YOUNG PEOPLE NEED A GOVERNMENT WHO LISTENS TO THEM

Ms Bird (Cunningham) (13:21): I'm pleased to support this motion before the Chamber today. For context, the motion discusses the importance of understanding the impacts of the COVID pandemic on young people and calls on the government to take an holistic national strategy around dealing with that, but I'll make the point here that for many young people there were already issues that were playing out significantly for them that they were talking to members of parliament and attempting to get messages to government about pre-pandemic.

There were three key issues that came through to me at the various forums and events that I attended when I talked to young people. The first is climate change. Young people were very concerned about their future in a world where we weren't taking our responsibility for doing our part to address climate change seriously. I believe that that continues to be an area of concern and, indeed, is a missed opportunity in the government's response to the pandemic—that is, not seeing this as an opportunity to look at where we can use response to climate change to actually create jobs, create new industries and build up employing industries.

The second thing that young people were already talking to me about was education. We know the story of the massive loss of apprenticeship numbers under the Abbott, then Turnbull and now Morrison government. No matter how many times they make announcements in this space, they never deliver. In, I think, the 2018 budget there was a big announcement on apprenticeships. They were going to create 300,000 new apprenticeships. The following year there was the same announcement but they downgraded the number to 80,000, because we still hadn't reached that, and still we're seeing over 140,000 fewer apprentices in training and taking that opportunity compared to when the Liberals came to government in 2013.

The third big area that young people have been talking to me and the local media and the local trade union about is the casualisation and exploitation of them as young workers in the local economy—and I believe this is translated across Australia. Young people are not being given information on their rights at work. They are being exploited and doing unpaid stints at work. They are being left vulnerable. They're not even being sacked; they just don't get any more shifts if they stand up for themselves or their rights.

These were issues that were in our communities prior to the pandemic.

The reality is that the pandemic has highlighted where these big equity gaps are in our communities, and, as other speakers on this side have indicated, many of those are particularly where young people are. We've seen young people particularly hit by the industries that were affected by—what had to happen—a responsible health response to the pandemic because, of course, they were in industries that heavy rely on casualised workforces. Hospitality and retail are the obvious ones, and tourism more broadly.

In my area we have the major university, the University of Wollongong. I've consistently met with students, particularly, I have to say, international students who were really left on their own. Those young people were in a desperate state, and I really thank our local Rotary who stepped up to provide support with the student bodies over at the university. But young people were right there at the forefront of that, and now they're concerned that the government's proposals will simply take them back to continuing ongoing, casualised, exploitative, unreliable work, whereas we should be seeing this as an opportunity to create a better workplace for young people where they can have meaningful jobs, safe jobs, properly remunerated and protected jobs and long-term careers established from those.

Obviously the other big issue young people have been lobbying myself about locally is the university reforms that the government's put in place. So many of them with their dreams of following careers are looking at fees that have doubled for their university course. I acknowledge our wonderful year 12 students. They go into their HSC studies next week, and as so many people have said as part of the campaign, 'You've got this,' and 'We want to hear from you.'

Watch Sharon’s speech here.