This Government Doesn’t Care About Young People

A simple gaffe was more revealing than it first appeared.

Scott Morrison. The government spent today wasting time to avoid helping kids on Nauru.

On Wednesday, the Morrison government’s Minister for Youth, Richard Colbeck, (age: 61) had a “seniors moment”. When asked a question about a recent Grattan Institute report, which found that an alarming number of young people are skipping meals to afford to pay their bills, the minister was quick to say he hadn’t read the report. Within a minute of his initial response, minister Colbeck paused to reflect that perhaps he had read the report and that he might have actually met with someone from Grattan to talk about the report.

On one level, it’s a simple gaffe that makes for good twitter fodder. But on another level, much like when Tony Abbott appointed himself Minister for Women, it speaks to a government that is increasingly out of touch with those it is supposed to represent. Under the current government, youth has dropped off the agenda.

When the Coalition came to power in 2013, its first action on youth policy was to defund the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC), the peak body for youth organisations in Australia, and they didn’t appoint a Minister for Youth until after the 2019 election.

Their attitudes towards the next generations has led some to claim that the government is waging a ‘war on young people’, and it’s easy to see why. Since coming to power, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has blamed young people for their lack of secure employment, suggested that young people are a generation of entitled dole bludgers, and chastised a generation for demanding action on climate change.

Unfortunately for young people, this lack of youth policy has led to some pretty bad outcomes. One in 3 young people are either unemployed or underemployed, and in some regional areas youth unemployment is five times the national average. It’s getting harder and harder to start a career, with 19 job applications for every available entry level job.

Unfortunately for the lucky few who do manage to get a foot in the door, graduate wages are shrinking over time. For those who graduated between 2006 and 2009, the average weekly wage was $947.31 in their first year of graduate employment; for those who finished university between 2012 and 2013, that figure had shrunk to A$791.58.

This probably explains why the number of young people in housing stress, where 30% or more of income is spent on housing, has almost doubled in the past ten years.

Yet despite inaction and outright contempt from the Morrison government, young people are still fighting back. People across the country are campaigning for adequate income support, to eradicate wage theft, and for fairer treatment of refugees.

Most importantly, young people are fighting for their future. The School Strikes 4 Climate Action have mobilised over half a million people to take action. While the government is intent on demonising the school strikers, saying that the only thing they’re learning is how to ‘join a dole queue’, young people are continuing to protest.

The Minister for Youth could learn a lot from today’s young people, if he took the time to listen. While it’s understandable that politicians can occasionally forget one document or meeting in the plethora of similar ones that cross their desk, it’s not forgivable to treat your portfolio with the level of contempt currently on display.

If the Morrison government is serious about youth policy then they need to listen to the generation who will be affected by their decisions. They need to take young people seriously and address the very real concerns that they are raising.

Ultimately, Young Australians deserve a government and a minister that does their homework.

Shirley Jackson is an Economist with Per Capita. He has written extensively on young workers and the changing nature of work in Junkee, ABC News, The Guardian, The Age, Crikey, and The Conversation.