If a series of farcical events at Parliament House this week is any indication, K-Rudd’s pitch to be king of the kids is in serious trouble.

On Wednesday, leading youngsters were flown to Canberra and plied with Cabcharges and meals for a “roundtable” discussion with youth minister Kate Ellis. The idea was to gather ideas for the government’s forthcoming bookshelf stuffer, the National Strategy for Young Australians and launch a report, the State of Australia’s young people.

But the Minister failed to show up, the document wasn’t launched and the delegates were shuffled around the corridors of power before being banished from the premises because they had “run out of time”. Here’s one scathing account from a 22-year-old flown to Canberra to meet with the minister:

This was my experience of yesterday’s meeting in Canberra for consultation on the National Strategy for Young Australians:

  • Launch of the national report “State of Australia’s young people” at 11am
  • The Minister did not come, and we had an advisor person talk about this report which no one had read, no one had seen, we did not have copies in front of us, nor could we get them until tomorrow, when it officially launched. I can’t find the link on the site to the report to even attach and send it around.
  • One of the Minister’s support staff came in and apologised for the Minister not being about to attend because she had been in a meeting with the YouthDecide group … and she said “you know, and boy could they talk … they didn’t stop talking”
  • We then went to lunch, and were due to start the roundtable discussion at 1pm to 2.30pm. They double-booked the room and so escorted us to the cafe where we ‘hung out’ wasting time until we could go into the room.
  • We got to the room, where we were then informed again that the Minister would not be able to attend. A KPMG consultant started talking about the report, that we didn’t have and hadn’t read, until a participant interrupted her and requested we get to the reason why we were there — the National Strategy for Young Australians.
  • We then finally started, ran out of time, and were asked if we could stay later to keep the discussion going.

I left terribly uninspired, disappointed, and amazed at the money spent to put on such an event only to have it get cut short. Other people commented that other portfolios would not be treated in such a blasé manner, and I agree.

After a 24-hour delay, the report was finally launched yesterday afternoon without fanfare on the Australian Youth Forum’s website. It is unknown what pressing engagements had commanded Ellis’ attention although the Minister told Crikey she was in Parliament and “couldn’t attend every meeting”.

The aftermath has been ugly.

Foundation for Young Australians CEO and Young Australian of the Year nominee Adam Smith, who was involved in the “consultation” process, told Crikey that Wednesday’s events were “hugely disappointing”.

“The largest youth-led organisations have been ignored through this fraudulent process. Six or seven million dollars has been spent on these vehicles and they are failing to connect with majority of young Australians.” Ellis’ department has apparently spent $1.6 million in the past twelve months to consult the sector, including $80,000 on the Australian Youth Forum website, with little in the way of tangible benefits, Smith said.

Other delegates to Wednesday’s forum have spoken of “deep concern, disappointment and frustration with the current model of youth representation in Australia from all organisations.”

Another leading youth organisation has told Crikey this morning the government’s National Youth Strategy “came out of nowhere, with little consultation.”

The AYF website has proven a very damp squib. Leaked statistics on unique browsers reveal participation on the forums in the order of 1-200 users. Crikey understands the forums were largely devoid of submissions until Wednesday when Canberra delegates were encouraged by bureaucrats to write something nice in their downtime.

The latest SNAFU comes hot the heels of last month’s launch of the PM’s “youth blog“, which has shown few signs of life since it went online. Rudd’s crowning example of youth achievement — RM Williams making boots at 24 — drew loud guffaws from the young people the PM was apparently assisting to “Help build their futures”. On 25 September, two weeks after its launch, the blog was closed.

The overall strategy is completely muddled, insiders say. Rather than a phalanx of top-down managed “programs”, many of the bodies that attended Wednesday’s forum say that the better course of action would be for the government to empower the grassroots organisations already out there, like Vibewire and junior think tanks such as Left/Right.

Ms Ellis told Crikey that the PM had web-chatted live with young people yesterday as part of the National Conversation to inform the government’s youth strategy.

“This Government is engaging with young people at an unprecedented level and talking directly with thousands of young people from diverse backgrounds each year,” she said.

It’s still unclear whether the PM will end up, like Paul Keating, gracing the front cover of that yellowing boomer music bible Rolling Stone. But if the latest youth policy farce in Canberra is any indication, the damning allegations of spin over substance don’t look like abating anytime soon.

It’s time to book your next dose of Crikey.

Through the week, news comes at you fast. Every day there’s a new disaster, depressing numbers or a scandal to doom-scroll to. It’s exhausting, and not good for your health.

Book your next dose of Crikey to get on top of it all. Subscribe now and get your first 12 weeks for $12. And you’ll help us too, because every dollar we get helps us dig even deeper.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.