House debates

Thursday, 22 October 2020


Hotham Electorate: Young People

3:35 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm really pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the parliament this afternoon, about, really, the plight of young people across Australia, particularly those who I am lucky to represent in my electorate of Hotham. There is absolutely no doubt that young people have been copping it from every direction during this pandemic. I've been making a lot of efforts recently to speak to young people in my electorate and beyond about what's going on for them, and I want to talk today about some of the highlights that have come out of those conversations.

The most important piece of context, I think, is that young people were not doing so well before the pandemic hit us. If we take housing, for example, young people in Australia on low incomes are about half as likely to own their own home as they were in the 1980s. The labour market is changing in really powerful ways that mean that the jobs that you and I probably used in order to get a foothold in the workforce may not even exist anymore. We know that university is becoming incredibly expensive, and, of course, that's been exacerbated greatly by the decisions the government has made recently about increasing university fees. The mental health of young people is an emerging and crucial issue that this nation has got to confront. Additionally, we're not doing anything about climate change. Just about every young person I talk to raises the issue that we're living in an economy, we come into the parliament every day, we don't make the decisions that need to be made about fixing the climate and yet this is a problem that they are going to be left with. The overarching point is that young people today are tackling challenges that you and I and everyone else who's a bit older in the parliament didn't have to deal with when they were younger, and we do need to give them a bit of extra care and attention.

In order to provide good representation to the young people I represent, I recently ran a survey across thousands of young people who live in my electorate, and I wanted to speak to the parliament to share some of the results. It's probably not going to be a surprise that, for the young people I surveyed, by far the biggest anxiety facing them at the moment is to do with work and income. We know that young people were more likely to be working in jobs that were affected by the COVID shutdowns, much more likely to be in casual work and, hence, to have missed out on JobKeeper—about 40 per cent of the young people I polled said that this was by far the most important issue. One of the respondents to the survey said to me: 'COVID-19 showed how insecure and unstable my job really is.' The survey also told me that this is not a short-term concern, that a lot of the young people I represent today are worried not just about their current income but about what the COVID recession, the Morrison recession, will mean for their long-term economic future. About 60 per cent of respondents cited career prospects and income as a big concern. One said to me: 'The lack of job security and career opportunities available to graduates made me feel very stressed and uncertain.' Another said, 'I'm finding it really frustrating just not being able to properly prepare for the future.'

Mental health was another issue that came out very strongly. One respondent said to me: 'I was stood down and brought back to work within 24 hours. The lack of job security and career opportunities made me feel really stressed.' Another said, 'I'm constantly full of dread and anxiety that I will have to go to work and bring the virus home one day and infect my family.' One of the things I really learned from speaking with young people who responded to this survey is that I think a lot of the criticism that's been directed at young people during the COVID pandemic has been incredibly unfair. The young people that I talk to are incredibly anxious about the virus. They're anxious about the older people in their lives, and they're doing everything they can to try to make sure that they don't spread this virus through their own activities.

Mental health is a major issue for young people. We've got a lot of young people whose lives have effectively been put on hold in profound and dramatic ways. As a consequence, on average, the young people who participated in my survey rated their mental health as 2.5 out of five.

We got into politics to try to make things better for the next generation. I really want us all to remember that as we think about how we confront what comes out of the COVID-19 period. The next generation is not some kind of academic concept. They're alive and they're here today. They're in their teens and 20s and early 30s. They're really doing it tough out there. It's going to be very important for us, rebuilding out of COVID, to listen to what they're saying. If I can leave the parliament with one message, something that comes out of all the conversations that I have with young people, it's that they don't feel sufficiently involved in the deliberations that we have in this chamber. If I can leave MPs with a request, it is: please get out there, talk to the young people that you represent, and let's have a better conversation in this parliament about how we can support them coming out of the pandemic.