Parliament – youth unemployment

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (19:49):  Thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of Australians, our country has avoided a potential devastating and widespread health crisis faced by so many other countries. However, we are now faced with economic and other mental health challenges that have the potential to have a deep and long-lasting effect on our nation. In particular, I want to highlight that it’s our young Australians who are bearing the economic brunt of this crisis.

They are bearing the brunt of the jobs crisis, facing overwhelming unemployment and underemployment. They are bearing the brunt of the mental health crisis, as social isolation and missing significant life events begin to take their toll. These things make it a very difficult time. I think it is important to recognise that, while many people have been having a difficult time, young people came into this crisis already on the back foot, and they are now suffering as a result.

The health crisis has tipped into an already bleak unemployment outlook for younger Australians. And of course 280,000 young Australians are now unemployed. On top of this, young Australians have been experiencing the largest proportion of job losses in this crisis. This crisis has exposed how this generation of young Australians is caught in the trap of insecure and inconsistent employment prospects. Many young Australians have been employed casually or in the sectors hardest hit, such as hospitality and the arts. They are some of the least secure jobs and some of the jobs that were first to go.

But the figures also hide a deeper persistent issue of underemployment. We know that there are some people who may have lost their second job, or even their third job, which they’ve relied on to make ends meet. These losses aren’t represented in the figures. Young people were already facing a youth unemployment crisis before this pandemic, and the events of the last few months have only made it worse. At the start of this year, youth unemployment was already more than double the national average, but you wouldn’t know that if you spoke to our Prime Minister, who only last month flatly denied in a press conference that youth unemployment was an issue before the pandemic. When asked about the pre-existing problem of youth unemployment, the Prime Minister said:

… the premise of the facts of your question are just simply not right.

This comment was a slap in the face to many young Australians who had been battling unemployment and underemployment.

This comment is consistent with the government’s indifference and inaction on the issue of youth unemployment. We actually heard the member for Goldstein before saying: ‘Pick yourself up by your bootstraps; do your best. There’s no role for government in supporting people into employment.’ Well, I simply disagree with that. In the face of consistently high youth unemployment figures, the government has never offered a meaningful plan to address this issue. What faith can young people possibly have in this government to lead them out of this unprecedented jobs crisis, when the government wouldn’t even admit there was a problem in the first place?

The government must have young people at the forefront of their minds and take all necessary steps to support them during this crisis. The Treasurer has conceded we are in recession and it’s a very serious economic position for our country. So it is also the time, rightly, that the government are working to provide support and stimulus measures to offer support to our economy. Yet our young people are being left behind by this government. They are being left behind when it comes to JobKeeper; many of them are unable to access the JobKeeper program. It’s also clear that many of them are being encouraged to dip into their superannuation, rather than get adequate support from the government. This will have a long-term impact on their retirement savings. They have been doing the right thing, working and putting money away in their superannuation, and this government is encouraging them, at the worst time, to take their money out so they will have nothing left for their retirement. It’s irresponsible, and I have to say it’s making it very difficult for young people.

The mental health impact has also had a toll. We are not just facing a physical and economic crisis but a mental health crisis as well. The University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre recently forecast anywhere between a 25 to 50 per cent rise in suicide. We must have young people on our mind. We must focus on young people and resolve— (Time expired)

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