Address to Australian Youth Mentoring Conference
Thank you very much for the introduction, it is a pleasure to be here with you all on a chilly Canberra day and it is great to have you all here in our Capital and working through the issues at a practical level that you’re involved with on a daily basis.
I want to start off by acknowledging the traditional owners and the elders past and present.
Can I also acknowledge a very special organisation in my own electorate, Project Youth, which does a tremendous job and ever since becoming a Member of Parliament I have worked closely with them.
Their investment, I suppose, their involvement with me over the last seven or so years has really assisted me in getting a much better understanding of the challenges that you face every single day. So I really want to acknowledge Project Youth as a real leader, I think, around this space and I am sure they will be making an excellent contribution here.
Wherever I go I take the opportunity to encourage people to become mentors. I have had the good fortune of having many mentors in my own experience but I don’t think we can think of too many things where when you are trying to give back, when you are trying to set things up for the future for others where mentoring is not eclipsed. It is a generous thing to do but I think it is very much a two way street. The benefits that come from being involved in mentoring also very much benefit the mentor with a sense of contribution which I think is very important to us all. So I always encourage people whatever walk of life they are in if they have the opportunity to get along side, if they have an opportunity to share their own experience but most importantly just provide that in season and out of season support and it is a very commendable thing that we can all do. And I would encourage all Australians to think about those who are around them, those who they come in contact with, those who are in their community, those who they may not know but see often and think about the role they can play in hooking up, particularly with organisations like those represented here today who give us support and train and encourage and facilitate their ability to make a difference in the lives particularly of young people.
Well most of us have benefited from the experience and wisdom of people we have looked up to both in life and in work. But many haven’t, particularly those who are socially isolated and disconnected. That shows the importance of the role of mentoring programmes that bring all of you here to this conference and has been such a very positive development.
Studies show that disconnected young people are more likely to make poor choices and engage in destructive behaviour. They also know that youth mentoring can have a positive impact on risky and negative behaviours such as antisocial, criminal and gang activity, and substance abuse. Resilience is the key word most commentators use when they are talking of young people who move successfully from risk-filled backgrounds to good jobs and good citizenship. And the presence of a caring adult in their lives is listed as the most distinguishing feature in these successful cases.
We are fortunate in Australia to have a number of outstanding youth mentoring programmes, including those which focus on particular cohorts of at-risk people or on building particular capabilities. In my own electorate, I have already mentioned Project Youth but there is also an organisation called the Clontarf Foundation does fantastic work with young Indigenous boys at Endeavour High School. I was very proud that Clontarf chose to open its first Sydney metropolitan Academy at Endeavour High School in the Sutherland Shire.
I was also proud, having long been impressed with the work of Clontarf Foundation CEO Gerard Neesham to make a difference to the lives and communities of Indigenous young men, that the NSW State Government together with the Federal Government were able to make the commitment we did last week to that ongoing work. Boys come from all over New South Wales to be mentored by the Endeavour Academy Director Jeff Hardy and you only have to look at the attendance chart, as I have as I have gone to visit the boys down there at Endeavour, on the wall to see how successful this programme is. The mentoring these kids get at school stays with them for their life. When the Premier, Mike Baird, and I were there the other day we talked to some graduates of the Clontarf programme who are now working out in Western Sydney with one of the big contractors on the big infrastructure projects. To see how the young boys who are in the programme looked up to these other young men really gave us all a sense of what can be achieved and the positivity. Under the Clontarf programme they are supported at school and long after they have left.
We have committed $13.4 million in the Budget to Clontarf Academies across the country. And just last Friday as I said as Premier Mike Baird visited Endeavour High he announced that the NSW State Government was providing $8.6 million for an extra 1,000 places in Clontarf in the programme across New South Wales including Endeavour.
A Victorian survey, ‘realising their potential’, of young people being mentored revealed very interesting results you may be familiar with. The cohort surveyed was relatively small but the findings were consistent with other studies. Young people agreed or strongly agreed that because of their relationship with their mentor 93 per cent knew where to go for help if needed, 90 per cent had a more positive view of their future, 87 per cent felt more confident, 81 per cent went to school more often, 70 per cent had a clearer idea of what they want to do in the future and 78 per cent were less likely to use drugs or alcohol. And three-quarters of them – 75 per cent – knew about the education, training and work options available.
These are all compelling statistics; they are significant achievements, important in preparing young people for work or study when they leave school. Some young people know exactly where they want to go and how to get there when they walk out of school for the last time. But that path is not so well defined for all. Even when young people have wise counsel and loving environments these years can be very difficult. For young people deprived of strong caring role models, they can be particularly difficult. My focus is on helping prepare young people for meaningful employment, including finishing school, and getting them into jobs. Around one in five young Australians are not fully engaged in either work or study. We need to improve education and employment outcomes for these young people and make it easier for them to enter the workforce.
A job is not the answer to every problem life throws at us. The world is far more complex than that and the problems that young people face are more complex than that. But the self-esteem, the confidence, the social connectedness, the improved quality of life and the economic independence a job brings are often fundamental to helping with other problems. This has been increasingly recognised in the mental health area with much outstanding work done here in Australia under the leadership of people like Chris Tanti from Headspace and Orygen’s Patrick McGorry. They have delivered a wakeup call to all of us on the importance of work for young people with mental health issues. Mental illness can start very early and be a huge barrier to workforce participation. It is estimated that about 75 per cent of mental disorders have developed by the age of 25 which means many young people have missed out on important aspects of their education while a disorder has been developing. And there are a growing number of young people who have a mental illness. According to the ABS, 30 per cent of young men – sorry young women and 23 per cent of young men aged between 16 and 24 years have experienced symptoms of a mental disorder.
Most of them want to work. In fact the research shows a strong link between making a functional recovery – that is getting back to school or work – early in the course of illness is actually more predictive of long term outcome than making an early symptomatic recovery. That’s the findings of the research into this critical area, that participation in the workforce and having that as a heart of a management programme significantly contributes to the improvement of people’s mental wellbeing. Entering the workforce offers the ability to build financial independence and to benefit from social inclusion. It is not surprising then that young people with a mental illness want to and are very much aware of the benefits of work.
A report by Orygen on young people with mental illness in Australia found their number one goal was to get back into the workforce or training. The report told the story of a young woman with a mental illness who, on telling a relative that she wanted to go back to school and get a job, was greeted with the reply “You’re dreaming love.” What a depressing reaction. Unfortunately, the data backs this up.
In 2003 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that people with a psychological disability had the lowest participation rate of any disability group at 28 per cent and the highest unemployment rate of all groups at 19 per cent. In terms of severe mental health problems, a 2012 Australian study found that 22.4 per cent of people with psychotic disorders were employed part or full time.
On the advice of organisations such as Headspace and Orygen, I am confident we can offer young people with mental illness an optimistic future. In this year’s Budget we have committed $19.4 million over four years to trial two specialised models of employment support for young people up to the age of 25 with a mental illness. One is a trial of the Individual Placement and Support, that is the IPS, model of employment assistance, which involves provision of vocational support to young people with mental illness in tandem with clinical and non-vocational support, to be delivered through Headspace. Rapid placement in competitive employment and support to learn on the job is another key feature of this model. As you would know, getting young people who have gone through difficult times to the starting line of a job is just the beginning of the challenge. Once they are in the job helping them to stick at the job over time is the great challenge. And that is where mentoring comes in to assist young people in that situation. This trial will operate in up to 15 locations across Australia over four years and will support around 2000 young people a year.
The other part of the programme will be a one year trial of individually tailored employment support for up to 200 young job seekers with mental illness in Disability Employment Services. These trials are based on international research and Australian pilots which have shown that people with a mental illness are three times more likely to get competitive paid jobs when helped by the IPS approach to employment support.
This year’s Budget has a strong focus on helping Australians into work. There’s the $5.5 billion Growing Jobs and Small Business Package create jobs by helping small businesses to grow and take on additional employees. As part of this package, the Government is providing over $330 million for a Youth Employment Strategy. Figures showing that young people account for around 30 per cent of the long term unemployed are particularly worrying to the Government. More than 500,000 or 70 per cent of Newstart and more than 62,000 or nearly 60 per cent of the Youth Allowance recipients have been on income support for more than 12 months. This is why the Jobs and Small Business package is providing targeted support for groups of young people who are more susceptible to long term unemployment or at risk of welfare dependence.
I have said previously I don’t want kids to go straight from the school gate to the Centrelink front door. I think we can be more ambitious for young people than this to want to consign young people to a life on welfare where their choices are restricted. We want them to have choices and the work you do helps them to make better choices in life.
A new $212 million Youth Transition to Work programme, which is part of the Youth Employment Strategy, will help young people who have disengaged from work and study and are at risk of long-term unemployment. This programme has a very practical edge. Eligible job seekers will receive early intensive training to learn positive work behaviours, address literacy and numeracy problems, get a driver’s licence and have work experience. Eligible employers who take on a young job seeker will be able to apply for a payment of $6,500.
The Youth Transition to Work programme will be supported by a $106 million programme for intensive support for key groups of vulnerable job seekers. Our most vulnerable young people include those with a disability, such as a mental health issue, those from poorer families, Indigenous Australians and those with lower levels of numeracy or literacy. There are also challenges for young people who have newly arrived in Australia. I am talking here of those who are part of our refugee and humanitarian programme and are at risk of becoming marginalised in the community. Disengagement of these young people poses broader risks to social cohesion. Some of them are vulnerable targets for extremist predators in their communities seeking to proselytize, indoctrinate and radicalize, and we have seen that all too often. Our Budget measures will assist these young people to make different choices, better choices, positive choices, from those being put to them by thoroughly unconscionable people. The Government will spend some $22 million in this area, assisting young humanitarian entrants and other vulnerable young migrants aged under 25 to make a successful transition to work through tailored assistance. The Partnerships for Employment programme will support over 2,000 young refugees and vulnerable migrants to undertake job readiness courses. Strong Connections to Education will assist up to 1,500 young refugees and vulnerable migrants to remain engaged with education. Sports Engagement for Youth encourages participation for up to 10,000 young people a year in sporting activities to help young people build social connections and confidence. In addition, up to 300 young people will benefit from an Increased Vocational Opportunities scheme to build and strengthen vocational skills for young refugees and vulnerable migrants.
In conclusion, I would like to turn to the big picture in relation to the Budget. In his report on reform of our welfare system – our safety net, one of the nation’s most important assets is the safety net that we have for those who need it most and Patrick McClure spoke of the benefits of increasing community capacity to support Australians in need. That is involving the community and the private sector in helping us meet our challenges and not just relying on the government. I had a bit to say about this last Friday at the ACOSS National Conference. This isn’t about the Government doing less; the Government will continue to do more. But we all know that the challenges that are faced in our community – socially across the country are only growing. That means the non-government sector and the capability of the non-government sector needs to expand as well.
The welfare bill – the social services bill in this Budget came in at around $150 billion. This is one third of the federal Budget and about twice the size of the entire New South Wales State Budget. It takes eight out of ten income taxpayers just to pay for it each year, that is how big it is and it will grow. The NDIS, to which we are all committed, and particularly will be supporting young people to have the capability to have different choices for the rest of their lives, will add substantially to these costs.
It is important that we are able to absorb the cost of that programme into our social services budget. In 2019/20 over $5 billion of expenditure for the NDIS will not be support by the new levy and that money will need to be found from within the Budget. It is an incredibly important programme. It is I think an aspiration that has long been held and is now being realised. But the dreaming of it, the announcing of it is one thing. To make it a reality is something very different. That requires being able to pay for it and in the 2019/20 Budget, over $20 billion extra will need to be found to ensure that that programme will be able to do all the things we hope it will. It will be, we are absolutely committed to it and that’s one of the reasons why we are making many of the decisions we are making in the social services area – to ensure that we can accommodate this incredibly important reform.
We are embarking on welfare reforms which will not only improve the lives of people otherwise consigned to a life on welfare, but also keep spending directed to those who need it most. We are doing that through our partnerships with the community and business sector – most significantly through the work of the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership. I have talked about the important of Social Impact Bonds as an exciting new area where we may be able to bring to the table not just private sector charity but private sector investment to add to the funds that are available from the public sector to deal with the challenges that we have. It requires Government to think more innovatively and to think outside the square in how we address these challenges. But it also requires the private sector to do the same; the private sector is very good at knowing how to make money. I want them to apply that same innovation and that same expertise, the same dedication and commitment at how they can invest in solving the nation’s social challenges as well. That is something we can partner with them on. We are in the early phases of that and there are excellent examples of how this is being done round the world – not far from here across the Tasman but also in New South Wales where there are live trials already running.
These trials I think show a real possibility for the future. But what it requires of us all is to move away from our understanding of how welfare has always worked because frankly that model won’t support the huge challenges that we face. We have to get more innovative. We have to get more accountable. Good will and good intentions are nowhere near enough to meet the scale of the challenges you know that better than I do. As a Government we are very committed to thinking innovatively about how we can address these problems. We are interested in making sure particularly that young people can make better choices in life, to give them the tools, the knowledge, the support and the back up to make better choices in life. But they have to make the choices, we can’t make them for them. We can give them every opportunity to make those choices. You are in a very good business. You are in the business of helping them make better choices. For all the lives you have changed I say thank you and or the lives I hope we will change together I say thank you.
Thank you for your attention today.