Yassmin Abdel-Magied: The gift of belonging to Australia’s future

When thinking about policy areas that require attention and improvement for young Australians, there are many to choose from.

The most obvious is youth unemployment. The reality is hundreds of young people are finishing school and graduating from tertiary education without an obvious career path, and there is a lack of clarity around where the ‘jobs of the future’ lie.

Given that the unemployment rate for young Australians between the ages of 15 and 24 is at 13.9 percent, the highest since 1998, and the underutilisation rate is sitting between 28 and 32 percent, it is clear that some level of policy change is required.

At a very minimum, there needs to be investment in areas where young people are excelling, such as entrepreneurship and social enterprise. However, this is not new, and there are many young Australians and organisations anxiously waiting for this to happen. Social enterprise, one could argue, is now in vogue and it just needs governments to catch up.

What else then?

Well, according to the seminal report conducted by the Foundation of Young Australians, and the less official but equally relevant polls conducted on my Facebook page, other areas of concern for young Australians include the environment, health care access and housing affordability. In fact, young Australians (broadly) care about roughly the same issues as the previous generations, just in different ways and slightly different orders.

However, for those young Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, life isn’t as straightforward.

Certainly, the experience of young CALD communities are incredibly varied. An experience of a young Muslim woman of colour is not going to be the same as a young third generation Vietnamese man. However, there are elements of the Australian experience that we share, which is primarily around finding our place in the Australian story.

For those who are visibly — and not so visibly — different to the social norm, thriving in this nation is not simply about finding a job and affording a house. Sit in on any conversation on multicultural policy in Australia and two words will no doubt be bandied about: identity and belonging. Why, and why are they so important?

It is not as if being from a diverse background is unusual. In Australia, almost half the population is either born overseas or has a parent born outside Australia. We are, statistically, a diverse nation. We know it too — the Scanlon report on Social Cohesion discusses how roughly 85 per cent of Australians believe multiculturalism has been good for Australia. We accept that we are a multicultural nation, yet you could be forgiven for forgetting, given the kind of language allowed to be thrown about after events such as the Paris attacks in November this year.

Imagine living in a society where people who look like you or share your story of arrival are portrayed in one way only. Imagine never getting a right of reply. Imagine being asked to apologise for things that have nothing to do with you. Imagine having to constantly prove your ‘Australian-ness’ without even really knowing what that means. Imagine having to convince people to be compassionate towards those who are different. Imagine being expected to choose between where you call home and what you believe.

The difficulty then, for young CALD Australians, is the fact that they must deal with all the issues facing any young Australian, as well as constant and persistent questions about who they are and where they belong. There are no easy answers. There is not even the space to ask questions or make mistakes because with one strike, you’re out.


It means that as a nation we are missing out. We are losing out on the beauty of a truly diverse nation. We are forgoing the wonder that can come from having young people with different perspectives invested in making Australia the best nation it can possibly be.

It is incredibly wasted potential.

What is called for isn’t a policy change but a complete mindset change. There must be no allowance in our public conversation for vitriol and hate-filled tirades that make young CALD Australians feel like outsiders in their own homes.

This is a plea for those influential (and not-so-influential) members of society to rise above primal gut reactions to admittedly terrifying events, or even the increased levels of pluralism in our society. It is a plea for leaders to sell a vision that encourages Australians to be more accepting, more compassionate and more resilient to forces that wish to divide us.

We need to realise that in order for us to be the society we claim to be, we have to work a little harder at being united and accepting of each other. We have the opportunity and the right ingredients for it, so why not?

At the end of the day, what so many young people want is simply to be heard. To have a seat at the table where their views are listened to, respected and taken on board.

This is even more relevant for young Australians from CALD backgrounds. Every man, woman and their dog wants to speak on behalf of us, and to tell us, whether implicitly or explicitly, that we do not belong or that our perspectives are not worth listening to.

There is a level of fragility in our country’s fabric that speaks to our discomfort with who we were, are and what we want to be. We need those who hold power to step up to the occasion. We need leaders who have a vision for a truly inclusive and resilient society and then demand that we become that nation. We can, and we must.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied is the 2015 Queensland Young Australian of the year. 

This is the first piece in CPD’s ‘Secret Santas for Australia’ series. Each day we will reveal one ‘gift’ of good ideas from a prominent Australian on a policy issue close to their heart. You can see the full set here

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