Commonwealth Year of Youth

30 Mar | '2023

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge my counterpart, Minister for Youth, Anne Aly, and the work that she is doing in the youth space. She has a real passion for young people and we do agree on wanting a brighter future for all young people across our country. I also acknowledge the young people up there in the gallery, those who have travelled from corners of the country to be here in our nation’s parliament. We are very pleased to see you all here today.

When the Leader of the Opposition—my good friend Peter Dutton—asked me to be the shadow minister for youth it was an emphatic yes. And while I may not fall into the youth age group, as the minister opposite also does not, I do remember what it is like to be a young person and I understand very well some of the struggles that you face as young people in this country. Like many young people, I also came from a disadvantaged background and, while I do not want this speech in any way to be about my upbringing, my passion for youth does come from that. I grew up in trust housing in South Australia—don’t worry, I won’t bring it up every time I come to speak—and it did stamp me with certain hope for the future. My family has generations of General Motors Holden factory workers, and I watched my parents work so very hard to give me and my other siblings opportunity. Eventually, we did leave social housing when my parents saved enough to buy a very small home.

But it wasn’t until I was 17 that a Rotary scholarship presented an opportunity for me to see something different from what I’d known. I spent 12 months studying abroad in Denmark as a Rotary scholar, which absolutely opened my eyes to how other people lived, what other opportunities there were to be had, and that I too could build something for my life and for my family. That trip was a defining moment for me as a young person, and I am certain that I stand here in this chamber today because of that opportunity that Rotary international extended to me as a young person from a disadvantaged background. That is what I want for all young people and that is what the minister wants for all young people, both ministers here in the chamber and of course the shadow minister for education as well. We want opportunities for you, the young people of our country. I want you to have your defining moment and I want you to realise that you can become the best that you can through educational programs and opportunities that may change your trajectory and your future and your family so that you have a choice.

There are so many great of which organisations that offer those opportunities to young people around the country, and I thank them for that. I can’t name them all but I would like to outline one that is in my electorate of Moncrieff. The Men of Business Academy, which is known as the MOB Academy, in Southport delivers support, education and opportunities for young boys, and they build them into better man. Initially, the youth mentor program was delivered in a park as a physical fitness program then in schools, reaching 2,000 young boys over the last decade. With seed funding from Gold Coast Men of Business, Marco Renai and Jason Sessorago then created MOB’s ground-breaking independent school that focuses on building better men through teaching respect, life skills importantly—and the values of our community. The program has seen 456 beautiful boys, who would otherwise have been expelled and possibly turn to crime, change their life’s course and graduate high school, attain their drivers licence and truly belong to a community that supports them long after graduation day. MOB Academy is one of many organisations that passionately believes in our young people because they represent the future and they deserve our attention. They deserve our guidance and they deserve our support.

I met with Youth Insearch earlier this week, another amazing organisation, which is providing peer-to-peer support and counselling to young people. What I love about Youth Insearch is that many of the youth leaders running their weekend workshops are young people, who went through the program themselves and turned their lives around. They made good choices. I spoke with Marley and Telly about the challenges they faced as young people, how they worked through their own trauma and now are exemplary members of their community, giving back through the organisation that helped them. I feel the same way about Rotary International. That is what we need more of.

I call on the government, I call on the ministers here to continue the funding for this program that not only impacts youth mental health but also improves youth unemployment at the same time. We need more programs that support young people, both interventional and opportunistic. The Gold Coast, like many other parts of Australia, is facing an increasing youth crime rate. I do not pretend to know all their circumstances but I’ve heard the story enough times to know that many of these young people have faced trauma, have mental health issues or don’t have the right support networks around them. Many of them turn to crime because they think that that is all they have or they are simply desperate. Governments need to do more to make sure that these young people don’t continue to fall through the cracks. Increased jail time, more people in youth detention and harsher bail laws alone will not solve the crisis. It will not help these young people turn their lives around. It won’t help them to be the best version of themselves.

I know the Labor government talks a lot about what it’s doing in the youth space. I have seen them set up committee after committee, and it is great that young people are getting involved, having a voice and learning about how they can contribute to public policy. But that’s all the government is doing. There is an Office for Youth, but I ask the government how they are representing young people living on the streets, stealing cars for fun or committing crimes. How are the government’s committees, totalling 55 young people, and the Office for Youth actually supporting Australia’s young people? From the City of Swan in Western Australia to Alice Springs, Dubbo or the Gold Coast, how is the government helping reduce the number of young Australians committing suicide each year? It was 402, too many, in 2021. It is the biggest killer of young Australians, and yet I have seen nothing from this government on how they are addressing this crisis. The answer is they won’t.

I am worried that the youth crisis will get worse and that, instead of working to hear all young voices and reach out to all young people, this government is more focused on creating more policymakers and teaching them how to work inside the Canberra bubble. People think that being in opposition means that you can’t actually do anything. Many people think that. Whilst it is much harder to deliver for all young Australians, what I can do and have done is deliver for my own community when the state and federal governments don’t step up to the plate when it comes to opportunities.

Over the last month, I’ve worked as a patron, with Gold Coaster Karen Phillips, to deliver the 2023 IMPACT Youth Summit, a two-day event designed by young people on the Gold Coast for young people on the Gold Coast. We brought together more than 189 young people aged 15 to 24 across all cultures, identities, abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds to Sea World resort for the first event of this kind on the Gold Coast. It was an incredible success. We had a range of inspiring guest speakers, breakout sessions, hands-on activities and community organisations coming together to offer young people on the Gold Coast something different—a chance, an opportunity and a choice to help them be the best version of themselves. I want to thank the Gold Coast community, which came together around this vision and helped us deliver this for our young people. I know that next year will be even bigger and even better.

I will end on this note: 2023 is the Year of Youth, and during this year the Commonwealth will celebrate with the 1.5 billion under-30s living across all Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth’s future and the future of this country rests with our young people. They are our future doctors, scientists, lawyers, politicians, teachers and even careers that we haven’t thought of yet. That one opportunity, that one chance, can change a young person’s life for the better and place them on a trajectory to something new and amazing. And so to the youth of Australia I say: I stand behind you.

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