Has there ever been a worse government for young Australians? - Speech, House of Representatives


If there's ever been a worse government for young Australians, I am yet to hear of it. The fact is that the Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison governments have overseen a deterioration in the living standards of young Australians that is unprecedented in Australian history. A number of years ago Jennifer Rayner wrote Generation Less in which she catalogued the ways in which life has become harder for young Australians.

Rejecting the common view that things are always tough when you're young and young people in Australia don't know how good they have it, Jennifer Rayner instead goes through the statistics. She starts with getting into work, pointing out that underemployment rates are at record levels. It used to be very rare for young people to leave university and be unable to get a full-time job. But, increasingly now, that's a common experience. We're seeing young people graduating from university, going into part-time work, wanting more hours and being unable to get them.

Then she talks about wage growth. We've seen a fanning out of wages, with wages going up a lot at the top and flatlining at the bottom. Young people have borne the brunt of that. She turns to wealth and points out that wealth accumulation for young Australians has stalled, largely as a function of the collapse in the home ownership rate. In 1981, 60 per cent of the poorest 25- to 34-year-olds owned a home. Now it's only 20 per cent. We're seeing a huge rise in renting among young Australians, and 42 per cent of homeless Australians are under the age of 25.

Jennifer Rayner points out that there's been a significant increase in debt, with HECS-HELP debts going up substantially compared to previous generations. The cost of doing a humanities degree in Australia now is pretty similar to the average cost in the United States—somewhere around $58,000 for a degree. We saw huge increases under the Orwellianly named Job-ready Graduates Package last year, which loaded more debt onto an already over-indebted generation.

Then there's mental health, where we've seen a significant deterioration of mental health over the course of the last decade. We've seen changes since this government came to office, with youth unemployment rising. It's now at 13 per cent, which is a higher level than in Britain, Germany, the United States, Japan, Canada or Korea. Millennials now earn 20 per cent less than their parents did at the same age. We've seen the number of young Australians with disabilities living below the poverty line multiplying by some 300 per cent. Mission Australia's youth survey in 2020 found that 43 per cent of young Australians felt stressed all or most of the time and that many are performing excessive unpaid overtime.

I commend the member for Kingston for bringing this motion forward because it highlights how different things would be under a Labor government. We would set up a dedicated office for youth and give young Australians the focus that they need.

We saw just over the weekend how tough it is in the housing market in particular. If you go back to the early 2000s, according to numbers from the ANZ it took the average household somewhere around five years to save for a deposit. Now that figure has blown out to more than 10 years. It's harder than ever before for young Australians to break into the housing market. Yes, overall interest rates are down, but they don't do you much good if you can't get the deposit in the first place.

In the 2021 youth ambassadors report, young Canberrans focused on a range of these challenges. In particular, they focused on the issue of climate change. As a year 12 student in the ACT said:

"I think the Prime Minister needs to take climate change seriously. This summer was the worst of my life with smoke compromising access to clean air and the ability to go outside. I am terrified."

When I go into schools, I don't hear climate sceptics in the way I hear them from the conservative side in the parliament. Young Australians want action on climate change. It is typically their top policy priority. Yet we have in the coalition the only advanced government that failed to take an increased 2030 commitment to the Glasgow climate change talks.

Shame! It is a failure of policy and it's hurting young Australians.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.