a flashy photo-op, it's not going to get young people into work, nor will it deliver affordable housing or accessible education. They need a holistic, long-term plan to get them through this crisis and into secure careers and a comfortable life.