Gov't youth policy: all talk, no 'conversation'


The mainstream media have been quick to praise the "resilience" of the Australian economy and the Rudd government has lauded itself for avoiding a "technical recession", but the human impact of the economic downturn has been downplayed.

The 2009 Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) report, "How Young People Are Faring", gives a sobering contrast to the sterile reports of GDP figures and swings in the All Ordinaries index.

Released on October 8, the FYA report showed the economic situation for young people is deteriorating at an alarming rate. It found the numbers of teenagers not studying or working full-time rose from 13.4% to 16.4% — the highest level since the early 1990s.

The report also found teenage unemployment not in full-time education had risen from 12.2% in 2008 to 18.5% in 2009. It said, "the last 12 months has seen reduced rates of entry into full-time work for school leavers".

FYA CEO Adam Smith said the report's findings were "concerning signs about the declining wellbeing of young Australians".

"In these turbulent times, the challenge for all of us is to provide innovative pathways and new opportunities for young people so that they can realise their full potential."

That certainly is the challenge, but the Rudd government is not offering any "innovative pathways".

Federal youth minister Kate Ellis announced a National Strategy for Young Australians on October 22. A centrepiece of the announcement was a "nationwide conversation" with young people.

But the "conversation" Ellis wants has the government doing all the talking and none of the listening.

Already, the government has announced seven "priorities" of the youth strategy. However, not once in the strategy's discussion paper is climate change, or the environment, mentioned.

Climate change will have a huge impact on the lives of all young people. They will face the consequences from decisions not of their making.

In a nationwide poll of 37,000 young people, organised by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition in September, 97.5% voted for emissions cut targets much higher than those proposed by the government.

Young people's strong views on climate change could be one reason the government is reluctant to have a conversation about it.

Other discussion topics are also excluded from the "conversation", such as youth unemployment, unequal access to university, gender or sexual or racial discrimination, public transport, housing affordability or social security.

Instead, the government wants to discuss "areas of concern that require national action", which include binge drinking, mental health and violence.

Yet these things are all symptoms of broader social problems, which the government doesn't want to "talk" about. How can violence among young people be tackled, if dealing with youth unemployment or racial discrimination is not a part of it?

The government can't expect a "conversation" when it doesn't want to hear what young people have to say.

So Resistance offers the following points to start a real discussion about solving some of the biggest problems facing young people today.

· Young people should be trained to help meet the climate emergency. A huge program of publicly-funded investment in renewable energy is needed to help avert climate catastrophe. Young people should be skilled up and employed in this sector.

· Youth wages should be abolished. It is discriminatory and provides a disincentive for young people to find work.

· The government should place a nationwide moratorium on rent increases. High house prices and record rent hikes have hurt young people, worsening poverty.

· Youth Allowance and Newstart benefits should be raised from their current levels, which are far below the poverty line. No young person in Australia should have to live in poverty while they are studying or looking for work.

· Education should be free. Education should be for all, not just the rich; reducing the growing costs of attending higher education would be the first step to reducing this disparity.

· Young people must get the vote. Reducing the voting age to 16 is an important democratic reform. Young people can drive, work and pay taxes at 16, so they should also be allowed to vote.