Hewson's View: Our youth deserve better

Sign of frustration: A banner at the youth climate strike in Sydney in September, 2019. Picture: Shutterstock
Sign of frustration: A banner at the youth climate strike in Sydney in September, 2019. Picture: Shutterstock

According to the recently released 2019 Mission Australia Youth Survey, which surveyed 25,126 young people aged 15-19, disappointingly less than one in 10 feel that they have a voice when it comes to important public issues. They feel disenfranchised and are deeply concerned.

While mental health was the top national issue for the third year in a row, "the environment" soared from eighth place in 2018 to second place in 2019 of the topics that young people say are important issues in Australia - tripling in significance since last year.

The report stated that: "The growing public dialogue and experience of issues, such as extreme weather events and drought, are clearly affecting young people's view of the world.

The CEO of Mission Australia, James Toomey, commented that: "The apparent inability to have their voices heard through formal channels is perhaps causing them to engage in informal ways to get heard, such as climate strikes".

Indeed, further, the global and domestic reaction to the statements by, and the activities of the likes of Greta Thunberg, was most instructive - essentially to shoot the messenger rather than listen to the message.

It has been most concerning that when our children have started to behave as adults, the adults have responded by starting to behave as children.

We owe it to young people to not only listen, but to also take action.

James Toomey

As Toomey said: "Young people are asking for change. We owe it to young people to not only listen, but to also take action. We must stand alongside them to advocate for the changes they want to see (and) provide opportunities to have a say.... Young people have a vital role in shaping our tomorrow".

Of course, young people have every reason to be disillusioned and concerned about their future, not only for the failure of the generations of their parents and grandparents to respond urgently and effectively to environmental challenges, but also as they come to understand the very significant governance failures on so many important issues, by so many individuals and institutions across Australia.

The essence of the royal commissions into banking, aged and disability care has been to highlight the massive governance failures in these three sectors - excesses and abuses that have been to the detriment of customers, patients, and the broader Australian community.

For example, the Hayne Royal Commission into our banks highlighted the consequences of what they identified as a "culture of greed", whereby banks essentially ignored the responsibilities of their "social licence" and basically sought to maximise profits and shareholder value at the expense of customers and the community.

It is difficult for anyone, let alone our youth, to accept that a leading bank such as Westpac could breach the requirements of Austrac that enforces anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance laws some 23 million times and, in particular, effectively gave a free pass to paedophiles.

These breaches, together with the massive failures of bank governance identified by the Hayne Commission, would warrant key management and full boards being removed, with financial penalty - if not consideration of rule changes to see such behaviour identified as criminal offences, with possible jail time for senior managers and directors.

Although the CEO of Westpac finally gave in and stepped down, to be followed by the early retirement of the chairman, our youth and all the rest of us can remain cynical given so few scalps, so far, from these breaches and from the Royal Commission findings.

The interim report of the Aged Care Royal Commission reported on what they called "a shocking tale of neglect", the ageist mindset that "undervalues older people and limits their possibilities". They too are providing almost "horror" evidence of abuse, excessive costs, poor service, and long waiting lists in aged care.

More broadly, the crisis in governance has been evident in the activities of some businesses, churches and charities, in the corporate and financial regulatory authorities, with confidence even waning in our judicial system, but perhaps most notably, and importantly, in the poor performance of all three levels of our government - with too much politics and too little government.

In all this our youth face "a plethora of challenges and barriers".

It is no wonder that they feel disenfranchised and disillusioned!

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.