The Deputy Premier and our local member were in Nambucca Heads yesterday to hold a special roundtable to address the main issues affecting our youth.
Representatives from the Bellingen Youth Hub, Nambucca Youth Hub (the Youthie), Reconnect, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Regional Development Australia MNC (RDAMNC), Kempsey PCYC, Nambucca Shire Council, and Macksville High’s Aboriginal Education Officer attended the event to highlight issues and weigh in on possible solutions.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional New South Wales John Barilaro said in his discussions four key problem areas kept popping up: drugs, suicide, mental health and youth unemployment.
He said while it’s easy to celebrate the lowest rate of unemployment in NSW in a very long time, there’s just no going past the fact that youth unemployment is at an all-time high.
He spoke of his desire to leave a lasting legacy, which he believes needs to be centred on our next generation.
“We want to set up a toolbox of resources that communities can draw on when they need to, and I believe this needs to be a local approach,” he said.
“This government has not historically had the best track record when it comes to this, but I firmly believe in prioritising trust in local community organisations over a centralised approach to accountability.
“Everyone talks about how large is better, but I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it works for Regional Australia.
“And what we've heard in our other roundtables is that if you’re going to make a difference, then short-term funding is inadequate. You need a funding envelope for up to 10 years.”
Chris Hewgill and Deirdre Bear from the Youthie agreed with this last sentiment, adding that the loss of funding for Headspace was a major blow to the Nambucca Valley.
Deirdre said the promise of an outreach centre in the Valley after Headspace was centralised in Coffs Harbour never eventuated and that utilising a vital youth mental health service like Headspace from 50km away was absurd.
Twenty-year-old Caelen Smith who was one of two youth advocates at the meeting agreed that to expect Nambucca’s young people to access help and other vital services in Coffs Harbour when there is a dearth of efficient transport to and from is a major problem for people his age.
He suggested that a service that helps to organise appointments and travel arrangements would be helpful for young people who often feel overwhelmed by the laborious process.
“But the reality is most kids who are in crisis won’t travel to Coffs Harbour – there’s a whole lot of fear and anxiety wrapped up in that,” Dean Besley from the Bellingen Youth Hub said.
“And a lot of our kids won’t talk with strangers, so this notion of ‘coffee club’ workers who fly in for one day just doesn’t work.
“It’s got to be local empowerment. It’s got to be local people on the ground doing the work. Centralisation doesn’t work. Every time something goes to an institution things get a bit wobbly.”
Director of RDAMNC and Bowra local Kerry Grace said that short-term funding arrangements often undermined the capacity of local services to build up their workforces.
Chris Hewgill agreed that more grass-roots funding was needed, adding that the Youthie had been “running for many years on the community’s good will”.
“And all you have to do is fund a basic little thing, not million dollar initiatives – although a million dollars would be nice.
“Our communities are very good at running things and what we’re looking for is more of a partnership with governments. When a ‘flavour of the month’ program is introduced we get very cranky.
“You need to invest in things like the Youth Centre, but you also need to invest in people’s ideas.”
David Stamel from Reconnect also highlighted another important issue for young people in the Nambucca and Bellinger Valleys: a lack of viable accommodation options for young people who become homeless.
Kerry Grace agreed that a lot of innovation was required in the space of affordable housing.
She also added that incentives were needed to assist employers to hire young people.
Ms Pavey and Mr Barilaro thanked the representatives for their honest appraisals and resolved to work on strategies to introduce legislation which cements long-term funding for our grass-roots services; the idea being that legislation is a lot harder to overturn than funding agreements when there is a change in government.