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Lianne Dalziel speech to Youthline Conference

Labour
2000 web siteSpeech by Lianne Dalziel
Labour Spokesperson on Youth
Youthline Conference, Dunedin

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning.

I wish I could come here today, and say that your work as Youthline counsellors would soon be over. That the worries and concerns that drive young people to use your service had been significantly diminished. That the next generation of young people, entering their teens today, would have more security and a greater sense of purpose than the ones that preceeded them. Sadly for a great many that simply is not true.

The reason that I say this is as a result of a headline in last week's Dominion.

It says one in four children in New Zealand have no parent in paid work. This article says plenty about what that means for today - but it says much more about what that means for tomorrow.

These children are tomorrow's teenagers and many of them will be tomorrow's tragic statistics as well.

This story says that a quarter of our children are starting behind the eight-ball before they are even born.

I can see the next generation of politicians wringing their hands when youth rates of suicide, crime, pregnancy, go through the roof, and then saying 'Where are we going wrong?'

But it won't be them, because as we know the seeds of tomorrow's discontent are sown today.

If we are going to make a difference in the lives of the next generation, then we have to start now. A government that refuses to acknowledge the reality of children growing up on the poverty line, is criminally negligent to the future generation.

In the time I have been in Parliament, if I've learned anything, I've learned this: that early intervention does work and the earlier the better.

Supporting struggling families with extra help will help those children a lot more than the public denigration they have been subjected to from the National and ACT parties.

Yesterday the Minister of Justice was slamming us for not being tough on crime because we wouldn't vote for a stupid Bill that creates stupid anomalies.

But that's the same Minister who won't get tough on the causes of crime - like poverty, like unemployment, like the lack of hope that pervades the young people who have no choices. No wonder the gangs gather prospects so easily from an alienated group such as this.

The risk factors that identify potential suicide are the same risk factors that identify potential criminal activity, potential teenage pregnancy and potential unemployment.

If that is the only 'potential' we offer the next generation, then we have a lot to answer for.

Ironically, it seems everyone's suddenly interested in the youth vote, even to the extent of suggesting that Mrs Shipley get tattooed or body pierced. But when we look at what measures this government has introduced affecting young people, you have to ask where has the voice of youth been when these decisions were made.

Let's just consider a few of the changes :-

§ Scrapping UB and DPB for 16-17 year olds
§ Reducing UB rates for 18-19 year olds at home
§ Tightened criterion for IYB and forcing kids to apply for it because no other income
§ Scrapping training benefit
§ Higher thresholds for student allowances
§ Scrapping EUB for students who don't get allowances
§ Student loan scheme out of control
§ Minimum wage for 18 and 19 year olds still $4.20 per hour

And yesterday the last group of 16 & 17 year olds lost their Youth Corps allowances with the transfer of the payments from Youth Affairs to WINZ.

Where has the voice of young people been? And why does the government keep trying to silence that voice? The attacks on the Student Associations was an attempt to silence the democratic voice of youth, and the Ministry of Youth Affairs is 'for the chop' under the guise of an overarching social policy review.

Often as people working directly with young people you are the ones who become the political voice of those young people who feel disenfranchised, or are not confident to challenge the powers that be. Then you face pressure from the funding agencies - with the 'don't bite the hand that feeds you' scenario.

Labour is working with the voluntary sector on a community compact which will develop proper processes for funding and accountability measures that will sustain community agencies not run them into the ground.

In terms of Labour's Youth Policy - we are still working on the detail but, at this stage, it is focused on three words:

Investment
Identity
Independence

Labour is prepared to make a real investment in young people through strong health, education and training policies which include new apprenticeships as a priority.

Labour believes identity is an important part of development. Knowing who you are and where you have come from is an important part of knowing where you are going.

Self-awareness, self-respect and self-confidence are vital in this regard. It is through these that relationships with friends, families and communities are strengthened, and we know that these connections are vital in the lives of young people.

And Labour wants young people to achieve independence equipped with good information as well as good decision-making and communication skills, so they are ready, willing and able to be involved in their communities and to achieve their full potential in life.

This is proper preparation for adult world that we owe to young people.

If we refuse to arm them with the information and skills then we leave them exposed to such consequences as teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol addiction, and early death through high risk behaviour and suicide.

Labour also believes that it is vital that youth workers and others who work directly with young people are well trained, operate under professional, ethical and culturally appropriate standards, and are well-resourced to undertake that support role in the community. It is only through this commitment that we provide not only the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff but also as the fence at the top, where, I continue to mantain, the greatest rewards can be found.

It is only in partnership that we can truly begin to address the issues young people are confronted with today. Central and local government, non-government organisations, grassroots community providers and young people themselves under a Labour government will be given the opportunity to focus on the solutions.

Policy proposals will be subjected to a social check as well as a fiscal check, and that will include the impacts on children and young people.

But more importantly, Labour is prepared to challenge the market philosophy that says that all intervention is wrong and that says every social agency must enter a competitive market place in order to be efficient. Labour says that's nonsense.

And we look forward to the challenge that the not-too-distant future presents of working in partnership with you to again restore to New Zealand the once-proud claim - that this is a great place to bring up children.

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