Address and Q&A - Youth Futures Summit

24 Aug 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Sophie. And thanks for everyone who is joining us here on this call today. I'm so glad we've had the opportunity to do this, and I particularly look forward to getting to the questions as soon as we can. But before I go any further, can I just acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, at least that’s where I am today in Canberra, and acknowledge their elders past and present and, of course, the future elders of young indigenous Australians who are coming through the ranks, who just give me so much hope in the way they are, sort of seeking to take forward the many important issues in indigenous communities right across the country. Can I also acknowledge the many young people who are serving in our defence forces and many young people who are already veterans of that service. They’ve made an incredible sacrifice for our country.

Last Saturday, week, I was down at the War Memorial and I was there to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. And it was quite a sobering time for those of us who did not live through that period and I'm assuming that everyone who is on this call, I suspect. To think back what it was like in those times is hard to get your head around. I used to talk to my grandparents about it. My grandfather fought the Second World War and I met three fellows there who had served in the Army and the Navy and the Air Force. All now in their late 90s, they joined up when they were 16, 17 and 18, and they've gone off to fight in that terrible conflict. And I think of the life that they've led since then and their experience and when I've talked to particularly veterans and those, in all conflicts we've been in one of the things I've learnt and I think I hope one of the things that you're learning as you go through a generational challenge like you're facing now is that you're stronger than you think. These experiences test us all. And we find out how strong we are as individuals. We find out how strong our relationships are. We find out how much we depend on each other in these times. And I think this is a time for us to reflect on that and how we can support each other and help each other through what is a very difficult time. Young people are feeling the blow of this economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID-19 recession that it has caused, more than arguably any other part of our community.

Now, when I came out of university, and it seems like a very long time ago now, and it was because it was almost 30 years ago that Australia experienced its last recession. And I left university, like many of you are now, who are going through university or worrying about what does it mean next year when you get out of school? And that was the case for many of my friends too, back at that time. There was a lot of uncertainty. There were a million people out of work. There were there were hard economic times. Unemployment was high. But then, as now, there was also hope. There was still opportunity and those opportunities were realised. And that will be the case also for young Australians today, because I want to assure you, as difficult as it is at the moment, there is another side to this. There is another side where Australia emerges once again, where we actually do go back to the life that we loved and we’re working so hard to achieve again.

Now, hopefully that occurs with a vaccine, but if a vaccine doesn't come soon, we will find a way to ensure that we can get things as back to normal as we possibly can. And we've all got a role to play in achieving that. It begins with ensuring that we beat this virus as best as we possibly can and we suppress it so we can just continue to go to school, to go to university, to get trained, to get into jobs, to spend time with our friends, to enjoy family, enjoy the wonderful country and move around as we like. And that means we need to continue to be diligent when it comes to our social distancing, when it comes to dealing with, if you're crook don’t go to work, make sure you get tested. Testing, tracing, containing the outbreaks, making sure that we manage all of the important social distancing. Because while young people specifically are often not the ones most impacted in a health sense by Covid-19, we do know that young people also can be one of the most significant spreaders of the virus in terms of social interactions. And that puts the most vulnerable in our community at risk, not just, and I'm not just talking about older Australians, I'm talking about those who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments, and have immune deficiencies, and are coping with those, that could be young children. It's remote indigenous communities. It's those with disabilities. It's right across our community and all of us I know have a responsibility to do the best we possibly can and I now you are to ensure that we can protect all all Australians in our community. That means we can open up our economy again. And I'm so keen to see us do that.

You know, we're turning this corner in Victoria. I know it's really hard for people in Victoria, but you're turning the corner. The sacrifices that you're making, the terrible events of having a curfew in Melbourne, something I thought unimaginable in this country. We've never had one before. Even in the war, we didn't have one. And here we are. A curfew in our, one of our most, large and most significant cities in the country. These are historic times. They are confronting times. They are anxious times. They can be scary times. But at the same time, what I do know is that Australia is doing better than almost every other developed country in the world today, both from a health perspective as well as from an economic perspective. And if we keep on the path of working together and keeping the virus suppressed, even when we have outbreaks like in Victoria getting back on top of it, then we will continue to chart our way out of this.

I know that young people have lost jobs, but I know 150,000 young people have found jobs again in the last few months. And there will be more. The way our economy has been impacted by the shutdowns means that it's actually young people, while being the first to be impacted, will also be the first to find jobs again. But we know we have to do more than that to ensure that young people get opportunities again. And that's why I've put $2 billion dollars into a JobTrainer fund and it’s supporting 180,000 apprentices and it’s creating 340,000 additional training places for people who will be looking for those opportunities as they come out of school or they lose employment. We're putting a lot of effort into skills training in this country and we'll be ensuring that those university places are maintained and kept up to ensure those who will be looking for university options when they leave school. But we can make sure that those places are there as well for you to rely on and so you can study and prepare yourself for your future.

The other point I wanted to make is I know the mental stress and the anxiety that comes with the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. I know that's particularly tough. And I was with Pat McGorry. Many of you might know him, who was the instigator of HeadSpace many years ago with the Howard government and Pat was raising with me the concerns particularly faced by young people in Victoria. So we put more resources into HeadSpace, into Lifeline, into Kid’s Helpline all of these important mental health supports, and the Victorian government has done the same thing, in New South Wales they’ve put an extra $80 million dollars into mental health supports. There is a complete open door in getting further mental health resources, particularly for young people, in to the community. When I was speaking with some young people that Pat introduced me to though, they were university students, and people still in year 12. They also told me that they weren't just worried about themselves. They worried about their families, they were worried about their grandparents, they were worried about their parents going through difficult economic times. And my message to you is simply this, the resources and the help is there. And I'd encourage you to reach out to it. And we will keep putting more resources into these mental health supports as much as is necessary to ensure that that is there to help people. And so reach out to each other, look out for each other, reach out to the support services that are available. They are there for you and they are intentionally designed to help you get through these times of anxiety. I know what it was like 30 years ago, and this is much worse. And I know the anxieties that you will feel. And I know the care and love that you have for your families and your friends and how that also impacts on you.

But you know, Australia's an amazing place, just like those three old diggers that I met last Saturday week down at the War Memorial. They got through it. Australians have come through everything. And you know what? Every time we’ve come out of it, we’ve come out of it stronger. And this is your generation's challenge. This is my generation's challenge, who are in leadership now. It is our challenge together to demonstrate that we are up to the inspiration that our grandparents, my grandparent’s generation went through during that Second World War and the Depression. We are up to this. You’re up to this. I'm counting on you. You're counting on me. And so let's make a deal. Let's let's live up to that promise to each other and help each other. And we will get through this together.

Thank you very much.

SOPHIE JOHNSTON, YOUTH COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL YOUTH COMMISSION AUSTRALIA: Thank you Mr Prime Minister, we might come in to some questions now, and this is why we run Summits like this to bring together, to hear from start putting those forward plans in and you acknowledge that young people have been in some of [inaudible] but young people were struggling in insecure work even before the crisis. We were experiencing low wage growth, struggling to get into work that was relevant to what we studied. And this has all been really exacerbated by the crisis. We saw that of the total job losses between March and May 44 per cent of them were young people aged 15 to 25, you know for the past 18 months, the National Youth Commission has been going around the country preparing this discussion paper on a youth futures guarantee, you know, a national strategy for young people. My question to you today is, will your government commit to working towards a national strategy that deals- encompasses this broader set of issues that young people are facing today?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course we’ll engage with that. I mean, the one of my most important priorities is to get young people into jobs, because I know I've worked in many different portfolios. I've worked as an Immigration Minister, a Social Services Minister, a Treasurer. And I know that if I can't get a young person into a job by their early 20s, mid 20s, then I know they will face even greater challenges over the course of their life and become dependent on welfare, which is not what I want for any Australian, not because it costs money, of course it does, but the greater loss, the greater cost to the country is an Australian that hasn't been able to realise their potential. And that's why I'm so committed to getting young people into work. That's why I'm so committed to working with the Premiers, and we've recently- that JobTrainer agreement we had put an extra billion dollars into training support and an agreement to reform how skills training is delivered in this country, so young people can get trained for jobs that are actually there with skills that businesses actually need. That's how young people get into jobs. But to get young people into jobs, we've got to have businesses that are successful and that are growing and we've got to get things out of the way so businesses can actually take people on and put them in more secure work. Governments can't create more secure work, economies, businesses that employ people, they create secure work. And it's important that we get the changes in place so businesses can employ more young people. One of the programmes I was involved in when I was Treasurer was the Youth PaTH programme to ensure that, particularly young, longer term, disadvantaged young people could get the skills they need to even get to an interview, let alone be successful in that interview, to be able to get themselves in a position where they were getting many of the skills needed to be able to get a job that for whatever reason, through no fault of their own. I'm quite certain the vast majority of cases I mean, I was fortunate. I had wonderful parents. I lost my father earlier this year, but I had wonderful parents that taught me many things. So many young people sadly these days don’t have that and we need to ensure that they get the supports now that make up for that. Where they’ve been let down in those circumstances and so they can succeed in life. So it's a, it's a huge priority for me and COVID, no COVID, it remains a huge priority.

SOPHIE JOHNSTON, YOUTH COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL YOUTH COMMISSION AUSTRALIA:  Sorry Mr Prime Minister. I just want to get to the crux of the question there, because it is really about a national strategy. You know, we can talk as much as we want about you know, foreseeing a future where young people are able to get into jobs. But you are the Prime Minister and you have the capacity to put forward a plan to address these issues and I just want to go back to that question, which is, will you look to a national youth strategy? Because we haven't seen something like that since 2010 and we're seeing now that the effects of the system is that it's not working for young people, so will your government look to a national strategy for young people?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll continue to follow a national strategy and where that strategy needs to be continually updated, improved, that's exactly what we’ll do. That's why getting young people in jobs, that is our strategy. That is our plan. And for that, they need the training, they need the skills and they need the jobs that they can go into, that realises their economic opportunities and gives them that start in life. So whether it's the investment in education, record investments in education over the next decade, schools funding is locked in for a decade. That's what we've been able to achieve. The skills training reforms that we're taking through the Premiers. I mean, that's what matters. Getting stuff actually changed and getting stuff done. So the Youth Minister will continue to work on those issues with those in the sector and we’ll listen carefully. A youth strategy has to bring into place the economic side of things, the social dimension of things. I mean, youth suicide prevention, we've made it a national priority for this country and we've still got much more work to do. So there's no shortage of attention on the issues that are impacting young people. And my government will continue to address those in every single budget. As we have.

SOPHIE JOHNSTON, YOUTH COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL YOUTH COMMISSION AUSTRALIA: You mentioned access to university, but the education Minister Dan Tehan recently announced some pretty concerning policies that will  increase the barriers to university access. Is this not in conflict with a commitment to making them more accessible?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't agree with what you've put forward. What we're actually doing is creating more places and more opportunities, particularly in regional areas. You know, again, I grew up in Sydney. I grew up not far from the University of New South Wales. I could run home from university it was so close. But if you're living in a regional centre, if you're not in one of those cities where those facilities are more accessible, it's much tougher. And what Dan Tehan is doing, I mean, he comes from regional Victoria. He understands what's going on with young people in regional areas. And he knows that we need to get more places and more support to people living in those communities. So, look, I'd only suggest to you that that's not what Dan is doing as you outlined, Dan's actually doing the opposite. He's trying to get more opportunities and particularly for young people in regional areas who so often have to leave their homes, leave their communities, leave the life that they want to have in regional areas and have to go to other places. We want to give them those opportunities where they are.

SOPHIE JOHNSTON, YOUTH COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL YOUTH COMMISSION AUSTRALIA: I appreciate that you mentioned mental health in your introduction. And this is such a critical issue particularly for young people today. We know are seeing increasing rates of mental illness and suicide, particularly amongst young people and this has really been exacerbated by the health crisis. But we know that it's really critical not to be talking about mental in silos as so many other factors come into play in this space, which is why we sort of talk about this holistic approach around jobs and education and training. And one of the other factors there is the social safety net. And we know that this was increased, the JobSeeker payment, increased at the beginning of the crisis. And that was really, really critical. And I know so many people appreciated that increase. Will the government commit to maintaining that higher level of Social Security beyond the March 2020, 2021? Given that so many reports say that it’s not plausible to live on such a low rate?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you're right to note that we did double the payment through the COVID supplement, not just for JobSeeker, but for Youth Allowance, other, as well, which many people would be accessing as well. And not just for new people who are coming on it, but those who were already on it. And we've currently got arrangements in place for those supplements to be extended out to the end of December. And I said at the time that it's my expectation that given where things are at, that things would be extended out beyond that. Right now, whether it's JobSeeker or JobKeeper, we're just very focussed on dealing with the economic supports we have to do through the pandemic. And we are waiting until we get to a better position in the pandemic before we make longer term commitments on this. Now we're aware, and have done a lot of work on the adequacy of these payments and how they go forward. But we also have done a lot of work on how they impact on how the jobs market works and how sometimes these things can work against actually getting people into jobs. So right now, you can expect that those those supports to continue to be in place throughout the pandemic, we will look precisely at what we do post December in the not too distant future. And then beyond that, we'll make further decisions. But for now, it's about getting through the pandemic and and what can be done in the pandemic, because we're literally trying to help people in these situations get from day to day.

SOPHIE JOHNSTON, YOUTH COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL YOUTH COMMISSION AUSTRALIA: There are a lot of anxieties though for people, particularly young people we know are really hard hit by economic downturns, and the reason for that is we are usually at the start of our working lives. There's little to no savings in the bank. And for today’s young people we are really in casualised and insecure work, and so regardless of whether we're not in stage one or two or three of the pandemic, we’re always going to need to pay rent and put food on the table. And these expiry dates of the JobKeeper and the JobSeeker payments really do place a lot of uncertainty on young people, and so what we’re really asking is, do young people, can young people have faith that should the pandemic continue beyond March should we, um, we remain in a position where jobs are few and far between? Or underemployment continues to affect young people. Will we be able to rely on the government so that we can continue to live and put food on the table?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, just look at what we've done. I mean, JobKeeper and JobSeeker, JobKeeper is a programme now, with what we're putting in the parliament this week, of more than $100 billion dollars. This is the single largest income support measure any government in this country has ever introduced. And I hope there won't be a need for one of that size again. But you can obviously never rule that out. And so the government moved quickly. And we did also, in fact, we moved on JobSeeker even more quickly. And so where the economic circumstances demanded, we have already demonstrated quickly and decisively and comprehensively to put those supports in place. So my commitment is what we've done. And I think young people can look at what we did and how quickly we did it to know that if people are needing help, they're going to get it.

SOPHIE JOHNSTON, YOUTH COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL YOUTH COMMISSION AUSTRALIA: I just have two final questions before we’ll run out of time, the next question’s about climate change, and as you know, this is a huge issue, not just for young people, but people of you know, all walks of life. And my question is, what role will jobs in the renewable energy space play in regards to employment policies?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they already are. I mean, Australia has one of the highest rates of, if not one of the highest rates of renewable energy investment anywhere in the world today. We have had record years of investments going into renewable energy technologies. And that's been supported by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, renewable energy targets, all of these measures that have been successfully put in place and has been getting those outcomes. Now, one of the great outcomes has been that renewable energy now is standing strongly on its own two feet and is attracting investment because it actually delivers a return. And we would expect to continue to see strong investment into those areas, not just because of Australia's natural advantages in this area, but it makes good sense for the investors, not just here in Australia, the big institutional funds, but overseas investors, as well, are seeing those opportunities. So I expect to continue to see a strong investment in renewable energy technologies going into the future. What I'd also add to that, though, is to make renewable energies, particularly as part of the energy grid, more effective, you need greater firming power. That means that when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, the demands of reliable energy, which intermittent renewables can't provide, I mean, that's just a fact, you need the support of things like pumped hydro, we have the biggest investment in the southern hemisphere of pumped hydro in the Snowy Hydro scheme, not far from where I am right now. Billions of dollars going into that investment. And on top of that, what we're seeking to do with gas investments is ensure that those intermittent sources of renewables, the wind and other power, solar power and so on, is firmed by those gas fired arrangements, which makes the renewable technologies usable and viable for the longer term. So you've got to have the two working together. So gas will provide a transition fuel support to our grid as the technology improves. But beyond that, we're investing significant amounts of public money into things like hydrogen and that technology and other forms of technology  which will, over time, ensure that we have a full transition occurring in our energy sector. But at the same time, we'll keep generating the jobs. And because without those jobs, as we started, jobs are so essential for young Australians. And whether that's in the renewable energy sector or anywhere else.

SOPHIE JOHNSTON, YOUTH COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL YOUTH COMMISSION AUSTRALIA: Thank you Prime Minister, and I know you have to go in a minute but I just have one final question, it hopefully will take a yes or a no, but in going forward young people, as this conference has shown, really want a seat at the table to be able to contribute to these discussions as we will be affected long into the future about decisions that are made today. Will you commit to genuinely engaging and consulting with young people on decisions moving forward that will affect our lives?

PRIME MINISTER: Always have, always will.


PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, thanks for yours.