The Impact of COVID19 on our Youth

24 March 2021

I grew up in Wyong and went to high school in Tuggerah. It's always been tough for young people growing up outside big cities as they leave school to look for work, find an apprenticeship or traineeship or secure a place at university. The pandemic has made this tougher, and the government's patchy response in the outer suburbs and regional Australia has only made it worse in my community. Recently the shadow minister for youth, Amanda Rishworth, and I heard from young people on the coast about their experiences during COVID, of the challenges of schooling from home when you're sharing devices, can't afford data or have poor internet interconnectivity. We heard of increasing anxiety and depression and struggles to access support services because of long waiting times or stigma towards young people seeking help.

The government talks about its commitment to younger Australians and claims that there are over 200 initiatives that directly or indirectly benefit them. The question from young people in my community is, which young people and where do they live? While there are some green shoots of recovery, it's patchy, and there are many challenges ahead. The pandemic has had devastating impacts on regional coastal communities like mine, built on retail, hospitality and tourism. The impact on many young people has been severe. At the peak of the pandemic there were 36 jobseekers for every vacancy on the coast. Young people deserve more support from this government, not less.

Yet at the same time as around 11 per cent of young people on the coast are looking for work, we're experiencing skills shortages—of welders, bricklayers, hairdressers and engineers. Since this government came to power, the number of apprentices and trainees in my electorate of Dobell has dropped by 602. That is a 25 per cent fall in young people getting a start, getting a qualification they need for a steady job and good career. The position across Australia is worse: a drop of over 35 per cent in the number of apprentices and trainees, including a fall of 140,000 apprentices. Sadly, it's not surprising, given that before the pandemic this government had cut around $3 billion from TAFE and training.

I want to turn now to two specific COVID related initiatives, a Commonwealth scholarship program for young Australians, a federal government initiative where young people in my community have been overlooked. As I mentioned earlier, young people are asking, 'Who's benefitting from these government initiatives and where are they?' I recently wrote to the Minister for Education and Youth regarding the Commonwealth Scholarships Program for Young Australians. This program remains exclusively open to residents of the former Gosford LGA and Robertson, but not those living in the former Wyong LGA and Dobell, despite the councils being amalgamated back in 2016. That, as has been reported, effectively locks out half the coast's employers and jobseekers from the $82 million program. There is no reason young people in Dobell should miss out on these scholarships. It's just the same with the industry training hubs announced in the 2019-20 budget, which aimed to improve opportunities for young people in regions with high unemployment, targeting Year 11 and 12 students. A hub has been announced in Gosford, on the south of the coast, but the north of the coast has again missed out on this $50.6 national program.

This pandemic will have a long tail, especially for young people. We can't afford to leave behind a generation of young people living outside big cities in the outer suburbs and the regions. They deserve a fair go.