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20 • THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2010

THE WEST AUSTRALIAN

20

Opinion Established 1833 Thursday April 22 2010

Abbott misses the point on ‘dole bludgers’

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ony Abbott managed to grab some attention with his suggestion that people under 30 who are capable of working should not get the dole. He’s right at a superficial level in saying those who are able to work should do so. Unemployment benefits should be no more than a safety net for those unable to find a job. But the way the idea emerged shows signs of an Opposition Leader thinking aloud rather than proposing serious coalition policy. Mr Abbott pitched the idea informally at a meeting of resources industry leaders in Perth this week as a way of dealing with the expected shortage of workers as the State’s mining industry prepares for more boom times. His audience would have been as aware as any of the problems a new labour shortage will create in the resources industry and the rest of the WA community. The last boom brought huge demand for skilled workers in mining and construction and an associated labour gap in the hospitality and service industries in Perth and the South-West as a result of the exodus north for the lucrative jobs on offer. Employers will be desperate to avoid a repeat of such a scenario but this sort of labour crisis will not be solved by attempting to penalise one section of the community by assuming they are shirking employment. There is already an obligation on unemployed people who receive a Newstart allowance to look for work actively. If they do not accept reasonable offers of work in their area, they lose their benefits. According to Mission Australia, 16 per cent of under-25s are out of work but many of those are not in a position to simply shift across the country to take a job. Most will take work when it is offered but the real issue facing the country is how to provide young people with the skills they need to fill the looming vacancies. The State was caught out by the demand in the last boom but there is greater urgency about getting young people ready for work now, with a big increase in State-funded training places and a clearer focus on the need for government and industry to work together on the issue.

Transport planning vital for a growing State The management of transport infrastructure will be a key factor in how Perth and WA cope with inevitable population growth. We can afford to continue our urban sprawl and the development of far-flung regional centres only if there is cohesive planning to ensure people can move with ease around the city and State. For this reason, the State Government’s creation of a transport supremo role is a welcome move. Public Transport Authority chief Reece Waldock will take up the new position next month to oversee operations of the PTA, the Transport Department and Main Roads. He would appear well qualified for the job and well placed to manage the sometimes competing demands of the road, rail and port systems. The only note of caution is in how much Mr Waldock will be paid. The Salaries and Allowances Tribunal is expected to recommend an increase in his current package of $370,000, and that is fair given his increased responsibilities. But the salary needs to stay within a realistic realm if the WA public is to have confidence that the new position does not turn out to be an exercise in empire building presided over by another overpaid bureaucrat.

Hey, baby boomers, we have something to say Young people need to be included in decision-making, Holly Ransom argues

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seless. Lazy. Selfish. Spoilt … you name it we Gen Y-ers have heard it used to describe us. The negative verbal barrage from the baby boomers is nothing new, neither is the negative media attention. When older generations think of Gen Y it seems they conjure an image of a petulant child insolently demanding attention, praise, and to have things our way. But please don’t paint our entire generation with the same negative brushstroke. This naive view of young people and the failure to see the value that Gen Y can bring to the decision-making table is hindering Australia’s development; depriving our democracy of diverse opinions and innovative ideas. If some of us have reverted to attention-seeking behaviour, it’s only because we’ve not been allowed to partake in the “adult” conversation of governance for so long that we’re running out of ideas of how to make the older generation understand that we’ve got something to say. The Government and corporations preach the virtues of “youth engagement”. But this ambiguous term seems to lend itself to being a descriptor of less than engaging practices. Sporadic policy announcements, unrepresentative advisory committees and the recent foray by baby boomers into “youth-friendly” social media are not proof of being “in touch” with youth. They’re an attempt (some more valiant than others) but on the whole they’re tokenistic and I don’t think it’s unreasonable that young people are demanding more. Admittedly, the youth sector has been through leaner times. Under John Howard, funding for the nation’s peak youth body was discontinued, enrolment law changes meant tens of thousands of young people missed the chance to vote in the 2007 election and Mr Howard wouldn’t even converse with youth; refusing to take part in Rove, FM radio or social media. The Rudd Government definitely deserves applause for lifting what was an embarrassingly low youth engagement bar.

Token youth focus: Kevin Rudd with TV host Rove McManus.

The development of the Australian Youth Forum has enabled more young Australians to have a say on political “hot topics” via online blogs and the Prime Minister is twittering away in as much “youth friendly” lingo as 140 characters will allow him. One of the most positive youth policy developments of the Rudd Government was the 2020 Youth and School Summits in 2008. Never before have so many young people been involved in policy discussions in this nation. Never before have so many young people felt engaged in the civic process. The consultations were empowering and some ideas are truly phenomenal. However, the response (or lack thereof) has proved a huge disappointment. Young people hold out hope that the brilliant ideas this process produced will not be allowed to fall by the wayside! For a split second during the 2020 youth consultation process, young people thought the political rhetoric had changed and that Australian politics was finally ready to embrace the beginnings of a cross-generational approach to decision-making … we were wrong. Our error of judgment was reinforced by a February episode of ABC TV’s Q&A program when Mr Rudd completely underestimated the political awareness and intelligence of young Australians. Watching Mr Rudd embarrass himself as he fumbled through a “grilling” from Gen Y was proof that our nation’s decision-makers fail to realise the potential of an invaluable resource that this country has in abundance: its

youth. Look at the Australian youth coalition on climate change, a youth-led climate change action group which has grown its membership tenfold to 50,000 since the start of last year and has involved 37,400 young people in its campaigns. Observe the Youth Digital Culture’s work using digital arts to combat racism. By providing skills development, mentorship, and advocacy through digital technology, it has given marginalised youth a legitimate channel to challenge racism and make themselves heard. Check out the work of Curtin Volunteers, the biggest student-run, not-for-profit organisation in Australia that is involved with 54 programs. For more than 15 years it has helped local and international communities in areas as diverse as health, community development and indigenous outreach projects. In the past two years we’ve seen legislative amendments and introductions that affect young people: youth Allowance, changes to the L and P-plate systems, alcopops taxes to “fix” the youth binge-drinking culture and the introduction of stop and search laws, just to name a few. At a time when there’s arguably never been such a raft of legislation directly concerning youth, it is ineffective, naive and short-sighted to legislate without adequately consulting us. The dominance of issues such as climate change, health-care reform, education and long-term economic policy development should also prompt a rethink of youth engagement. When an increasing number of our legislative priorities require a crossgenerational approach, it is fundamental for sustainable and innovative decision-making that you include us. As former United Nations head Kofi Annan said, “a society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline”. I implore leaders at all levels, and across all fields, to help keep Australia’s lifeline alive by meaningfully engaging with young people in our nation’s decision-making process. Holly Ransom, 20, is a finalist in the 2010 Youth Awards in the educate category and attended the 2020 Summit


Hey, baby boomers, we have something to say  

My first opinion piece, published in the West Australian on April 22nd.

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