Australia’s elderly people have been high on the political agenda recently, with a royal commission announced amid shocking revelations of abuse in aged care homes, and $100 million in new federal funds for the aged care sector announced this week.
The country’s nearly four million people aged over 65 have their own federal minister: Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Health and Aged Care. Yet the approximately three million young Australians (aged 15 to 24) have no minister representing them in Canberra, and their concerns – such as unemployment – receive less public attention.
There has been no youth minister since then Prime Minister Tony Abbott scrapped the portfolio in 2013 – despite a coalition of youth advocacy groups calling on Mr Abbott’s successor, Malcolm Turnbull, earlier this year to fill the post.
Katie Acheson is Chief Executive Officer of Youth Action, a peak body for young people and youth services in NSW. She believes the main reason there is no youth minister is the perception that the role would be of little value.
“I don’t think the government is fully aware of how important it is to give young people a voice in our community,” she said.
“I believe that if they thought it would win them votes, then we would definitely see a minister for youth in Cabinet … There are over 4.3 million young Australians if you include those aged 12-15 … They are old enough to have medical control over their bodies and old enough to have a say.”
Young people interviewed on the streets of Surry Hills, in inner-city Sydney, were shocked to learn they have no representation at federal level.
“I think it’s really distressing … No minister for young Australians since the Abbott government? It absolutely needs to change with the next election,” said 24-year-old Eli Ruskonov.
“To be honest, it is a pretty disappointing thing to hear, although I’m not surprised at all,” said Sasha Gomes, 21.
“Our current government can barely look after their own best interests, let alone of young people who aren’t their main voting base.”
Sebastian Hada, 19, said: “The funding for older Australians makes sense after everything that’s been happening with nursing homes and their carers. I would like to see more funding towards youth unemployment and homelessness, though.”
Moving forward, is there likely to be a youth minister in Cabinet in the future? Ms Acheson thinks so.
“I think the tide is turning … Both parties are starting to talk a little bit more about young people, and just recently we’ve seen the ALP appoint Terri Butler as Shadow Minister for Young Australians and Youth Affairs, which is a huge step forward.”