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Monday, 25 February 1985
Page: 150


Mr STAPLES(8.21) —I preface my remarks this evening by congratulating you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your most deserved re-election to your office.

As many will now be aware, 1985 has been designated as International Youth Year by the United Nations. The theme for the year is participation, development and peace. I believe that it is vital at this early stage that we now look at what we have let ourselves in for. What are we going to do this year? Will we go through a few token events, mouthing patronising platitudes, and forget about it conveniently on 1 January 1986, or will we take the bit between our teeth and work to the spirit of the year to lay the groundwork for participation of young people in our society? I put it to the House that this will require a very broad bipartisan approach at the Federal Government, State government and local government levels and deep into the community as well, if we are to achieve those aims.

Today, I want to concentrate on the participation theme of International Youth Year because the opening of Parliament highlighted to me and to many others the fact that most people have not yet got a clue about what participation of young people in our society is all about and how we are going to improve it. At the swearing in and opening ceremonies of Parliament, I took the liberty of wearing an off-white, light summer suit, cut in the way that young men today would wear their suits.


Mr MacKellar —You daring thing!


Mr STAPLES —That suit did not have a collar such as the honourable member for Warringah would wear, with a noose tied around his neck. It was open. Apart from the fact that the suit got quite a lot of television coverage-which probably points to how boring the opening of Parliament can be-it shows that there is a wide variety of opinion as to whether or not that sort of outfit is bright and modern or shabby and inappropriate. Let us get it straight once and for all. I am not talking as a young person. When one has as much grey hair as I am getting, with what hair is left, one does not really consider oneself biologically youthful. (Quorum formed) I am particularly honoured by the presence of so many of my colleagues in the House. Unfortunately, one does not have to be biologically youthful, as I am not and as most of us are not, to appreciate the adverse reaction to this event and to realise that young people do not relate to this place, with its befuddled and bewigged traditions, and its self-importance which tut-tuts any one who is not in a navy-blue or grey pin-striped suit. Unfortunately, people on the other side of the House distinctly fail to recognise that clothes can be a barrier to the way young people relate to traditions and to institutions such as Parliament.

If we are looking for the participation of young people in the decision-making processes of this country, whether it be in Parliament or in other forms of activity in the community, we, as elderly people-there are not too many people between the ages of 15 and 25 in this House-should be looking at ways in which we can facilitate the involvement of young people in the affairs of this country. What alienates young people from society and the processes which govern them is that society, whether we like it or not, says to young people: 'You are too young to seek your independence. You are too young to have your own opinion. You are too young to know what is best for you, and you are too young to know what is best for this country'. There is no denying that we are reliant on young people for our future, but we create barriers by our 'We know better' attitudes, by our refusal to provide young people with points of access to power, and by our refusal to provide young people with access to decision-making processes and to the status that we reserve for those who fit more into the mainstream of adult society.

At a time when we begin to organise our celebrations of the bicentenary, let us go back more than 2000 years to Socrates, who said: 'The right way to begin is to pay attention to the young'. If one wishes, one may go back a couple of hundred years before that to the sixth century BC and Confucius, who said: 'Youth is to be regarded with respect. How do you know that their futures will not be equal to our present'. Our Australian young people are our future and they are also our today, but today they do not have a real status and a role in our society. Continually we put them into a crossfire situation. Articles such as those which appeared in the Australian recently by Greg Sheridan, attacking the public education system in an hysterical diatribe dressed up as responsible comment, only serve further to destroy the tentative steps of our young people towards adulthood.

Thankfully, today's young people do not consider the paranoid super-powers and their sycophants to be capable of preserving their world for them. They reject the need for a nuclear arsenal that is arrayed before us. I am sorry that the honourable member for McPherson (Mr White), who spoke before me, has left the House, because I am sure he would appreciate the fact that 15,000 times the total explosive and destructive force that was used in World War II, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is now sitting in arsenals, nuclear silos and whatever around the world waiting to be rained down upon us. Thankfully, today young people reject the need for that ridiculous arsenal.

Adult society wonders today, and we will be concentrating a lot more of our efforts on wondering, why young people turn to drugs, alcohol, speed and vandalism. The plain truth is that we need to spend more time and money in examining, attacking and eradicating the causes, not just the end results that we see in the smashed telephone box, the drug problem, or the road toll. We have to ask the young people what they think and involve them in the decisions and processes that form part of their own lives.

John Ewen, of the Centre for Youth and Community Studies at Phillip Institute of Technology, which I am proud to say is in my electorate, says his book, 'Youth in Australia-A New Role and a New Deal for the 1980s' makes the point:

The generation of the late sixties took the developed world's leaders by surprise and shook many societies almost to their foundation. Whatever form the next generation's intervention takes (and it could well be one of brute force and violence), it is plain foolishness with a dearth of ideas for progress amongst the tribal elders-that the young should be excluded from the development process. The primary lesson for us from the Third World is that, however difficult and in some cases unsuccessful their youth policies have been, they have started from the objective of offering a role and a status to the young. Youth is not merely a problem to be overcome or controlled, it is an asset to national development to be fostered. Our task is now to investigate how such a policy could be translated and redefined in our society.

Honourable members opposite who now pooh-pooh this should look at what International Youth Year is; that is the whole idea of it. Members of the Opposition have a role to play in this, as well. If they renege on that role, let it be on their heads. The young people today who do not wear the sorts of clothes which our lawyers and business executives wear, who do not care for our stuffy structures or attitudes, will soon be the ones who will be pushing the wheelchairs of honourable members opposite, paying their health and pension benefits and passing laws which will affect all of our lives. Maybe one-day in this very place they will be looking at laws relating to euthanasia, while we wait on our respirators for the outcome.

Nineteen eighty-five is International Youth Year, but that is only a recognition that the future belongs to young people and that young people should be made integral participants in our society today. We are always saying that we are doing this, that or the other for our children's future. This year-the year with the international theme of participation, development and peace-is our chance to provide for our children's future and enhance our own world today. We have to give them now the role and status they seek in their world. We have to give them a go. We have to do our part to take away the barriers of communication. I do not think it should be too hard for members of the Opposition to look at the barriers of communication that exist between old and young. In some ways that may mean that we do not wear ties or regulation shirts, but we must honestly open our doors and our minds to their lives.


Mr Goodluck —Oh!


Mr STAPLES —All that today's adult society has managed to do, should you listen to young people, is to have effectively deprived them of a future with peace, jobs and hope. It is very easy for those of us who have jobs, influence and years of building our own individuality and identity to lose sight of what it was like when we were young, when we first left school.

Let me close with some words from the Costa Rican Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport in 1981. We pooh-pooh the Third World, we think we are much smarter than its people, but they do have some things which might be of interest and value to us. The Costa Rican Ministry said:

Young people do not want to be classified as adults-to-be, preparing to assume their social responsibilities tomorrow. They want to participate here and now in social life on the same footing as adults.

That has been shown to be the case for Australian young people.