...The social justice statement of the major Christian Churches for 1984 was called "It's a Rocky Road". It identified as the result of surveys what are the concerns of youth in these difficult times. That report identified three major concerns. These were:
Is it wrong to identify lack of personal opportunity as a major concern? The opportunity to work, the opportunity to study, the opportunity to have a valued place in our society.
An issue of this magnitude should be at the top of the agenda of every political party and should be reflected in its Councils and its policies. Policies to create jobs, to increase productivity, to train and to retrain, to make it possible for average Australians to share fully in the life of the nation, to help people know that they are valued as individuals rather than as anonymous cogs in the corporate State, to guarantee that education will be exciting and worthwhile and available to them to study subjects which relate to their world, their lives and their needs.
...And the issue of income security and income justice is closely related to the issue of opportunity. We need urgently a major and high quality debate on the question of the responsibilities of families to the support of adult student children. We need a critical analysis of the rationale and the equity of a system with thirty- seven different cash benefits for the young, with different levels of benefits, with different income eligibility limits, with different withdrawal rates as other income rises, and still with incomplete coverage for some people in genuine and desperate need.
...The third great issue is peace. Put simply, the young believe that their elders are about to destroy the earth in nuclear war - either out of madness or indifference. The young are angry and desolate about the threats they see. So angry that on this issue alone, they gave their votes to the false prophets of the NDP and the Democrats.
How is it possible that we Liberals have failed so completely to communicate our horror of war, of our determination to preserve peace, of our successes in locking up nuclear weapons for forty years? How is it that the NDP, advocating a policy which is not only incapable of achievement, but which could lead to loss of our liberty in a world of dictatorship, how is it that this party attracted such enormous support in such a short time?
The answer has to be that the NDP was saying something important to a lot of people, was addressing a vital issue, and was touching it in a way that young voters found better than other parties, including the Liberal Party. And this NDP campaign has resulted in one Senator elected - an amazing result with a message for those of us in the established parties.
If the NDP can do this, cannot we do better? Clearly we can. Equally clearly, we have not. No one knew of our excellent policy on disarmament or of our successes over three decades. Doing better, communi- cating better, being relevant, has to do with the issues that we choose to discuss at policy meetings such as this.
...If the Liberal Party is to relate to the vital needs and interests of the young, it is the Young Liberal Movement that should show the way. In International Youth Year the Young Liberal Movement should be leading the Party and should itself be emphasising the issues which youth has identified as most serious and most immediate.
For the Young Liberal Movement to achieve this, I suspect it must broaden its base. It is the largest formal political movement of the young but the Peter Garrett phenomenon drives home the fact that a large number of the young are ready to be attracted elsewhere. One of our problems is that we are a middle class party and the YLM is a middle class movement.
To be quite honest I do not care if you discuss or if you ignore the arcane minutiae of Government at this Conference. Do it by all means. But please concentrate your attention, for all our sakes as Liberals, on the issue of peace, on the issue of liberty, on the issue of a "Fair Go", on the issue of job creation, on the issue of opportunity and education.
In the end it is only by getting these issues right that we will be accepted by our idealistic and hopeful young
Address to 1 7th National Young Liberal Conference: 7 January 1985