Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Opening of Blacktown Marist Youth Care Head Office – Blacktown, NSW

Location: Marist Youth Care, Blacktown NSW


  • The traditional owners, past and present, of the land on which we meet, the Darug people.
  • Cate Sydes – Chief Executive Officer, Marist Youth Care
  • Bishop Kevin Manning – Bishop of Parramatta
  • Brother Jeff Crowe – Provincial of the Marist Brothers (Sydney Province)

*Check against delivery *

I would like to begin by thanking Uncle Greg for his welcome to country on this very special day for Marist Youth Care when we officially open its new head office.

Marist Youth Care is a distinguished organisation with a long history of providing care and support for our most vulnerable young people.

Marist does wonderful work in this area and I’m honoured to be opening this new building – especially as I know it will help extend your reach, enabling you to touch the lives of even more young people.

As Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion, I have the privilege of meeting with many inspiring organisations that work with people facing tough times – people who find themselves pushed to the margins of our community.

This is what we mean when we talk about “social exclusion”. Being excluded. Being left out. Being left behind. Being disconnected from family. This is the kind of social exclusion that Marist Youth Care works to address and what the government’s social inclusion agenda aims to tackle.

Social inclusion is about giving everyone in our society the right and the opportunity to realise their potential-whether that’s through education, employment, participating in the community, or having their voice heard.

We recognise that some groups of people face particularly difficult circumstances and need specific, targeted support: people in jobless families, people living with a mental illness or disability, homeless people, indigenous Australians, people living in areas of severe disadvantage, and children and youth at risk of long term disadvantage.

I know that this last group is of particular interest to many of you here today.

Marist Youth Care helps young people facing tough times to improve their quality of life, to reach out and connect, and be able to make their own unique contribution to the community.

I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on this important work and to acknowledge its enormous value to our community.

Marist supports young people to stabilise their lives, find suitable accommodation, address non-vocational barriers and move into education, training or employment. These may sound like simple things, but in many cases they can be life-changing.

I believe that one of the key’s to Marist’s success is its integrated, holistic approach that responds to the whole person. We know from academic research and practical experience that this person-centred approach is the most effective way to bring about positive change in peoples’ lives. This is why we in government are also bringing a person-centred focus to policy through our social inclusion approach to addressing deep disadvantage.

For example, our new Youth Connections service that replaces Youth Pathways and Connections from 1 January next year, will deliver more integrated support for young people at risk of not completing school, and those who have already become disengaged.

Youth Connections providers will work with schools, families, employers and the broader community to bring the relevant services to young people, rather than expecting them to join up the dots of different government services.

We also want to be able to better hear the voices of young people and have established the Australian Youth Forum as a continuous communication channel between government, young people and the youth sector.

Views from the forum have flowed into the government’s National Strategy for Young Australians, which is about recognising the importance of young people in our society and celebrating their contribution to our community. At the same time, however, it’s also about identifying those who need extra help and working with the youth sector and young people themselves to develop the best ways to overcome the challenges they face.

Reflecting on this and the Marist Youth Centre mission of nurturing young people to take charge of their lives, I can see clear complementarities between the government’s social inclusion and youth work and the work of the Centre.

We both aspire to the vision of our young people growing up safe, healthy, happy and resilient.

It is often said that a society can be judged by how it treats its children and young people.

I believe that we will only be able to be judged highly on this standard when we really put the needs of our young people at the centre of our efforts.

On this day of celebration for Marist Youth Centre, I would like to thank you for the real difference this organisation has made-and continues to make-to the lives of young people needing guidance and support to live their lives to the full.

So now it gives me great pleasure to declare this building open.