Time to provide a seat at the table for young Australians

Wednesday, 09 June 2021

For the first time in our nation’s history, this generation of young Australians is at risk of being worse off than the generation that came before them.

Each generation of Australians has enjoyed a better standard of living than the last, but today’s young Australians are in danger of falling behind.

Young people now face a future of high underemployment, depleted retirement savings, significant barriers to education and training, and a rent and housing affordability crisis.

Economic pressures on young Australians have been exacerbated by recent wage stagnation and rising underemployment, which have emerged due to the poor policy choices.

The driving factors of this generational inequality were predictable, but the government has put its head in the sand when it comes to young Australians.

They have not listened to the concerns of younger people with lived experiences.

On the rare occasion the government has had policy solutions, they have failed to produce the desired outcomes due to a lack of consultation with younger Australians.

The Morrison government’s youth unemployment programs are just one example of how this government has spectacularly failed by not listening to younger people.

In the 2016-17 budget the Coalition government introduced the Youth Jobs PaTH program as its centrepiece policy to tackle youth unemployment.

Despite the government boasting its program as the magic bullet, it crumbled within its first two years of operation. It was a complete dud. The government had a target of 120,000 internships over four years, and only produced 14,162.

It failed to produce real job outcomes, with initial reports indicating that only 30 per cent of participants were being offered a job at the end of their internship.

Only this government could design a work experience program with no jobs and no participants.

Instead of speaking to younger Australians and trying to understand why this program was such a failure, the Morrison government merely tweaked the policy without much success.

Following this debacle, the government’s next brainwave was its $4 billion policy to tackle youth unemployment in the form of the JobMaker Hiring Credit, which promised to deliver 450,000 jobs.

Once again, the government’s program failed spectacularly, with less than 1,000 employees being funded under the scheme. Despite this resounding policy disaster, there were no changes made to JobMaker in the 2021-22 budget.

Not even an attempt to speak to young Australians about why the policy failed, and what would work better for them on the ground.

This abysmal policy track record has done nothing to alleviate youth unemployment and growing underemployment.

Almost one in every five young people want to work but can’t get the hours they need.

The unacceptable levels of youth underemployment and underutilisation were further compounded by the COVID pandemic.

At a time when young Australians desperately needed assistance, the government failed to respond adequately because they simply did not listen to young people.

We know young Australians have a lot to say.

The research shows that younger Australians are more likely than the rest of the population to be engaged in democracy. The data supports this by demonstrating that young people care a great deal about elections and their outcomes.

Labor’s internal consultations with young people showed that from the almost 2000 young Australians we engaged with, more than 50 per cent feel they are not listened to or taken seriously by decision makers.

After eight years of this government failing to engage with young people on the issues and policies designed to help them, we are left with a generation of younger Australians feeling ignored, and a growing list of failed policies.

The answer is clear – younger Australians must be given a say in the decision-making of government. This isn’t just good for young people, but it will lead to better policy design and outcomes.

That is why Labor leader Anthony Albanese has made a commitment, if elected, to provide a formal structure for younger Australians to directly engage with the federal government and contribute to policy development.

Policy development and the bureaucratic structure are not traditionally seen as exciting, but they are critically important.

We understand that the re-establishment of an Office for Youth will be integral in driving better policy across government. We know it will provide a platform for younger Australians and give them a voice in government.

In addition, a Labor government will commit to a Minister for Youth to secure an advocate for younger Australians in the executive of the federal government.

Labor is committed to genuine and ongoing engagement with young Australians, by establishing a formal framework to consult with young Australians from all backgrounds.

This will permanently entrench the voices of our young people in government and provide them with a say in the decision-making process.

Young Australians have the lived experiences and hold the key to the solutions governments need to address the severe generational inequality that is unfolding.

Our young people will be paying off the Morrison government’s $1 trillion of debt for the rest of their lives, but so far, they haven’t gotten much in return.

At the very least, they deserve government policy that is co-designed with them, and works for them.

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