The federal government has announced Anne Aly is Australia’s new minister for youth. This will restore youth consultation to government decision-making after the abolition in 2013 of the Youth Advisory Council and the Office for Youth.
Labor has promised a new youth engagement model driven by a steering committee of up to 15 young people.
Getting this panel of 15 young people right will be crucial to its effectiveness. Here are three factors to consider.
1. Young Australians are diverse
Generation Z (10–24 years old) represents about 18% of Australia and about 30% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.
(Looking at an older cohort of young people, Australian Bureau of Statistics data show about 3.2 million young people aged between 15–24 years made up 12% of the Australian population in 2020).
ABS data show 74.5% of young people lived in major cities, 16.6% lived in inner regional areas and 8.9% live in outer regional, remote and very remote areas. So including voices from regional, rural and remote Australia on the government youth advisory committee will be important.
According to 2019 data, about a quarter of young people aged 15–24 were born overseas; 9.3% had a disability; just over half (51%) were male, 49% female; and 6.1% identified as gay, lesbian or having another sexual orientation.
Other Australian Bureau of Statistics data is notably limited. Questions in the recent census were not inclusive of a wider spectrum of gender and sexuality.
So, finding 15 people who can advise on behalf of such a diverse constituency is no easy feat.
2. The population is changing
The demographic makeup of Australia is shifting. From 1971 to 2020, the population of people aged 15–24 grew from 2.3 million to 3.2 million.
But sustained low fertility and increased life expectancy have also meant their proportion relative to the Australian population is declining.
In 2021 we released our Australian Youth Barometer, which drew on a survey of more than 500 Australians aged 18-24, and interviews with 30 more about health, education, employment, money, housing, food, safety and citizenship.
We found just under a quarter of young people are pessimistic about having children in the future.
Young people remain a significant proportion of the population and their choices will continue to shape the future demographic makeup of Australia. The 15-person youth advisory committee should seek to reflect the range of views among Australian young people on issues such as family and future.
3. Who puts their hand up?
Who typically volunteers to participate on such a steering committee? Attempts at youth representation sometimes skew towards those most likely to self-nominate, such as the highly educated, articulate and confident.
But often it’s those least likely to put their hand up whose voice we need to hear the most.
Voices from disadvantaged backgrounds can be particularly absent.
The stakes are high for young people
As Labor notes:
“younger people now face a future of high underemployment, depleted retirement savings, significant barriers to education and training, and a rent and housing affordability crisis.”
65% of Australians believe owning a home is no longer an option for most young Australians.
Climate change looms large. An Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience survey of 1,447 Australians aged 10–24 found more than 80% of participants above the age of 16 were concerned about climate change.
Looking at data from the 2021 Australian Youth Barometer, 20-year-old Rebecca from our Youth Reference Group said many young people feel ignored and so turn to
“protesting and using social media to share their voices and enact their agency. It is important that the diversity of young people’s voices are being listened to, encouraged, and supported.”
Young people are also acutely aware – and critical – of the standards set by politicians.
One female survey respondent, aged 21, said:
“In parliament there are people who are getting sexually assaulted and the government doesn’t say jack shit about it […] You don’t understand the dangers of being a woman.”
Many young people don’t feel that politicians actually listened or respected them.
As one young Indigenous person told us in a different piece of research:
“[politicians] have no respect for Aboriginal people […] There was a big debate about ‘was this country settled’ […] It wasn’t settled, it was invaded.”
Going beyond the committee
It’s encouraging that the new government is seeking to engage with young people, which strikes a different note to their predecessors (remember when politicians told School Strike 4 Climate Action protesters to “stay in school”?)
The new government has vowed to engage with young people in a way that goes
“beyond the committee, by incorporating local forums, workshops, and town halls for young Australians to directly engage in debate and offer their perspectives and ideas.”
This is promising; too often, young people’s voices are sought in tokenistic or symbolic ways.
But the government’s approach must reflect the diversity of young people, include voices less commonly heard and address the big-ticket items identified by young people.
As one 20-year-old from Victoria told us:
“Obviously, we’re going to be the future leaders, presidents, prime ministers and treasurers and all that, so we have to make sure that we have our priorities set now, going into the future, so that when we do take over, we know what plans and goals to achieve and what action to take.”