Australian Young Labor Conference 2019

Saturday, 14 September 2019


Good morning and thank you for that introduction.

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which the conference is taking place and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

It’s great to be able to join you via Skype for today’s conference – I am still grounded from flying after recently giving birth – and I was reflecting on how my life has changed since my last Australian Young Labor conference in 2001 in Canberra.

Back in 2001 as National Young Labor president my focus was keeping passionate delegates on task, amending motions and counting the numbers, and right now my focus is counting how many hours of sleep I am getting. Or not getting.

While I am sure many things have changed for me I know that many of the great things about Young Labor conferences remain the same.

I am sure that during the conference you will passionately advocate for issues, you will develop relationships and you will hone your ability to persuade.

While many of the traditions and even the issues for debate have remained the same over the years – you meet at a tough time for our movement. This year we lost the federal and the NSW election.

We weren’t able to convince enough people to vote for our agenda.

Many of you are at the start of your political journey and no doubt put blood, sweat and tears into campaigns around the country, so hopefully you have not lost heart.

Trust me, it gets better. I was lucky enough to be politically aware for Keating in 93, was first elected in the Rudd election in 2007 and was part of our re-election in 2010. And campaigned in a number of big wins in South Australia including the Rann slide in 2006 where we came from minority government to win a majority.

The victories are as often as we want, which makes it so important to govern well and with purpose we do.

Despite having a comprehensive policy agenda for young people at the last election, many young people did not turn out and vote.

This is despite many registering to vote a mere 18 months before to have their say in the marriage equality plebiscite.

If we are going to win the election in three years’ time, Labor needs to capture the hearts and minds of younger Australians and get them to cast a ballot.

My job in my new capacity as Shadow Minister for youth is to hit the streets, campuses, worksites and cafes to find out why many young people just did not exercise their right to vote.

I want to hear directly from young Australians about what inspires them, what worries them, and what they want to see from Federal Labor in Canberra.

It is critical that we all reach out beyond the politically engaged and energised circles to talk with young people from all walks of life, all postcodes, and all backgrounds.

And I see you all, along with Young Labor members in every state and territory and Labor clubs right around the country, as a vehicle to reach out and connect with young people.

In my experience it is the young people within the Labor party, not the Greens party, that can connect with the many and not just the few.

I want to harness your dedication and commitment, not just at election time but over the next three years to build momentum so that young Australians want to choose the Labor party.

It is true that many young people don’t identify with party politics but they do care about the future of the country.

Our challenge is to convince them putting our party in government does make a difference to their future and the future of our country.

We’ve always been the party that supports younger Australians in government.

You don’t need to look much further in what successive Labor governments have done in education – always ensuring that it is not just the wealthy that can enjoy the transformative power of education – whether that is early education, school, vocational or tertiary education.

I was proud that when we were last in government we uncapped university places, putting tertiary education within reach of thousands more Australians and invested in vocational training, funded schools on the basis of need and improved quality in early education rather than treating the early years as baby sitting only.

Among many other initiatives we created ways that young Australians could have their say to the government of the day.

We are also the only political party that not only believes in climate change, but will take action to address it.

Nobody should ever forget the Greens voted against the Rudd Government’s ETS in 2009, because it wasn’t everything they wanted.

If they had compromised, and actually voted in the national interest, Australia would have had a functioning ETS for almost a decade, and there would have been no climate wars.

But that’s the Greens – if the outcome isn’t 100% of what they want, they would rather have zero.

As Gough said, only the impotent are pure.

Only Labor is interested, and able, to deliver progressive reform in this country, and we need to get this message out to the younger Australians.

Because Young Australians have a lot at stake and they are getting a really raw deal from the conservative government.

Our planet is reaching a climate change tipping point, but the climate change deniers are running the government.

Young Australians are being robbed of quality, accessible education and training through endless funding cuts to schools, universities and TAFEs.

They are leaving university saddled with debt that they must repay sooner.

Penalty rates – which so many young people rely on to make ends meet – have been cut.

The great Australian dream of home ownership is now out of reach for many younger people, who are now stuck paying high rents.

Just this week the AIHW reported that the rate of home ownership among people aged 25-29 declined from 50 per cent in 1971 to 37 per cent in 2016.

Who can forget Joe Hockey telling younger Australians who are worried about housing affordability they just need to go and get a higher paying job!

This is the first generation of Australians who are in danger of being the first generation in memory to have lower living standards than their parents’ generation.

Many younger Australians are finding it harder to get a job, or enough work. The share of young people who have a job but want more work has grown from 12 per cent to 20 per cent over the past decade.

And when I talk with young Australians in the workforce, many have constant anxiety, because they are not sure if they will have hours next week or next month as a result of being employed in insecure work.

The Liberals’ only response to youth employment and underemployment is the Youth internships PATH program, that has just not delivered.

The current Government has no office for youth, no way to involve or consult young Australians in the design and implementation of public policy that might effect them.
The fact is younger Australians are not getting a fair go under Scott Morrison and the Liberals.

I don’t think youth policy is something the PM is planning to spend much time on this term. What else can we conclude when he appoints a 61 year old Youth Minister? Who does not mention young Australians much at all.

Politicians are fond of telling younger Australians they are the future. Whilst this is of course very true, it ignores the positive role and contribution young people are making to the community now.

We can’t keep talking about young people running the country in some distant far away point in time – the fact is they are already working, starting careers and apprenticeships, studying, volunteering, some are starting families – they are already contributing to our economy and society.

But they see a Government talking over their heads on issues that matter to them.

They see a Government that:
·      attacks electric vehicles and renewable energy;
·      mocks and attacks scientists and cuts their funding;
·      obsesses about demonising and punishing Newstart recipients; and
·      seems to think any problem can be solved if you just ‘have a go’ or go and get a better job.

That may be one possible explanation for the low turnout of young voters in May in inner city electorates which have high proportions of young voters.

So that’s the challenge before us all as a movement. We need to engage with young people, and show them Labor is on their side and include them in developing our plan for a better future.

I look forward to working with you to do this so that we can deliver what this country desperately needs – a Labor Government.

I wish you all the best for a successful AYL today and am happy to take any questions you may have.

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