Australia needs a vision for young people

Young Australians are coming of age at a time of tremendous change.

The job market is growing more competitive and fragmented, people are expected to attain higher levels of education than ever before, and globalisation and technologies are transforming our lives.

As a nation, we are becoming more diverse and mental health is a topic of rising concern.

In regional and rural areas, young people are at the forefront of action on these issues.

In Victoria, Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) activators are generating ideas, such as Josh Baker's "Let's Life" program to create greater access to education for young people from rural and regional areas, which are vital to our nation's future.

In YACVic's consultation with young people for #vicyouth2020, a plan to ensure young people can strive to live their best life, we found that young people want a real voice in major decisions affecting their community.

And we know how powerful their voices can be - the 2017 Marriage Equality bill passed with a record number of new enrolments from young people. Last week's student strike for climate change was huge, with students from regional and rural Victoria travelling for hours to attend rallies across the state.

Past federal elections have swung from the impact of younger, less predictable voters who the major parties struggle to understand.

But all too often, federal politics ignores or actively excludes young people.

Australia has no federal youth minister, no federal mechanism for engaging with young people, and no national youth policy framework.

We need a national vision for young Australians, and we need it now.

As a nation, we've been shocked and disappointed by the behaviours of individual politicians who risk encouraging cynicism and apathy amongst the next generation.

Things have to change, and we have a chance now to petition aspiring federal politicians on their commitment to our young people and our future.

In the lead-up to the 2019 federal election, YACVic is calling on all candidates to commit to taking the following steps and give young people a real voice in the decisions that affect their country.

A federal minister for youth needs to be appointed.

There should be someone in cabinet driving change to benefit young people and speaking up for young people's interests right across government.

A new mechanism needs to be launched to give young people a direct voice into federal government.

A federal youth engagement mechanism would empower young people to become engaged with change, inform government policy, and build their own skills. This new mechanism should engage young people from diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and from rural, regional and remote Australia.

A whole-of-government strategy needs to be developed to build the best Australia for young people.

This strategy should address the big issues shaping young people's lives, including employment, housing affordability, mental health and wellbeing, and civic engagement.

It should be informed by current data and research, and developed with young people and the services which support them.

There should be adequate resourcing attached to bring about real change.

Funding for National Youth Week needs to be reinstated. At this annual celebration, young people showcase their talents, celebrate their achievements, express their ideas, attend live events and entertainment, and have fun.

Unfortunately, while state governments continue to support Youth Week, federal funding ended in 2017.

Funding should also be allocated for a national peak body to give young people and youth support professionals a strong, independent voice.

The Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC) formed in 2002. It promoted the rights and participation of young Australians, represented young people's interests to federal government, and worked to build an expert and coordinated youth services sector.

Unfortunately, federal funding to AYAC ceased in 2014.

All Australians want to pass on a better future for our young people.

Providing the opportunities for young people to participate in designing and developing and improving their future is the best way to do that.

Paul Turner is the caretaker Chief Executive Officer of Youth Affairs Council Victoria.

A whole-of-government strategy needs to be developed to build the best Australia for young people.