House debates

Monday, 27 March 2017

Private Members' Business

Minister for Young People

5:37 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the first Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs was appointed by the Fraser Government in 1978;

(b) subsequent Labor and Coalition Australian Governments have appointed Ministers with a portfolio concerned with youth, and the Howard Government had three different Ministers who held the youth affairs portfolio;

(c) in 2013 the Abbott Government abolished the youth portfolio;

(d) in May 2014, the Government advised it was planning a 'focused and targeted approach' to consult with young people, yet this year is likely to have the last National Youth Week with no funding in the forward estimates;

(e) the Deloitte 2017 Millennial Survey suggests that young people struggle to engage with major political parties—not having a Youth Minister acts as a clear signal that engagement with young people is not a priority for this Government; and

(f) Australia's youth unemployment and underemployment are an increasingly systemic concern, with the current youth unemployment rate sitting at 13.3 per cent and the youth underemployment rate sitting at 18.3 per cent; and

(2) calls on the Government to appoint a Minister for Young People, sitting within the Cabinet, having a particular focus on youth engagement, youth employment and transition to work.

The purpose of this motion is very clear: we have, according to 2011 ABS statistics, 2.86 million young people aged 15 to 24. Those young people are not represented by this government, and they should be. And so I call on the Prime Minister, who has absolute discretion on the portfolios in his cabinet, to ensure that young people are represented in cabinet through the appointment of a minister for young people.

For nearly four decades, we have had a minister for youth in this parliament. In 1978, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser appointed a minister for youth—the actual title was Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, and I am sure the decision of the then Prime Minister was in part due to the youth unemployment rate rising in the late 1970s. Now we have a youth unemployment rate that is higher than during the global financial crisis. Nationally, youth unemployment sits at 13.5 per cent and, in regional areas, we know it is much higher.

If the first experience a young person has when leaving education is waiting on the unemployment queue, then we, as a nation, have failed them. According to Brotherhood St Laurence Australia's youth unemployment hotspots report, which was published in March 2016, youth unemployment in outback Queensland was a staggering 28.4 per cent; in Cairns, 20.5 per cent; in Tasmania's south-east, 19.6 per cent; and, in my electorate in the Adelaide Hills, it was 16.2 per cent—an increase of more 6.9 per cent in just one year. And there is no evidence to suggest this has reduced.

These figures do not consider underemployment. Today, Brotherhood of St Laurence released Generation Stalled, which stated that the youth underemployment rate is now 18 per cent—the highest it has been since records began. What this means is that more young people now than at any other time in the last 40 years—even during the GFC, even during the 1990s recession—are looking for extra hours of work and they are not getting those hours. Generation Stalled is an apt title, but I think it should be 'Generation: We Failed'.

Not only are we failing young people in relation to employment opportunities; we are failing them in parliamentary representation. We are failing them in housing affordability. The likelihood of a young person ever experiencing the security of owning a home is diminishing day by day. The Treasurer's response is: get a good job. The Prime Minister's response is: have rich parents to stump up a deposit.

These comments show a government that has no idea and no connection to young people, and how difficult it is to transition from stable employment to home ownership. They have no grasp on the reality that the biggest homeless group is actually young people—42 per cent of homeless people are under 25 years of age—and that the face of homelessness is a young woman. Young women are overrepresented at youth homeless services.

In 2013, the then Abbott-led coalition abolished the youth portfolio. Since that time, we have seen attack after attack on young people. We have seen a call for university deregulation that would see university become something just for the privileged. Let's not forget: many people in this parliament enjoyed a free university degree. That seems to be forgotten in current policy.

In the 2014 budget, we saw a policy that would have seen young people seeking work put on a six-months-on six-months-off youth allowance. What on earth were they thinking? In the same budget, National Youth Week was stripped of funding, and this Friday marks the end of funding, as we know it, for National Youth Week; there is nothing in the forward estimates. The Australian Youth Affairs Coalition was defunded, effectively, ensuring that young people had no advocacy platform. I would argue that, if there had been an effective minister for youth at the time of the 2014 budget, we would not have had these harsh measures.

More recently, the omnibus bill concocted a four-week wait period for young people applying for assistance; that, in some way, young people would be able to magically find a job living on sunshine and fresh air. The government has no regard for the facts, even the basic fact, that it costs money to look for work. I am very pleased that my team refused to agree to the four-week wait period and refused to agree to increasing the age for youth allowance.

As a nation, we are not considering the needs of young people. For the next generation to be employed, we need full employment to ensure that our rapidly ageing population is managed, and managed well, in retirement. To not have a dedicated minister for young people in this parliament is an opportunity lost. And so I implore our Prime Minister: be future thinking, be agile, be different to your predecessor and appoint a minister for young people.

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Do I have a seconder for the motion?

Photo of Cathy McGowanCathy McGowan (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very happy to second this motion and to speak after the government speaker.

5:42 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is the responsibility of all of us in this place to engage with young people in our electorates. It takes a village to raise a child. The next generation of Australians will not feel listened to. They will not be inspired to take on our values of democracy and civic responsibility, because of one person in the ministerial wing of this building. Every member of parliament must play their part in hearing our young people and showing them that democracy works for everyone.

In my own electorate of Fisher, I take this responsibility very seriously. To help me listen to the voice of local young people, I have set up the Fisher Youth Council. This council will meet around four times a year, and I want to take this opportunity to thank Jack Baker, Jak Hardy, Tom McLean, Patrick King, Samantha McGowan and Michael Negerevich for taking part.

The issues that young people raised show how considered and insightful their views and ideas are. They contributed not only problems but suggested innovative solutions. I can see those opposite bickering at the make-up of the group—I am working on the ladies; I am working on those numbers to make sure that we get some good numbers of young ladies in the group; don't you worry about that!

On the issue of affordable housing, the council identified a lack of financial education in our schools as a major contributing factor. They believed that a greater focus in schools on providing training and how to manage personal finances would give young people the tools they need to take control of their own financial and housing future.

The council raised, themselves, the question of furthering youth engagement in politics. Again, they proposed solutions, noting that social media is the most effective way of communicating with young people. In particular, they believed that a single designated social media account, designed to inform young people about how the government can help them, would be valuable.

The council also talked about an issue I have raised, in this place, myself—that is, of furthering the take-up of apprentices among young people. They agreed that they have not received enough information, but they also identified that we might need to consider how we manage wage expectations among school leavers. The Fisher youth council that I convened makes me optimistic. If you take time out to listen to young people, young people are among our nation's most engaged and passionate advocates for reform, so I cannot accept the motion's suggestion that young people are not engaged.

Its suggestion that young people are not a priority for the Turnbull government could also not be further from the truth. Compared to most in our nation's history, the Turnbull government is a young team. We have almost as many cabinet ministers in their 30s as in their 60s. I bet you didn't know that. They just might look a lot older! That won't get back to them, will it? This is a 21st century cabinet. We have no minister for young people because all of our ministers, all of our members, are focused on Australia's next generation.

The motion focuses, rightly—as we do—on the issue of youth unemployment. The coalition government has introduced a raft of programs aimed at tackling this important issue under its $331 million youth employment strategy and its $830 million youth employment package. The Empowering YOUth Initiatives, for example, provide grant funding up to $5 million to organisations that deliver programs which get young people aged 15 to 24 into work. I know the member for Mayo is very keen on getting young people into work, and rightly so. The government is drawing ideas from the sector, supporting and promoting grassroots initiatives in the community. This month, the Minister for Employment announced another 21 organisations that will receive this funding as part of its second round. In total, the program will invest more than $50 million in early intervention.

I could talk all day about the various programs but time is getting away from me. The Pathway program provides an incentive for businesses to hire young people, with youth bonus wage subsidies of up to $10,000. Subsidies are available to businesses that take on eligible young jobseekers under 25 years of age. I encourage all members to join with me in convening a youth council in their own electorates and listen to what young people have to say.

5:48 pm

Photo of Cathy McGowanCathy McGowan (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge the comments of the member for Fisher and say what a great idea it is to have a youth council, but I will get into my speech and do battle with you about other things you could do to engage with young people beyond a youth council.

I start by saying how proud I am to second the motion from the member for Mayo on the proposed minister for young people. I am really delighted that you have taken the position of bringing this important matter to parliament, and I congratulate you for that. I look forward, over the next three years of our terms in parliament, to being able to celebrate the appointment of a youth minister. These are the beginning steps of laying the foundation for that.

Why does it really matter? It matters because our Prime Minister has said that the key for the future of this country is innovation and creativity. We absolutely know that if we are going to be the innovative, creative country that we could be we have to work with everybody in our country to do it. Sadly, we are not doing that. We do exactly as the member for Fisher said: we set up councils. We make things distant. In the process of distancing ourselves from young people we are losing the opportunity to have their input in the foundations of a policy that could make this country really great.

What I love about this idea is that it is not just a minister, like we have a health minister or an aged-care minister, it is a position that networks and links across all portfolio areas and bring the best ideas together. What I am really pleased about is we have a chance with this position to actually create, as the Prime Minister wants, an innovative solution rather than building more silos. And in talking about innovative solutions, I would really like to acknowledge some of the wonderful work that really is happening in Indi. And I would like to take the member for Fisher's ideas and just say, 'Let's just value-add to some of that stuff that is going on,' because there is so much that is happening in my own electorate and in Victoria that I know we could value-add to. And what a minister for young people would do is take the good stuff from your electorate and the good stuff from my electorate and maybe put them into a national youth council. That way, maybe, we can actually take all these good ideas that are coming and contribute to policy.

So what is happening in northeast Victoria? Representatives from the Wodonga Secondary College's Flexible Learning Centre and Wodonga College of TAFE are going to Melbourne to participate in the 2017 youth summit at the MCG on Friday, 31 March. What an amazing experience that will be. The Alpine Shire is organising an amazing race day. It is being coordinated by Elisha Hazeldine to bring the young people together. At the Corryong Neighbourhood House, we are going to have a program called Stepping Up and it is coordinated by Sara Jenkins. So we have the microcommunity, the young people, coming together.

Wodonga Senior Secondary College and Benalla Flexible Learning Centre are going to have a Drumtastik day. It is an opportunity to make music and find voice through song. The Mansfield Youth Transition Project day will be led by Jodie Bell. SoundOut17 will be coordinated by Samantha Lampe from Wodonga City Council. Rumble in the Gums will be coordinated by Bree Fitzpatrick from the Moira Shire Council. The GeekCon day will be coordinated by Tom Arnold from the rural City of Wodonga. And activities will conclude right across my electorate on 4 April with the northeast Victoria 2017 politics camp hosted by local government. But the politics, the activity and the engagement in Indi is not only limited to the people who live in my electorate. Many of my community have left the electorate and are now living and studying outside. So on Friday, we were going to have a young Indi expat breakfast here in Parliament House. We will invite the young people studying at universities and working in Canberra to come to Parliament House, have a chance to get to know each other and use their ideas in a structured, facilitated session to input on policy.

I am really looking forward to the member for Mayo and I walking the talk of absolute participation of young people in politics, not just having them as 'other' but having them as an integral part of how this place works. So to that end, I would like to acknowledge Eliza Ginnivan, being here today, and the other young people part of my team and the regular grouping of young people who come to parliament and work in my office in the development of policy, working out how we are going to vote and in learning how to be an Independent. It is fantastic to have young people from right around Australia, but in particular in my electorate, having the opportunity to do so. In bringing my comments to a close and supporting this motion, my call-out is to the government: the answer to innovation and the answer to creativity lies in the digital natives of our country. Let us get them involved in policy and let us have a minister to help us do that.

5:53 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

How great it is to speak on this motion about young people in front of a deputy speaker who is quite possibly the youngest member of the Speakers' panel, if I am correct.

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a fairly aged panel!

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to start by congratulating the member for Mayo for bringing this important issue to the House. It gives us an opportunity to think about the contribution that young people can make in some of the important points that she raised in her particular motion. I grew up on the New South Wales Central Coast and it is good to also see the local member for Dobell here today, the local member for that region. It is an area where there was no shortage of young people with ability, but there was a shortage of young people able to realise that through the application of their effort they could reach their full potential. One of the things that I said in my maiden speech was that I wanted to dedicate my service to this House to ensuring that young people knew that their future is determined by them, by their application of their effort; that everyone has a potential and that they can reach it through their application of their own effort.

Young people aged in their 30s have to struggle quite a bit and have to prove themselves more often than not. Young people have to work harder. There is ageism in our society. We hear a lot about elderly people, but we do not hear about the struggles of young people in relation to having to prove themselves. There are many young people who have achieved a lot, but their achievements are something they have had to apply their effort to even more because, on face value, people assume that just because they are young they are unable to achieve something. This happened to me when I first applied to be the state director of the WA Liberal Party. I was aged 25. I did not put my age on my application to become the state director of the WA Liberal Party, but what I put on my application was the experience I had professionally. When the then state president found out that I was only 25, there was a bit of an uproar in relation to me omitting those details from my CV, but I thought that by putting my age on my CV I would be distracting from the experience I was able to bring to the role of state director—a role that I held for a long time and a role that I really enjoyed.

One of the things in this motion is the issue of youth employment. Mr Deputy Speaker Hastie, this is an issue that is very close to your heart as the member for Canning. As I said, we want to be able to have a society where people can apply their own effort to succeed. There is a particular bill before this parliament in relation to PATH. It is a bill that will give young people the opportunity to apply their effort, show their full potential, be given the opportunity to work in a business and be incentivised by a $200 a fortnight payment in addition to their welfare so they can get the opportunity to experience what it is like to participate as an employee in a business. This bill is before the Senate at the moment and I would encourage all members to ensure that this bill does pass the Senate. It is very important. I have had the opportunity to give young people are start in a business. There are some arguments from the other side of the chamber that this does not guarantee a job. As a previous employer, I would not take someone on if I were required to absolutely give them a job, but I would take someone on to give them a chance. I would take them on and would allow them to apply their effort to be able to succeed. Yet this bill is still in the Senate and, in my view, should come out of there very quickly and be passed so we can incentivise both businesses and young people to apply their effort to succeed.

The issue of engagement in politics is also important in this motion. I said a lot about social media when I was leaving the role of state director of the WA Liberal Party. It is making our world smaller, not bigger. You are able to use social media to engage on the things that interest you to the exclusion of all others. I fear that, unless we proactively engage with young people in our society, they will continue to move further and further away from our political debates, so it is timely that we think about how we need to engage with young people in our society. The example that I use is that, if a young person is interested in skateboarding, they can know the results of a skateboarding competition in New York before they know about a very important policy or incident that has occurred in their town or in their community.

All of our ministers are dedicated to doing the very best by young people. There have been suggestions about youth councils and national youth forums. I encourage the parliament to think about the ways in which young people can have direct access to the parliament and have their say. I commend the member for Mayo for bringing this very important issue to this chamber.

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member. There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.