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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2078

Senator STOTT DESPOJA(7.40 p.m.) —Tonight I rise to draw the Senate's attention to a rather unique report that I had the pleasure of launching a couple of weeks ago. It is entitled, `Youth Answers ' and it is unique because it is about the Aberfoyle Park and Happy Valley community in South Australia which actually commissioned five young Australians to consult their peers, that is, young people around the ages of 13 to 25, about health issues and the community needs of their environment.

Most research, including the Australian Democrats youth poll that we conduct every year where we ask young Australians about the issues affecting them, shows that young people believe that they do not have enough opportunities to have a say in the decision making processes in this country. Nor do they get a chance to be actively involved in the community and health needs of their society.

So I draw the Senate's attention to some of the recommendations in this report; but first I should note its cost. For nine months these young people spoke to young people in the community—and at a cost of less than $2,000. It is worth noting that for such a small outlay we have perhaps put off more expensive costs in the future.

One of the most overwhelming things I found in this report was that young people identify issues such as safety and security, freedom from sexual harassment and violence as some of the key issues in their community. This is as important a part of their diet as access to bulk-billing and medication—two other recommendations contained in the report.

As some participants noted, violence starts early. I only hope that the same political and community will can be applied to addressing violence in all its manifestations, especially violence affecting young Australians in the home, as has been displayed in the recent debate about gun law reform.

Another finding of the report that I found of interest was young people complaining about a lack of space for young people to go to. Interestingly, our society seems more preoccupied with cracking down on young people's access, be it through curfews or other regressive measures—rather than providing some of the simple things that young people are asking for, be it skating ramps, pool halls or just quiet areas where young people can hang out.

Another finding in the report was that young Australians have a real fear of authority figures, security guards, and have a sense that older people are there more so to judge them than to assist them.

The interesting thing about this report is that young people actually provide strategies for countering and coping with some of these problems, be it providing more personalised health centres or youth access centres, improved signage, different people for different jobs, youth magazines and newsletters—better ways of targeting and directing young people.

The strategies in this report also highlight the diversity and creativity among young Australians. I especially like the proposal for `a community built fishfarm run by youth with a pool table which could be profit making'. I thought that was particularly entrepreneurial as well as indicating something that might be rather ecologically sustainable. Why do we not see more of this creativity and positive imagery of young Australians reflected in all decision making bodies, but specifically in the media? I should note that these young Australians had their first encounter with the media during this report and found themselves stereotyped and portrayed in a rather patronising and negative way.

I have noted that the recommendations in this report highlight young people's diversity. It is worth reiterating that young people are not a homogeneous group, especially looking at the age range of 13 to 25 that was covered in this report. Whether they are generation X, generation Y, the Nintendo kids or however we chose to pigeonhole young Australians, certainly the overwhelming feature of this report was a sense of caring and concern for the community.

One particular controversial strategy in this report that I would highlight is the call, overwhelmingly, by young Australians to have condom vending machines not simply in places like schools but in places such as service stations. It was interesting to note that young people feel that they are not being listened to on this issue.

It was particularly revealing in the prime ministerial debates that when John Howard and Paul Keating were asked the question about the availability of condom vending machines in schools, they did not ask what young Australians thought; they simply ruled out this issue. It is worth noting that, not only in this poll but in other surveys and research of young Australians, young people overwhelmingly would like condom vending machines in schools. I challenge this government to take up that controversial issue.

Finally, young Australians said they were not happy with the fact that they have very few outlets to express their fears and their interests, and their concerns generally about community life. I challenge this government to take up an initiative that the Australian Democrats began: an annual youth poll which surveys young people aged 15 to 25 on the issues affecting them. Maybe that would be one way that the coalition government, as well as other political parties or decision making bodies, could more actively involve young Australians in the world around them.

I congratulate Fiona Buchanan and the five consultants who were commissioned to undertake this report. I think their work is of a very fine and high standard. I urge members of this parliament and other people to look at the recommendations and think about how we could more actively involve young people, not simply in the politics of this parliament but in day-to-day life generally.