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The Sydney Morning Herald

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Date: 05/04/1995
Words: 1986
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Page: 19
"THERE is so little for them to do or aspire to, why shouldn't they say 'F--- You'. At least then they feel alive for a few moments. At least they have escaped the drudgery for just a couple of seconds." John Howard, a senior psychology lecturer at Macquarie University, is angry. He is sick and tired of the treatment being dished out to Australia's youth.

Howard firmly believes politicians have no interest in young people unless they are committing a crime. "Most cannot vote; the rest cannot be bothered," Howard says. "So to the governments they are not necessary or important. They are just an aggravation."

Ironically yesterday, he was seemingly proved right. In the middle of Youth Week and on his first full day in office, the newly elected NSW Premier, Bob Carr, abolished the Ministry for Youth and dismantled its Office of Youth Affairs.

In his education statement in the run-up to the election, he had promised to do so because he claimed it had failed. He said youth policy would be dealt with by Cabinet's social justice committee instead. But there isn't a minister in charge of social justice either.

His Government does have a minister for just about everything else - the aged, disabled, ethnic minorities, Aborigines, and women. But no minister for young people. And the Youth Action Policy Association, an organisation fighting for social change and equity for young people, is furious. Its executive officer, Andrew Marsden, says: "We are dismayed and incredibly disappointed. We think this just demonstrates hypocrisy on the part of the Labor Government.

"Carr said in the run-up to the election that 'the office has totally failed in its important function of ensuring youth has a voice in government'. We thought he might get rid of or change the office, but he was still claiming youth were important.

"So we never dreamed he would get rid of the Ministry of Youth. Now where is the voice of the youth? There is a department and minister for everything else.

"Youth has been completely downgraded. There is no-one in Cabinet to speak up on behalf of them any more."

COINCIDENTALLY, earlier this week, Dr Brendan Nelson, the head of the Australia Medical Association and a proclaimed aspirant to political office, called for the Federal Government to form a Ministry of Youth Affairs. "We have a Ministry for the Status of Women, which has achieved a great deal, so why don't we have the same for young people?" he said.

"It could co-ordinate programs for young people and act as a watchdog for their rights.

"There is a minority of youngsters who have lost faith with those running the country. And as a society at the moment, we are failing to transmit a sense of belonging or meaningful belief that they have control over their future.

"It is about time we gave some regard to what they think."

Meanwhile, across the country, to celebrate Youth Week, concerts, art exhibitions, competitions and conferences are being organised to celebrate young people and the contribution they make to society.

But many youngsters aren't celebrating. Suicide rates for 14- to 19-year-olds have rocketed in the past 25 years by 600 per cent; 400 young people killed themselves in 1993. Abuse of drugs and solvents is increasing. The Salvation Army rehabilitation units are now seeing youngsters as young as 13, and half of the illegal-drug users in Australia are under 20.

People under 25 make up 40 per cent of the unemployed. It now takes an average of 20 months for 15- to 24-year-olds to find a full-time job, and a report by the Centre For Labour Studies at the University of Adelaide predicts by 2001 there will be no full-time jobs for those under 19.

The Australian Youth Institute (AYI) claims the number one issue for young people is unemployment. In a survey of 873 15- to 25-year-olds, 82 per cent of them put unemployment at the top of their list of concerns. And in an essay competition organised by the AYI in 1994, 70 per cent of the competitors wrote about the problems of unemployment.

Many young people in Sydney and the rest of Australia are disenchanted, bored and have no hopes for the future.

But would a youth office - whether at State or Federal Government - help?

The Fahey government created the Ministry of Education and Youth Affairs in 1988. Jillian Skinner was made director of the Office of Youth Affairs in 1989 - she had just failed to win a seat in the State government.

Last year, Carr claimed the office was simply a warehouse (political platform) for Skinner - who eventually won a seat that year.

And there were accusations in 1994 by the senior Labor MP Michael Egan that the office under Skinner had been used to gather detailed marketing information on young people for Fahey Government members in marginal seats.

Egan claimed: "The document (leaked from the Office of Youth Affairs) shows quite clearly taxpayers' money has been used for the Government's marginal seat campaign when it should have been spent on the youth of Australia."

Likewise in early 1994, Carr promised the office would be abolished as part of a "wind-back of waste of the Fahey and Greiner years". He said then the office, with a staff of 27, had "no clear objectives or list of achievements".

Jillian Skinner is certain youth are being penalised because she was once the director of the Office of Youth Affairs. She says: "It is political, not personal, but I think it is being penalised because of me.

"This is an appalling decision. You have to ask why he has done it when it has been one of the most successful parts of bureaucracy in the last few years. Its policy development and programs have been talked about not just in NSW, but all other States and other parts of the world."

Skinner says that when she was appointed director she went through the normal public service selection channels. "It was a very rigorous selection process."

Tony Wiseheart, the director up until yesterday, believes there is still much to do in providing services for young people. He says the office had three main roles:

* Policy co-ordination - working with other departments to develop policies which specifically involve youth.

* Working with disadvantaged young people by funding community organisations.

* Getting information to young people and those who work with them.

Wiseheart believes one of the greatest advantages of the office is to help government and society understand what the problems of young people are and how they can be addressed.

"In the last five years we have seen a re-emergence of the generation gap we had in the '60s and '70s. There is much greater fear of youth by adults today. They fear the way young people dress and behave.

"Parliament's response has been to take young people off the streets, but we need to do positive things too.

"We need to be more understanding of young people's culture. We need to bridge the gap."

In pilot programs in NSW, police have been given the powers to remove children from the streets if they believe them to be a risk to themselves (i.e. drunk or soliciting).

But Macquarie University's John Howard claims the policy is no more than "persecution".

"They are mostly unhappy kids who are bored. Governments should be putting the effort into creating recreational pursuits and centres for them, not harassing them for being bored," he says.

"It is OK when we want young people to be passive consumers - then we pander to them. But when they want to express themselves in different ways they are just regarded in the sense of needing to be brought into line."

He says a ministry for youth at either State or Federal level is vital. "It will act as a watchdog and co-ordinate groups to make sure there is a uniform approach to dealing with young people," he says.

But some groups working with young people are not so gloomy about the abolition of the NSW Ministry for Youth.

Laurie Matthews, the co-ordinator of Caretakers Cottage, a refuge in Surry Hills for homeless youth, says that many people don't believe that youth issues should have been so closely linked with the Ministry for Education.

"Originally youth came under the Ministry for Community Services, and that was of more benefit to groups like us. Then it was grabbed by the Ministry for Education and became a bit narrow, and although educational groups benefited others such as refuges didn't.

"Maybe it is time for each government department to have its own youth adviser."

Dr Nelson added: "We just don't give enough regard to want young people want. Too many tend to trivialise their concerns instead of listening to them."

Many who share Nelson's sentiment were outraged recently when Paul Keating told a group of students who were demonstrating outside a venue he was visiting to "get a job". Dr Nelson believes this is typical of people's attitude that "young people are just a nuisance."

Steve Hill, a youth community worker with Manly Council, agrees: "Most people perceive youngsters as a problem. They see groups of youngsters out on the street and are afraid.

"But the only reason they are on the streets is because there is not enough structured and organised activity for them."

Manly Youth Council has a drop-in centre, organises dances, live bands, and provides counselling services. Many of the activities are organised by young people. "One thing we have learnt is it is pointless trying to organise activities for youngsters without getting the input from them on what they want," he says.

Dr Hugh Potter, a lecturer in sociology at the University of New England, is disappointed at Carr's axing of the youth office. "It is removing a symbol that says we are concerned about youth, which is disappointing."

He believes the place to start is the community. "You involve the youth and look at issues raised by them. You will start to recognise patterns and then should look at co-ordinating strategies to deal with what is needed on a statewide basis."

And Andrew Marsden, from YAPA, adds: "Bob Carr is cheating young people. They are 20 per cent of the population in NSW and they have no way of participating in government. The saddest thing about all this is young people are being denied a voice."

* Feedback on Agenda issues can be sent to editor Lauren Martin via the post or the Internet. E-mail to lmartin@smh.com.au


NADYA HADDAD, 22, President of the Sydney University Representative Council.

One of the biggest problems faced by young people is the inequitable system of higher education. AUSTUDY (means-tested grant allowance given to students by the Federal Government) is only $120 a week and that is not enough to live on.

The Government should be acting on the problem of youth homelessness.

I would like to see them providing low-cost housing for young people on low incomes or students. At the moment, the rents are so high in Sydney it is a crazy situation.

I would like to see a ministry for youth, as long as it wasn't just a public relations job which didn't intend to achieve anything. But it would need to have the input of young people to make it work. It is real important that young people are listened to.

TINA WILSON-SCHEMBRI, 23, the co-ordinator of the Young Women's Electoral Lobby.

I am very disappointed in Mr Carr and his decision to get rid of the Office of Youth Affairs. Youth is a minority issue and the Government should be trying to cater for minority issues.

Young people are facing many problems. The juvenile institutions are pretty much full. For young women, homelessness is a real and growing problem. And it is particularly hard for young people who don't have a good education.

VERONICA BLACK, 20, the youngest candidate selected to fight for the Labor Party at the State elections.

A lot of young people don't even bother to get on the electoral roll. They just cannot see any relevance in politics to their lives.

Unemployment is a big problem and there are very few jobs for young people. And it is not just for those with little education. I have friends who are coming out of university and finding it difficult to find work. You have all these bright, articulate people with nowhere to go.

A ministry would be good for getting young people's views across.

NICOLA QUILTER, 25, actress starring in Home and Away.

We should definitely have a minister for youth. There are a whole range of issues associated with young people that need to be addressed.

I live in Elizabeth Bay and all the youth around seem to be filled with negative opinions.

Unemployment is high, Australia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and there just seems to be a general lack of hope. There are no jobs and the dole isn't a solution.

This should be a time of joy for young people, but all I see is a lot of depression about what they can achieve.

Even simple things like owning a house seem to young people to be beyond them. The Government should be addressing these kind of issues. Providing low-cost housing - giving people hope.

JOSEPH SGAMBELLONE, 22, industrial design student at University of NSW. He designed the poster which has been used to publicise Youth Week.

Unemployment is a big worry at the moment for young people. There is so much competition these days, it is getting harder and harder to find jobs. There doesn't seem to be enough incentives to go to university any more. Many of my friends, who left school at 16, have had five years over me of earning money and getting on with a career. Sometimes I ask myself why I am doing this. The terrible thing is, I can't be sure I will get a job at the end of it. So I have lived with no money, unable to buy cars or start on the housing market for years and I can't be sure I will be any better off.

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