Today, we’re bringing you an interview with Dr Anne Aly, Australia’s Minister for Youth. Billi Fitzsimons, TDA’s editor, interviewed the Minister recently to put the hard questions to her. In this chat, we’re gonna hear exactly what the Minister actually does and what are her plans for her time in government.
Billi: Dr. Anne Aly, thank you so much for joining The Daily Aus.
Anne: Pleasure, Billi. Thanks for having me.
Billi: When we told our audience that we were interviewing the youth minister, a lot of people didn’t know that we had a youth minister, so I guess my first question is what do you do?
Anne: So what I do as the Minister for Youth, I see my role as not necessarily speaking for youth, but as creating a platform for young people to have a say and for young people to have a say in the policies and the things that we do in government that affect them.
Billi: And you’ve now been in the role for more than a year, what has been your biggest achievement?
Anne: I think the biggest achievement really is re-establishing the office for youth. Right now we’re out there doing some consultations with young people about how you want to work with us, how you want the government to work with young people, how you want to have your say.
Billi: So it sounds like there’s a lot of consultation, a lot of listening, but what are the actual policy outcomes that you can point to and say “That came from a suggestion from the Youth Steering Committee”?
Anne: That’s what we’re working on now. So that Youth Steering Committee and those five youth advisory groups are currently working on policies that will have particular outcomes for young people. What we wanna do is work with every other department and every other minister because everything in all of those other ministerial portfolios impact on young people, and that’s how we want to work, and that’s how the Office for Youth and the Steering Committee and the five advisory groups will work.
Billi: So we’re yet to see the tangible policy outcomes of that committee?
Anne: That’s right. It’s all happening right at the moment.
Billi: You obviously spend a lot of time talking to young people. In your eyes, what is the biggest issue facing young people?
Anne: This is something that we’ve asked young people, what are the biggest issues for you? And the five top issues were: cost of living, housing, mental health, climate change and the environment. They’re the five issues, not from me, but from what young people have told us when we’ve gone out and spoken to them.
Billi: I want to focus on mental health first. Your government made the decision to cut the number of subsidised mental health sessions from 20 down to 10. As the Youth Minister, what role did you play in that decision?
Anne: Let’s go back and have some background on that. The reason for that was because an evaluation of the program and research on the program showed that it wasn’t effective. It wasn’t working in terms of increasing accessibility to mental health services for young people.
Billi: The review, though, didn’t recommend scrapping the sessions. It recommended keeping them with additional measures to ensure better targeting. So why not do that?
Anne: So what we did was reinvest that money into things that we know are going to work, and that’s where our youth mental health advisory group is really working, with the minister responsible, with the department responsible in looking at how do we ensure that every young person who needs access to mental health services can get access to mental health services.
Billi: I just wanna be really clear though, that with the subsidised mental health sessions, The Opposition has said that if they were in government, they would increase it back to 20. That’s not something your government is considering.
Anne: Look, I’m not the Minister for Mental Health, so I don’t know if that’s something –
Billi: Do you personally think that we should consider it?
Anne: I think we should listen to the research and the evaluation, and I think we should listen to the young people, the advisory group that we have, and talk to them and take their lead because they have lived experience of mental health and you get the best advice from people with lived experience.
Billi: So let’s say that the Youth Steering Committee, all of them said to the government, we really think that subsidised mental health sessions should be increased back up to 20. How much influence can they actually have?
Anne: That would be a matter for the respective minister in that area. I would hope that when young people say “we need this” and “we want this” and “this is what works for us”, that they would be listened to, and that’s –
Billi: But not necessarily acted on?
Anne: Well, that’s really what I see my role as, to advocate for what young people are saying they want. So if they say they want that, then my role as their minister is to also advocate for that.
Billi: Moving on, a big issue for young people is also the increase to HECS debt, which went up by 7.1% this year, the highest in decades. There are ways to make it more manageable, like tying HECS to wages instead of inflation, for example. Do you personally think that the way HECS is indexed needs to be changed?
Anne: So right now we’ve recognised that that’s an issue, and right now we’ve got the Department of Education working with the ATO on that. We’ve also got a whole review into universities and they delivered a halfway report to the Education Minister last week. And a lot of that report was really about people who are actually locked out of higher education altogether.
I think our priority really is around how do we increase access to university. That said, HECS or HELP, as it’s now called, is part of that review, and the final report will be delivered before the end of the year, and certainly it will be looking at HELP.
Billi: The government’s actively looking at how it’s being indexed?
Billi: I want to turn to lowering the voting age. I heard you talk about this the other day, and you said that voting isn’t the only way for young people to be politically active, but can you explain why the government is not in favour of lowering the voting age to 16?
Anne: Well, The first thing I’ll say is that when I go out and talk with young people, lowering the voting age is not one of the top five issues that comes up. The second thing I’ll say about that is I don’t want young people to think that voting is the only agency that they have in making change.
Billi: I understand there are of course, other ways to be politically active, but I just wanna be really clear, why is the government against lowering the voting age to 16?
Anne: I think against is a really strong thing. I think the word is that it’s not a priority for us that young people have said they want us to focus on.
Billi: There are examples of young people suing governments for approving coal mines because they believe it neglects their right to a healthy environment. Do you believe that governments should have a legal obligation to protect young people from the effects of climate change?
Anne: Oh, that’s a really deep question, isn’t it? Look, I think we’ll see what the courts come out with on that one.
Billi: But regardless of what the courts say, what do you think?
Anne: I do think that governments have a responsibility to ensure that young people’s rights are upheld across a whole range of issues.
Billi: So when your government is approving a new coal mine, which it has done, is the government actively considering the impact that it will have on future generations?
Anne: I think we do actively consider that, but there are a whole range of other considerations that come into play as well. We have made a huge commitment to transitioning to clean, renewable energy, so I think we’ve demonstrated that commitment to a clean energy future for –
Billi: Coal mines are still being approved.
Anne: When we say transition, transition means now and into the future.
Billi: Let’s look at housing, another big cost of living issue. A lot of people are experiencing rental stress at the moment, and we know that young people are predominantly renters. What is your government doing to help young renters?
Anne: So there’s some things that we did in the last budget around our cost of living measures, and that includes increasing rental assistance, the first time that that’s been done in 30 years, and I think that was a pretty huge step in increasing rental assistance. Let’s be very clear though, that rents and tenancies are the responsibility of states. What the housing minister has done and, and is continuing to do is working with states. That’s what we can do is work with states on what they can do to release pressure of rentals for young people and anyone who rents really.
Billi: Just lastly, let’s fast forward two years. What do you hope to have achieved for young people in this country?
Anne: Two years. Okay. Fast forward two years. I’m trying. I can’t even fast forward two weeks, hun. Let’s try.
Billi: By the next election.
Anne: By the next election, what I wanna achieve is I want us to have our youth engagement strategy, and that’s really about asking young people, “What do you want your government to do” and “how do you want your government to work with you to make sure that, that you are seen and you are heard”?
So I want at the end of two years to have a very clear vision of what young people want and how young people want to work with us, and I want young people also to have a clear vision of that as well.
Billi: Dr. Anne Aly, thank you so much for joining us.
Anne: Pleasure. Thanks so much, Billi.