17 June 2020

ABS data shows that young people have experienced the highest job losses, both before and since the GFC. That really shouldn't come as a surprise, because roughly two in five people in their early 20s and almost one in five people in their late 20s and early 30s are casually employed. On the principle of last in, first out and who is the easiest and cheapest to fire, it makes sense that young casuals generally get hit the hardest in any economic downturn. We've seen this with COVID-19, where young people employed as casuals in the hospitality, retail, arts and recreation industries have had their hours slashed or their jobs cut altogether. While some people are lucky enough to have JobKeeper to rely on for the next few months, more than a quarter of young people are excluded from it altogether because of the eligibility rules around casuals. A large number of these casual workers are also uni students accruing tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt, not knowing whether their study will actually lead to a job in the end.

I recently spoke with Shirley, who's a visual arts student at the ACU Banyo campus. She expressed to me her growing doubt about choosing to study in a field that she loves, not knowing whether that industry would even be viable when COVID-19 is over. The same concern is likely to be shared by our journalism students, who are entering a field where ABC funding is being slashed, jobs are being cut and, increasingly, regional media are being shut down altogether. In every field where jobs are cut, nabbing a spot becomes increasingly difficult, and many are left with no job and a huge pile of debt. To weather the economic storm, we've seen 450,000 people under the age of 30 access their superannuation. This fact, combined with huge HECS debts and the lower rate of home ownership amongst younger households, which is driven by economic and institutional influences, will have serious consequences down the track when the young people of today eventually look to retire in the future. Many of them will not have the benefit of an investment or a superannuation nest egg or a house that they own outright.

So I am standing here today to amplify the voices of our young people—our older generation of tomorrow. We can't walk people to a cliff without a parachute and just leave them to see if they fall or fly. They deserve better than an economy that consigns them to a lifetime of low wages, job insecurity and unaffordable housing. If young people have to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 economic recovery, it is not going to affect them just during the immediate recovery period; it is going to affect them well into the future. All levels and sides of government need to come together to work out who is falling through the gaps and where support is needed and to create practical and meaningful forward plans.

The best way to improve the outlook for young Australians is to get back to high rates of job creation as quickly as possible. We have lots of young families moving to the Sandgate-Brighton area, and they need hospitals, schools, infrastructure and services so that they can live out their dreams. We could be investing in Northside infrastructure projects, such as upgrading Gympie Road or building more social housing, to create local jobs. These projects could have a minimum number of apprentices to make sure that our young tradies are getting a fair start. We could be incentivising young people who have become unemployed because of COVID-19 to use their time to upskill with short-term TAFE courses, especially in IT and innovation. We could be investing in a local government program that specifically employs long-term unemployed young people to maintain our fantastic parks, bushland and waterways. There are more particular measures we could consider to support small businesses being run by young people, such as increasing the small brewers rebate so that local breweries such as Aether brewing in Northgate can afford to hire more workers.

We also have to invest more into employment service providers to help people who are low-skilled and experiencing long-term unemployment get back on their feet. Earlier this year I spoke to Bonnie from Aspley, who expressed her frustration about being pushed around between providers with no actual help to show for it. To help young people in the media, we could allocate federal funding to the Walkley Foundation, for example, to establish a grants program for local and regional media outlets so that community and local papers, such as the Northside Chronicle and the Bayside Star in our Northside community, could continue to tell local stories and give opportunities to young graduate journalists who need somewhere to start.

These are just a few ideas, but I am ready and willing to work with the federal government to create local jobs to kickstart the Lilley economy and secure a stronger, fairer future for young people on Brisbane's Northside who are currently not getting their fair share and cannot see hope from this Morrison government.