What will the world be like for my baby? - 27/08/2020

27 August 2020



I rise to speak for the last time before I have my baby. I've been thinking a lot about what it means to bring a new person into this world and what that world will be like. This baby will be born at what is a difficult time for Australia and for our world, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, the existential crisis of climate change, and rising inequality. Young people have worries at the moment that I didn't have when I was a young teenager. It's very disconcerting to me to hear my two-year-old son, Paul, talk about 'After the virus goes', and I'm glad that, thankfully, he's blissfully unaware of most of what it means to be in a pandemic. But it's the young people at school, particularly those finishing high school, who will be most acutely aware of what it means to be in our first recession in 30 years. At a time when they need all the help that they can get, their government is decimating the TAFE and university sectors, where they need to be training for the jobs of the future—and even attacking the sorts of degrees that they can choose to do—and letting these institutions suffer through this pandemic without help. Young people have been left behind by the government's response. Those supporting themselves through casual work and study have not been able to access any of the assistance that the government have offered. Young people see our parliament doing nothing about the man-made crisis of climate change, even after it was made so brutally apparent through the bushfires and the smoke crisis we had here in Canberra and given the detrimental impact it is having on our world. Young people have been amongst the most actively informed on these issues, and they see us doing nothing. As a constituent and mother of three put to me the other day, 'Young people at the moment feel that the adults have let them down, and this is a very worrying thing.'

Teenagers today have worries that I didn't have. But what might shock teenagers today is that when I was a teenager—and I know that you think that that was so long ago—we did know about climate change. Even when I was in primary school, we learnt about what we then called the greenhouse effect. But what my schoolfriends and I could never have imagined is that we would not have addressed it by now—that, in the year 2020, I would be standing in a parliament calling for action on climate change. I want this little child, who I don't know yet, to grow up with the same optimism that I had, to have faith in our democratic institutions, to have faith in humanity and to not feel let down by the adults. But we in this place have to earn that.

We couldn't control the advent of a global pandemic but we can control how we rebuild. We can support our universities to survive this crisis and build up our TAFE sector so that young people can train to take on the jobs of the future, and we can support them with adequate income support while they do this. We can ensure that stable jobs are created in sustainable industries like renewable energy. We can deliver a decent standard of living to all Australians by ensuring that our social security system provides that standard of living, by making sure that JobSeeker never returns to the inadequate rates of Newstart that we had before the pandemic.

We can look more broadly at the system, including family payments, to address the problems for the one in six Australian children who currently live in poverty. We can increase the age of criminal responsibility so that we stop putting children as young as 10 in jail; mostly First Nations children—and I'm proud to say that, last week, the ACT became the first jurisdiction to commit to this. We can begin to address the gap in life outcomes that First Nations children born today still face, beginning by delivering on the Uluru Statement in full and giving First Nations people the voice to parliament, enshrined in the Constitution, that they have asked for. We could show today's youth that we uphold our international obligations and that we are a truly welcoming and multicultural country by not locking people up in detention who are exercising their legal right to seek asylum. We could start by getting two little girls, Tharunicaa and Kopika, out of immigration detention on Christmas Island and returning them to Biloela, where they belong. Or we can snap back to old ways and continue down the conservative agenda of derision and of haves and have-nots.

I say to young people today that the adults don't want to let you down and that my Labor colleagues and I are fighting in this place for a fairer future.