Last year, Senator Jordon Steele-John’s office conducted a youth survey that Asked Young People What The Pandemic (and “ScoMo”) Has Done To Their Lives. Here’s What They Said, and why it’s important.
By Jordon Steele-John
Do you remember what it was like to be 10? What was important to you; what used to worry you?
Chances are those things are very different to your priorities now. Mine sure are.
At 10, I loved learning all about dinosaurs, and I was pretty worried about having enough pocket money to buy a video game to play with my younger brother.
So what exactly would a 51-year-old – the average age of an Aussie politician – understand about what’s important to you right now?
Almost a full third of the Australian population is aged 34 and under. But in the Senate, where I sit, that age cohort makes up six percent. In the House of Representatives it’s even worse at two percent.
I entered the Senate when I was 23 years old – more than half the average age of people serving in that place. Four years later, I’m still the youngest person there. I’m the only senator aged in their 20s, and there are only a handful of 30-somethings in either chamber. There’s something pretty wrong with that picture.
TL;DR Parliament is totally disconnected from the people it’s meant to serve.
I know, because we asked them. And because I’m one of them.
How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?
There’s a philosophy you might have heard used in advocacy spaces: nothing about us without us. It means no decision should ever be made without the full and direct participation of members of the group that decision impacts. It’s something I firmly believe in, and it informs the work that me and my Greens colleagues do.
It means disability legislation should be led by disabled people, and legislation impacting First Nations people should be decided by First Nations people – as it bloody well should.
But for some reason, this principle never seems to apply to young people. Decisions that will fundamentally affect our long-term futures are being made by people who, let’s be real, won’t be around to see the consequences of them.
People who are 51 years old on average.
People who make up that 94 percent of the Senate and 98 percent of the House.
People like Scott Morrison, who’s made a complete mess of young people’s lives during this pandemic – and is doing a bang-up job of destroying our futures, too.
We know young people are more likely to be casual workers than any other age group. That means the lack of government income support for casual workers has largely hit – you guessed it – young people.
We also know young people are disproportionately represented in industries like hospitality and the arts, both of which continue to suffer immensely through the pandemic.
That’s not even mentioning the government’s totally botched vaccine rollout that put young people at the very back of the queue.
The Kids Aren’t Really Alright
Last month, I conducted a nationwide survey of young people to gauge their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and their views on the government’s response to it. We wanted to know exactly what’s been worrying them and what they care about most, so I can best represent their experiences in Parliament.
And we got more than 2,400 responses! It’s a really substantial response and I’m so grateful to all the young people who shared their experiences with us.
But spoiler alert: they ain’t good ones.
Overwhelmingly, young people are feeling ignored and overlooked. But that’s not because the Morrison government has forgotten us, it’s because they’ve made the choice to leave us behind.
And we bloody well know it. A huge 92 percent of respondents to our survey disagreed with the statement that “the federal government had done a good job responding to the COVID-19 crisis”.
Let’s have a look at why.
Almost a quarter of young people who responded lost their jobs. An additional quarter were forced to find new jobs. And another 27 percent have been unable to find work at all.
But even if they kept their jobs, many young people continued to feel significant work stress. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they lost hours at work, and 40 percent have been worried about going to work during the pandemic – hardly surprising, especially in parts of the country with active COVID cases.
Student life isn’t much easier. At least 14 percent of young people had to delay plans to study. Almost a quarter had to pause their studies, and four percent had to stop studying altogether.
More than two-thirds of respondents couldn’t sum up the impact of the pandemic on their studies just by ticking a box, so they shared their experiences instead. Their responses paint a bleak picture.
Failed units. Cancelled work placements. Delayed graduation dates. Years behind on finishing uni. Cancelled courses. Lost motivation and focus. Not understanding key material. Challenging new learning environments.
That’s without even taking into account the Morrison government’s coordinated attack on the university sector itself – doubling the cost of humanities degrees, slashing funding across the board and largely excluding universities from income support during the pandemic.
It’s a perfect storm that has huge long-term ramifications on young people’s futures, and the future they’re helping to create for all of us. Education isn’t just an individual right – it’s one of the single best investments we can make in our future as a country, and it’s why the Greens are committed to making uni and TAFE free for everyone.
We’re also determined to extend Medicare to fund free and unlimited mental healthcare. 82 percent of our survey respondents expressed concern for their mental health during the pandemic, and almost a third reported that the pandemic made medical services harder to access. Now more than ever, we need to make sure everyone can access mental healthcare when they need it – not just when they can afford it.
The gap between what young people want and need and what the government is giving us has never been more stark.
That makes the upcoming election a referendum on the Morrison government: their (disastrous) handling of the pandemic, their (in)action on climate change, their (un)willingness to support people through some of the hardest times of their lives.
We know climate change will have the biggest impact on young people, as we’re the ones who will live to see the consequences of the decisions made today. We don’t need to adapt. We don’t need to become more resilient. We *definitely* don’t need to increase funding for school chaplains to alleviate our climate anxiety, like Coalition MPs called for earlier this year – we need action. Now.
If there’s anything good to have come from Scott Morrison’s so-called leadership over the past few years, it’s that we know we want better. Just over half of our youth survey respondents said the pandemic made them pay more attention to politics. That can only be a good thing.
Not only that, we’re ready to demand better: 43 percent of young people said the government’s response to the pandemic greatly affected their voting intention. And that could change everything. Bring it on.