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Speech: Young People and Covid-19

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 25 Aug 2020

I rise to speak on the impact COVID has had on young people and the future they face. It's hard to overstate how rapidly and dramatically COVID-19 has changed the world for young people. But we must acknowledge that neither they nor the pandemic are the cause of the greatest challenges they face. Those have been created for them by older generations. A recent Betoota Advocate headline attributes a fake quote to the Prime Minister: 'The sooner young people understand they're effed, the sooner they'll be happy.' It's hard to argue with. Young people's sense of resignation to a system stacked against them is palpable. On the facts, they could be right to feel that whatever they do won't make much difference anyway.

While millennials are the first generation of people who will be worse off than their parents, they see billionaires, like Elon Musk and Steve Ballmer, who have made tens of billions during the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, the Amazon oligarch, added $13 billion to his net worth on just one Monday in July. Meanwhile, wage growth for young people is non-existent. It has actually never been lower. The Productivity Commission reports a lost decade of income.

To make matters worse for young people, youth unemployment is at a 23-year high of 16 per cent. Young people are finding themselves amongst hundreds of applicants for jobs, competing with people with years of experience for entry-level positions. Right now, there's one job vacancy for every 13 people looking for a job. These problems aren't new, and they stand to get worse as the recession bites.

I worry in particular at the early reports of mental health statistics. Eighty per cent of young people in the UK said coronavirus had made their mental health worse. Victorian hospitals have seen admissions arising from self-harm rise by 33 per cent compared to last year. While they're being battered economically, young people confront the ravages of climate change and resurgent fascism, and threats to democracy are front of mind for many young people. Young people I speak with have little to no faith that our institutions are able to deal with the crises of health, climate and inequality that are playing out.

On all the issues, our government is absent. Ours is a Prime Minister who would embody the image of a suburban dad in every way except wanting to see kids thrive. From him all the way down to the major party backbenchers there's still a disturbing willingness to side with big corporate donors and the interests of fossil fuel lobbyists ahead of the needs of the community and our future.

Young people can only survive in the decades beyond this pandemic by taking radical direct action to secure their future and dismantle the structures that seek to destroy the planet, rig the economy and deny them a future. Around the world they are showing us how to survive through that action, and they are brilliant at it. Look at the young American who linked up with a whole bunch of TikTok based K-pop bands and completely and hilariously ruined a Trump rally by faking hundreds of RSVPs. Online it's on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok where the Black Lives Matter movement was best reflected and where it remains, long after the media stopped reporting on the rallies and protests that continue to this day. In Australia, think of the School Strike 4 Climate, led by young people. It was the largest protest in a generation. I was so proud that so many of them were young women of colour. They sure did get it done the right way, with the voices of First Nations and an opposition to extractive capitalism at their movement's very heart. Look at the Australian Unemployed Workers Union mutual obligations strike that's right now challenging the generational corruption of Australia's income support system.

In that spirit of survival, young people have stepped up for each other and our communities, leading from the front through mutual support. We owe these young people nothing short of a revolution on their terms with nothing short of our full-throated support.


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