OPINION

Don't leave Australia's youth to pay the price | Hewson's View

FUTURE: John Hewson says we owe Australia's youth a better future. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

FUTURE: John Hewson says we owe Australia's youth a better future. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Like many of my generation, and subsequent generations, as a post-war baby, I was driven as a parent, given the struggles of those early post-war years, to give my children a better life, with better opportunities, than I was able to enjoy.

I am concerned, looking at the situation of our youth today, that things are much tougher for them than I had hoped. It is tougher to get an education, to get and keep a job, to buy a home, to raise a family, and so on.

Some of this is, of course, due to personal and family circumstances as they have unfolded; some is importantly "systemic" built into our tax, transfer, health, education, superannuation, and other systems; and some the outcome of poor government in failing to effectively meet policy challenges (such as climate) as they arrive, letting them drift to be addressed by future generations.

Clearly, I was saying this pre-COVID, but the health, economic and social consequences of COVID have added a whole new layer of challenges. The current recession is hitting our youth and casuals particularly hard. While they are unlikely to die from the virus, 20-year-olds have proven to be the most infectious, with the risk of significant longer-term consequences.

It is tougher to get an education, to get and keep a job, to buy a home ...

Youth unemployment measures near double overall unemployment, with employment difficulties that are not reflected in these "measures"; many have had to access their super to make ends meet, with significant consequences for their retirement; the budget deficits necessarily run up by governments to stimulate/cushion our workers and businesses will lock in debt to be managed for decades, some of it structural, to be repaid ultimately by today's youth.

For these and many other reasons, our youth face a very uncertain future, beginning with just how they will be able to disengage from lockdowns and other restrictions.

Schemes such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper have been important in providing some support as we travel through the virus, but the government's expectation that it could rapidly phase these benefits down as the economy "snapped" back is proving aspirational, leaving much uncertainty.

Should we just expect waves of the virus until an effective vaccine? Will the government have to keep extending these benefits as they are now being pressured to do in Victoria - some are suggesting extensions through to 2022? Does the government understand the mounting mental illness consequences? Do they recognise that it's "the rate of job loss" that drives these mental illness consequences?

The explosion of house prices, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, in recent years, along with rents, has increasingly put housing beyond the reach of our youth, even with parental support, and many have over-borrowed.

COVID has forced many to seek to defer mortgage/rent payments, but there is an inevitable "crunch" to come, especially if they are still insecure about their jobs. Moreover, the government is showing little interest in affordable/social housing, which would make a significant contribution to economic recovery, thereby also ignoring the plight of those at lower incomes and benefits.

The very large, long-term tab for picking up the disaster that is aged care, in terms of quality and availability, home care packages, and improved residential accommodation etc will also fall to our youth, even though our tax/transfer system has been skewed towards some of the better-off aged, the demographics move against the youth - less youth supporting more aged.

University and vocational training is also subject to turmoil, with many challenges having been brought to a head by COVID, but reflecting years of funding cuts, neglect and prejudice, the latter now driving Morrison and his unwillingness to fund/drive a proper and urgent restructure of this sector. The bottom line will again be to the detriment of our youth in terms of access and quality of education options.

Finally, the imperative of a transition to a low carbon Australia by mid-century has been squandered in climate wars between our political masters, rather than being met by responsible government. Any genuine COVID Recovery Strategy must be built on dealing with climate as fundamental to an effective economic/social/industrial reset after COVID, and to prevent even more inter-generational theft.

Our youth are our national treasure - we owe them a better future!

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