SMH: Youth issues drowned amid sound bites

Just after the Australian election, my  first 'real-life' paper opinion piece appeared in the Sun-Herald paper, the Sunday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Icing on the cake? Malcolm Fraser himself retweeted it!


In case you missed it, check it out below...


It has been a long five weeks. It would be fair to say it has been a long seven months; since the first election announcement on January 30, the political onslaught has been relentless.

The cycle of topical and divisive issues such as asylum seekers, the economy, the national broadband network and the paid parental leave scheme have dominated. Tiringly, these issues are only ever discussed in sound bites.

The debates made conspicuous by their absence however, were those about the policies that directly address issues of importance to young people and the longer-term future of our nation.

Climate change has been spoken about only in so far as to scrap the carbon tax. It would seem Maslow's hierarchy of needs is at work, with parties playing on voters' survival instinct rather than longer-term attitudes towards morality. In an environment where the fear of the "budget emergency" and the "rise in the cost of living" are touted as immediate crises, the apparent "ethical luxury" of a shift to sustainable development is no longer part of the debate.


The fear-mongering flies in the face of data from the National Electricity Market, which indicates a 7 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2011-12 to 2012-13. Naturally, the entire reduction cannot be attributed simply to the tax and it alone is not the whole answer. Nonetheless, the objective remains: to reduce our society's impact on the environment by whichever means are most effective.

Young people have been left behind at both ends of Maslow's hierarchy. Not only has the issue of climate change been removed from consideration, but the physiological and safety needs in employment and housing have been underplayed.

The unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 24 is 11.5 per cent, double the general number and up from 8.8 per cent in 2008. For those between 15 and 19, it is 27.3 per cent, up from 15.5 per cent in 2008. The Foundation for Young Australians' How Young People Are Faring 2012 report shows opportunities for them to take up full-time work have declined over the past 25 years.

Furthermore, the demographics of our workforce are changing. Job vacancies are low, with one in five unemployed for every vacancy in some states. Even for the 73.4 per cent of young people engaged in full-time education or training, their prospects once their training is over have been diminished.

The difficulties are further compounded for the vulnerable. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds (13.8 per cent) are twice as likely as their wealthier counterparts (5.2 per cent) to be out of employment, education or training. For indigenous youth and those with a disability, the rate is three times as high.

Housing is another sleeper issue largely ignored by public debate, with numbers showing a continuing decline in the value of loans taken out by first home buyers. Young people are also over-represented among the homeless.

The solutions provided by each side of the house are insufficient. The structures within the labour force, entry to employment and the effectiveness of traditional pathways need to be reassessed. To do that, however, these issues need to be on the table.

Perhaps the voting power of young people is not enough to set the agenda yet, but climate change during the 2010 election implied the opposite. The short-sightedness of our leading parties, however, means the burgeoning issues of our time are left aside for emotive discussions that play on voters' fears.

We can only hope that now that the decision has been settled, we will see some long-term visionary thinking. Optimistic perhaps, but isn't that the blessing of youth.

Read the original on the Sydney Morning Herald Website here. 


So what do you think? What issues are now missing from the agenda?