ADDRESS TO THE NATIONAL YOUTH FUTURES SUMMIT
THURSDAY, 9 JUNE 2022
It has been a really tough time for young Australians. Over the course of the past nine years, we've seen work become less stable for many people. The rise of the gig economy is good for consumers, but tough for those who work in the sector. We had a period a couple of years back where in just six months we had more than five fast food delivery drivers killed. And because they were working under casual conditions, their families didn't get the compensation they might have received if those workers had been part of a regular firm.
We increasingly have workers working in an environment in which their boss is an app, in which they can't set their hourly charge, but they're treated like contractors. That instability of employment has extended across the labour market. I remember one labour market economist telling me that if you went back a generation, pretty much anyone who graduated from university could expect to walk into a full time job. And now increasingly, he said, part time employment is common even for people coming out of university.
We've seen the huge intergenerational inequity of rising house prices, house prices which are now putting homes beyond the reach of many Australians. It was once the case that homeownership rates didn't differ much by income levels, that they were similar for those in the bottom fifth of the income distribution and the top fifth of the income distribution. But now for young Australians on modest wages, buying a home is almost an impossibility. That Great Australian Dream is slipping out of reach for many people. We've seen house prices accelerating fast, which is good if you own a home, better if you own investment properties, but terrible if you're outside the housing market. And that's created a great inequity for many Australians.
We've seen too the stopping of the demand driven system for accessing university. We know that one of the best elevators to the middle class is education. Yet in 2017, when the demand driven system was stopped, we had hundreds of thousands of young Australians who had the skills and talents to get to university but weren't offered a place. Demand driven university basically says that the spots should be there where the demand is, and where the universities can satisfy that demand. But when you choke off the ability to get to university, you most choke off those of modest means - those who are the first in their family to attempt to go to university, those from minority groups such as migrants or Indigenous Australians. The low SES targets that were set a decade ago were not met, and the choking off of university places has been a big part of that.
The last part of the intergenerational inequity that really concerns me is climate change. Climate change is ultimately an issue of fairness between generations, and we've seen over the last nine years a government which took the same approach on climate change pretty much as Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Donald Trump's United States, the recalcitrant approach of Saudi Arabia. That unwillingness to act by the Liberals on climate change has meant that Australia is now facing a climate crisis and not taking the leadership that you would expect a country like ours to take - a country which is the advanced country most affected by climate change. We have an obligation to act on climate change in our own self interest, so it's shocking to me that we've had a government for the last nine years that just hasn't been willing to take the necessary action on climate change.
On May 21, that changed.
You've got now in Anthony Albanese’s Labor team, of which I'm proud to be a part, a government which recognises the problems of insecure work, which recognises the necessity of ensuring that gig workers are paid the minimum wage. We want the sharing economy to work, but we want it to work for workers as well as for firms.
Labor recognises the challenges that exist in the home market. We want to do something about the housing supply problems in Australia, which is why we've announced the Housing Australia Future Fund, a significant fund which will invest in building social and affordable housing - some 30,000 social and affordable homes, 4,000 of those directed specifically to women and children fleeing family violence. We've also taken a page from the states’ books and announced our Help to Buy program. This is a program which will ensure that those who can't afford the full cost of a mortgage are able to purchase between 60 and 70 per cent of the property, with the Commonwealth taking a share in the asset. This is a program that's been running as Keystart in Western Australia for decades now, under Labor and Liberal governments. It simply makes sense that you've got a Commonwealth that's willing to step in as a co-equity holder in order to help out vulnerable people who want to break into the housing market for the first time.
On the university front, we've announced 20,000 additional university places, dealing with the problem that so many Australians have the talents to go to university, would benefit from going to university, and yet haven't been able to get a spot. And we've announced hundreds of thousands of fee-free TAFE places, including in areas of priority need. We want to make it easier to get access to university because ultimately getting more education, whether it's through vocational training or university, opens up so many opportunities. As technology advances, it's more vital than ever before that we boost education.
And lastly, climate change. The Liberals ought to have learned one big lesson above all else at the last election. Its recalcitrance on climate change was punished by the voters - not just in Labor's win, but also in the loss of their traditional blue-ribbon seats such as North Sydney, Goldstein, Curtin, and Kooyong. The election of independents in those seats and others is a reflection of the great frustration that so many people in middle Australia feel about the failure to act on climate change. Labor has set a 43 per cent emissions reduction target. We've announced will rewire the nation in order to join up the electricity grid and allow renewables to work even better. We will encourage more renewables investment, including offshore wind, which Australia hasn't done very well despite having huge potential in that sector. We’ll make electric vehicles cheaper to buy. And by the way, they won’t end the weekend.
We have announced that we are going to be a government which is engaging with the rest of the world on climate change. Chris Bowen will make a bid for Australia to host the next COP meetings, in order to showcase our approach to climate change. I remember Barack Obama coming to Australia a few years ago and saying that it was important for him that he'd be able to bring his daughters to Australia one day to see the Great Barrier Reef in its glory. It's absolutely vital for our tourism industries, for those who are vulnerable to extreme weather events, for the generations still to come that we take serious action on climate change.
We want to also make sure that we’re open as a government to the ideas of young Australians. In my own electorate, we've done a lot with deliberative democracy forums, telephone town halls, engaging through social media and engaging through podcasts. We know that there is a crisis of democracy in Australia - that Australians are less likely to join, volunteer and donate. But also that one way in which that crisis of democracy is manifesting is people turning off mainstream politics. It's really critical that we turn that around - that all Australians see involvement in the democracy as being something that is theirs, that people feel proud to get engaged in politics. So I do encourage people to be in touch directly. I want to hear from you. I'm not hard to find at the modestly named andrewleigh.com - and I know that's true for other Labor parliamentarians.
We need politics to be more porous, more open to young people, more open to the ideas, the energy and the enthusiasm that comes out of the National Youth Futures Summit. Thanks for having me today.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.