House debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022


Wentworth Electorate: Young Australians

1:04 pm

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I want to talk in this time about the youth of Wentworth and some of the issues that the youth of Wentworth are facing. There are three issues that I would like to touch on, the first being public education, the second being youth mental health and the third being housing. I speak of these issues because these were the issues that were raised most with me by parents as well as young people in Wentworth. These are some of the most crucial issues that young people face—except climate change, which I'm very delighted to say that Australia has taken a very positive step forward on this morning in this parliament.

Let me start with public education. I spent the last four years of my career working with over 200 public high schools and 40 businesses, helping young people to be prepared for the world of work, by bringing together students from education and people from business. These are wonderful schools, but you won't really find them in Wentworth, because Wentworth has only one public high school. Despite having a population of over 120,000, Wentworth has only one public high school and very limited public education choices at the high school level. That doesn't represent the desire of the Wentworth constituents. There is a high degree of public education at the primary school level, but the dearth of opportunities in public education at the high school level means that Wentworth as a community is no longer really engaging with public education at the high school level.

I think this is a significant issue, because the community of Wentworth wants educational choice. We have the most expensive schools in the country. The average year 12 fees for a private school in Wentworth are around $35,000 a year, which is out of reach for so many families. But, because there's only one public high school in the area, there is not really that education choice.

The second piece that I want to talk to is youth mental health. Again, this is a significant issue for the community of Wentworth. When I was campaigning, a young man, whom I remember very vividly, came to talk to me. He asked me, 'What are you doing for young men?' I said that I think youth mental health is probably one of the biggest issues that young people—in particular young men—face. Tears came into his eyes, and he shared his own experience: that two of his friends had committed suicide the previous year and that he himself that day was actually on his way to get some help for his own mental health. That is one of the images from the campaign that have stuck the most in my mind. I will forever remember that young man, and I will also remember those many other people I met during the campaign.

Doing some further analysis on this, and talking to experts in the area, such as Professor Hickie, I see that there is an opportunity to do more in youth mental health, particularly in a community like Wentworth. This is not just about spending more money but also about doing government better. That is what I'm seeking to represent in my role in the parliament—that it's not always just spending more money that achieves better outcomes. Certainly that is part of it, but it's actually about getting the states and the federal government working together and truly mapping where the gaps are in mental health and where this community can be better served. I'm really pleased to note that Wentworth has its own Lifeline opening up this month. That's going to give an opportunity for Wentworth volunteers to come and support young and old in mental health. I really want to congratulate Lifeline Australia and also Daisy Turnbull, who have stood up for this and are pushing it forward.

The last issue I want to raise is housing, because that is the other key issue that people raise with me in relation to young people. Parents raise it with me. They say, 'I don't know how my children are ever going to be able to afford a house.' I acknowledge what the government is doing in this space, but I think we are fundamentally missing some key actions around housing supply and around stamp duty reform. If you look at Australia's housing, we have only 400 dwellings per 1,000 people. That puts us among the lowest in the OECD. House prices went up by 140 per cent between 1990 and 2015, and the housing stock is just not increasing with our population; over that period, it just flattened. So I will be urging the government and working, in my position as a member of parliament, to seek some remedy such that we can address housing for our youth in the long term.


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