By Kerryn Williams
CANBERRA — A symposium entitled "Youth Employment: Looking for Solutions" was convened on March 8 by the Youth Coalition of the ACT and the ACT Southern Tablelands Area Consultative Committee. It provided few answers to Canberra's massive youth unemployment problem.
The forum, attended by at least 100 people, was introduced as an attempt to unite the youth sector, local government, the community and business in a "non-political" discussion. What was really highlighted was that the government's agenda lacks a commitment to finding jobs for the unemployed.
Ian Huntly and Georgia Hampson spoke of their experiences being unemployed for long periods. Huntly described feeling a terrifying loss of control over his life after continuous knock-backs to job applications, and the way in which the media exacerbate the problem by feeding the myth that unemployed people are lazy dole-bludgers.
Hampson spoke of the difficulty posed by the fact that basic requirements such as decent clothes, access to phones, computers and transport, which are essential when applying for work, are not affordable for those on social security benefits.
ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell, delivering the opening address, responded to the figure of 38.3% youth unemployment in the ACT by warning that statistics can be "misleading".
She did note that unemployment had been exacerbated by federal changes to the public sector, and that with some 50% cuts to grants in the ACT, "the capacity for the public service to grow is almost non-existent".
We must "look to the private sector for growth", she said, and "revitalise and diversify the economy", which would require us all creating an "enthusiastic environment". She cited the government's $2 million business development fund as an example of showing "confidence" in the private sector.
Moiya Ford from the Chief Minister's Department began her speech by admitting that she didn't have any solutions to Canberra's youth unemployment problems.
Graeme Trompf, of ACT Joblink (a program run by the ACT Chamber of Commerce and funded entirely by the ACT government) explained, "Business is in business to make profits". If it doesn't make a profit, it will not be able to employ people; therefore business "shouldn't have to apologise for wanting to make money".
Trompf lamented that "we have failed to pass on to young people the work ethic that employers are looking for". Rather than skills and experience, the key features that employers sought were "attitude" and "presentation". He called for the removal of what he saw as barriers to business expansion, such as the pay roll tax and unfair dismissal laws.
The only speaker who attempted a genuine analysis and proposed a way forward was Bishop Richard Randerson, who branded as "criminally negligent" a situation where young people's lives were full of despair and poverty, and where they had no opportunity to contribute to the community.
He called for money to be put to constructive uses which would provide real employment, such as building roads, waterways, railways and housing. Randerson pointed out that those paid the most do the least work, such as the "paper shufflers" who simply "shift money around the globe".