Ministerial Statement - Commonwealth Year of Youth
It's a great honour for me to rise today to provide a statement to the House on Australian young people and on the Commonwealth Year of Youth. This is a unique opportunity to speak positively about young people, who are, sadly, too often viewed negatively in our community, in the media and even, I must say, sometimes in this House. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2022, leaders agreed that 2023 would be the Commonwealth Year of Youth — a year that celebrates young change-makers and imploring civil society and governments to work together towards a renewed vision for young people: one that is secure, fair and sustainable.
The Commonwealth has a combined population of 2.5 billion people, of which more than 60 per cent are under the age of 30. Here in Australia, there are over four million young people between the ages of 12 and 25, all with their own unique stories and experiences, and their own ideas and aspirations for the future. But we know that many young people are concerned about the future. They are concerned about the cost of living, about climate change and about issues around mental health, which we know affect too many young people and their friends.
Not long after I was appointed Minister for Youth in the Albanese Labor government, I was at a family gathering. I was spending some time with my eight-year-old nephews-in-law, Mason and Riley, and my 10-year-old nephew in-law, Tyler — all really great young people. We decided that we would play a game of time travel, so we constructed a makeshift time-travel machine and decided that we would travel in time. But the boys kept wanting to travel to the past. I suggested to the boys, 'Hey boys, why don't we travel to the future?' Do you know what they said? They said, 'Aunty Anne, we don't want to go to the future because the future is scary.'
Doesn't that say it all? Why is it that there's a word that you don't hear too often in reference to children and young people? More often, we talk about wisdom coming with age. We imagine that as you get older you get wiser — that's the way it's supposed to be, right? But, as a mother, as an aunty and as the Minister for Youth, I have to say that I have seen firsthand the incredible wisdom of young people.
Every day I see examples of young people's courage, leadership, and strength. They are passionate, they are driven, and they are shaping communities across Australia and around the world. They have long been at the forefront of social, cultural, technological, environmental, and economic progress. For generations, young people have stood up to injustice and have held truth to power.
Malala Yousafzai was just 14 years old when she stood up to the Taliban, demanding her right and the right of girls to an education. She was shot on her way to school, surviving to become a fierce advocate for the rights of all women and girls to education.
Claudette Colvin was just 15 years old when she refused to move to the back of a segregated bus. That was nine months before Rosa Parks did the very same thing.
Closer to home there is the 2023 Young Australian of the Year, Awer Mabil, who grow up in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing civil war in Sudan. After just one year in Australia, he realised his dream of playing for the Socceroos. He chose to use his platform to establish Barefoot to Boots, an organisation that aims for better health and education policies for refugees. There are so many stories of young people's positive contributions, and they are all around us, but too often their stories, their lived experiences and their voices go unheard. They are told to wait their turn.
It is our role as elected officials and as a government to give them hope. Last year, Monash University released their Youth Barometer, a study which asks young people about what is most important to them and gauges the pressures they face.
The study found young people have strong views on issues including the economy, work, education, health, relationships, and civic participation, and they want to be involved in finding solutions. In the Albanese Labor Government, we have given young people away to do this. We are making changes to provide young people with a genuine seat at the table.
We recognise their capacity to lead positive change in their local communities across the country and we're helping them to amplify this change. We're delivering on our election promise to young people through a new youth engagement model that provides them with opportunities to directly shape the policies and programs that affect them.
I am proud that as part of this model our government has re-established the federal Office for Youth, which will co-ordinate youth policy right across government. I'm also proud that we've established the Youth Steering Committee, made up of 15 incredible, diverse young people. They're supporting the development of this youth engagement model, helping me to ensure that it reflects the perspectives of young people in Australia. We received over 1,200 applications for that 15-person committee, from every corner of the country. That's a powerful reminder that young people are engaged and interested in contributing to the decisions of government that affect them.
It's also a powerful call for us to listen and to take heed. I'm looking forward to welcoming a further 40 young people to Parliament House tomorrow. They're going to begin their work in the government's new cross-portfolio Youth Advisory Groups. Our youth engagement model is engaging a diverse cohort, including young people from rural and regional communities, First Nations communities, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, young people with a disability, and young people from low socio-economic backgrounds.
This includes young people like 19-year-old Aloyiscois, who has travelled here from Aputula in the Northern Territory to join our First Nations advisory group. Aloyiscois is such a strong advocate for greater accessibility to high-quality education in remote Australia.
There's 20-year-old Stephanie, who has arrived from Adelaide to join our Safe and Supported group. She grew up in multiple homes from the age of one, and she is passionate about using her lived experience to ensure that the voices of vulnerable young people are heard and respected.
These groups will work with my ministerial colleagues to help ensure that policies and programs that impact young people's lives are developed with young people — issues like climate change, mental health, First Nations recognition, technology, and the future of our economy.
The Albanese government is also supporting the youth sector by providing recurring funding and resourcing to the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition. We know that many young people are facing unique challenges in employment, in education and in mental health—just to name a few. We are taking action to address these challenges across a range of portfolios to improve the lives of young people. Our Prime Minister has urged us to rebuild faith in governments, strengthening democracy, ensuring young people are meaningfully engaged.
The Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, has delivered the largest indexation increase to the youth allowance since the payment began. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke, is supporting young Australians to earn better wages and get better conditions. The Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor, is supporting young people to build the skills of the future by investing in fee-free TAFE places. My friend the Minister for Education, Jason Clare, is inducing startup loans to help the next generation of entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life, finding solutions to the emerging challenges across the economy and across our nation. The Minister for Health, Mark Butler, is promoting better mental health for young people through investments in youth focused services.
The Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, is creating a brighter future for young people, acting on climate change, leading our goal of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050.
And the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, is ensuring that First Nations young people feel safe and supported and have the best education and employment opportunities. We're doing this work because this government values young people.
If we want to support our next generation to thrive, we need to ensure that they have an opportunity to shape the decisions that impact their lives. We need to listen to and we need to act on what young people say.
We know that their unique perspectives and experiences enhance and only make better our ability to make good decisions in government. In addition to these domestic commitments, Australia is proud to provide funding support to the activities of the Commonwealth Youth Program, now in its 50th year. That program helps young people in the Commonwealth participate in democratic processes. As we celebrate the Commonwealth Year of Youth, let's all commit ourselves to harnessing young people's ideas, to harnessing young people's passions and let's work with them to deal with the unique issues they face — working with young people here in Australia, across the Commonwealth and across the globe.
I read with interest the member for Moncrieff's opinion piece last week in the Gold Coast Bulletin. We share a common goal. We share a common goal of empowering and involving young people in our community. I welcome any opportunity to work in a multipartisan approach on how we can engage young people positively and work with them to deal with the issues that they face. The next time I talk to my nephews about the future, I want them to feel hopeful. I want them to feel excited about the opportunities that lie ahead of them and the great wonders of this world. I hope that every member of this chamber wants the same for their young people too. We owe them a bright and prosperous future, one full of opportunity.