Zali Steggall MP speaks on supporting at-risk youth in the community

4 September 2023

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Today I rise to speak about the very important work in our community. These community organisations in the electorate of Warringah are supporting at-risk communities and in particular at-risk youth. The two organisations that I want to bring to the Parliament and the Government's attention are Youth Up Front, and Streetworks. I recently met with these two organisations. So, Youth Up Front and Streetworks are doing fantastic work delivering local crime prevention initiatives for youth in our community. Youth Up Front, through its links to learning program, and the Perfect Presence Pilot Program, delivers early intervention programs for students who have been identified as at-risk of disengaging from school and their learning.

So, it is so important that we catch them early. These programs aim to support students, so they feel strong connections to school and learning and that they are supported to build on personal and social capabilities. The programs were funded through a combination of NSW Government funding and Federal Government funding through the Safer Communities Program.

But now we know that that funding has now been jeopardised and has no ongoing visibility. Safer Communities grant program was politicised under the previous government and has since been discontinued by the current government. The Auditor-General declared that funding decisions were not appropriately informed by departmental briefings, and for the majority of the decisions the basis of the decision was not clearly recorded. So, I understand and appreciate the need to clean house and politicise grant programs, but despite this I've written to, and I urge the treasurer and the Attorney General not to throw out the good with the bad.

New funding and long-term certainty for programs to encourage youth and young adults to reengage with education and employment opportunities and are especially important as we emerge from the isolation and the impact of COVID on young people. The isolation of final years of schooling at home could lead to increasing levels of anti-social behaviour and further strain on government services over the long term.

Justice reform and breaking the cycle fund: the cause of organisations like Youth Up Front have been echoed by the Justice Reform Initiative, who are fighting for the reform of approaches to the treatment of youth in the justice system, and preventing the detention of young people and adolescents. I support the call for the establishment of a Breaking the Cycle fund, in the context of the Wellbeing Budget that the Treasurer speaks of.

I strongly support the principles of proactive intervention and preventative measures that reduce the dependence on the justice system, policing, and detention for young people. These are a drain on the resources of society and the state and ultimately unsuccessful to achieve meaningful change in behaviour and positive outcomes for those who enter the system. We need the actions of Youth Up Front and Streetworks.