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Good morning everyone. My thanks to the Australian Association for Adolescent Health for inviting me to speak with you all today. I want to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Adelaide Plains where you are meeting today, the lands of the Kaurna people. I am joining you today on from the lands of the Gadigal People. I pay my respects to Elders past and present and acknowledge their ongoing cultural and educational practices. I also want to acknowledge all First Nations people joining you today.
And of course, all attendees – young people, health professionals, researchers, clinicians, policy-makers, educators and representatives of youth-focussed NGOs from around Australia.
I’d like to start by mentioning your conference theme – Solution Generation: Listen. Invest. Act. This theme highlights the critical role young people can play in building action and solutions for better youth health and wellbeing outcomes – but the catch, of course, is as long as we listen to them first. And, Maia, in your opening speech there you talked about not wanting token engagement. I get that. You know, it’s something that in my life it’s something that I always try and resist, being treated as a token myself. And when I was given the portfolio, the youth portfolio, one of the first things that I said was that I did not want any engagement that we do with young people to be tokenistic. I wanted it to be substantive, meaningful, purposeful and have outcomes.
And so that approach has been built through the work that I’m leading as the Minister for Youth through a Youth Engagement Model grounded in respect, grounded in inclusivity and genuine partnership with young people.
Like many of you here today, I’m fairly passionate about embedding processes that ensure young people have a say on the matters that affect their lives and their futures, particularly because that’s the way that you get more effective outcomes. Like, I heard you all talk about the devastating and really disappointing result of the referendum, which really was all about, you know, what we’re talking about today – about listening, about listening in order to get better outcomes.
So, we established the Office for Youth when the government first took office, something that hadn’t existed at the Commonwealth level for at least a decade. And the purpose of the Office for Youth, or one of the purposes that I was wanting to ensure, that it was not just an office that sat in the dungeon of a department somewhere and did, you know, really nice-facing stuff but actually did facilitate the meaningful engagement with young people right across all of government, ensuring that they’re empowered, ensuring that they are able to contribute to the develop of policies and programs that impact their lives.
When we first came into government we heard loud and clear that young people didn’t feel their ideas and their experiences were being listened to. And pretty soon after establishing the Office for Youth we appointed the very first Youth Steering Committee made up of some really incredible and diverse and talented young people right across Australia. And they are now co-designing the development of this new youth engagement strategy. And the purpose of that strategy is to look at how we can improve the way that government works with young people now and into the future.
To inform the strategy we undertook 50 consultations – more than 50 consultations with young people right across the country – from Bunbury to Weipa. We engaged thousands of young people in a way that’s never been done before in Australia through these consultations. And one of the important principles that we used in that was to go to where young people are, not to expect young people to come to us. So, we went to music festivals, we went to dirt bike races, we went to sporting venues, we went to Comic-Con. Where young people were, that’s where we went to talk to them.
Now, unsurprisingly, our consultations highlighted and pretty much reinforced for us what we already knew, but highlighted that mental health is one of the most important issues for young people. More than one in five young people who participated in our consultations said that they had experience of ill mental health. So earlier this year we established five youth advisory groups to provide direct advice to government on matters impacting young people, and one of those youth advisory groups focused on mental health and suicide prevention.
Now, I said it earlier that when we established our steering committees and we established our youth engagement model and when we established the Office, in everything that we did it had to be meaningful, it had to be purposeful, it had to have outcomes, avoiding that tokenistic kind of engagement.
So that particular Youth Advisory Group has been incredibly busy. And I want to highlight for you some of the things that they’ve been able to participate in. They participated in mind frame training to equip them to communicate about mental health and suicide confidently and safely. They worked with the National Mental Health Commission as it explores the impact of digital technologies on youth mental health, and potential reforms needed to support youth mental health when they’re engaging with digital technologies. They’ve provided feedback and advice on the national suicide prevention strategy to officials from the National Suicide Prevention Office, drawing on their own experience and knowledge of the social determinants that contribute to suicide among young people. Their advice has strengthened actions in the first two focus areas of the strategy. They’ve met with the Department of Health and Aged Care to discuss upcoming child and adolescent mental health and wellbeing studies. They’ve discussed young people’s preferences for seeking health information as well as the barriers that exist when accessing mental health services.
Just a few of the things that they’ve been able to do in this short term of almost a year I think now. But also a demonstration of what you can achieve if you do actually listen and if you give young people the opportunity to participate and engage in the processes of policy making that impact on their lives. And I might also say, the great advantage that we have as a government of being able to draw on the lived experience and knowledge and advice of those young people.
What we’re aiming to do here is to ensure that direct input from young people on government policy development. And implement a range of significant measures that come out of this act of listening to improve the health of young people. That includes things like more Headspace services, new legislation to protect Australians against the harm caused by tobacco and vaping products, a national eating disorder strategy and funding for the Embrace Kids program to help kids tackle body image issues.
We’ve also just announced a tripling of the bulk-billing incentive for local GPs which makes it so much easier for children and young people, families and concession card holders to see a bulk-billed GP. But all of this is just a start because we know that there is so much more work left to do. And for our Government, for the Albanese Labor Government, young people will continue to play an important role in shaping the programs and the policies that impact them.
Now, if you like the sound of all of this – but wait, there’s more, because applications are currently open for our 2024 Youth Advisory Groups. So next year our youth advisory groups are going to be working directly providing advice directly on five new areas. One of them is civic engagement, creative industries and the arts, employment, First Nations education, and the prevention gender-based violence.
So, here’s my pitch to you: with no experience required, if you anyone you know would be interest in joining, I encourage all young people to apply to be part of one of these groups. And you can do that by visiting youth.gov.au. We want diverse representation across the groups so we can ensure that wide range of experiences and insights are heard. I am very big on intersectionality, so I want to make sure that we’re mindful of that in the composition of all the – everything that we do and in the way that we engage with young people as well. We want a range of experiences, we want a range of insights. And we want to continue to empower young people to be able to contribute to the development of policies and programs that impact their lives.
So I will wait to see all of your applications. Actually, I don’t see them; somebody else does. The process does not involve – the selection process is done by the office, but, you know, I really do encourage anyone who’s interested here, if you’re a young person between the ages of 13 and 25, to apply. And really what we’re trying to do here is live by the theme of your conference – and that is to listen. To listen, to invest and to act. And we can’t do that without the willingness and the passion that young people bring to the conversation.
I’m going to end by thanking the Association. I want to thank you so much for your unwavering commitment to bringing professionals together to promote health and wellbeing of adolescents and young adults in Australia. Such an important area. And I want to thank you for inviting me to be a part of this really important conference. I know that by working together, and working to together with young people, we can definitely deliver a healthier future for all Australians.
So enjoy the rest of your conference and I look forward to seeing you all again.