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‘A recovery that puts people first’: A group of young Australians is demanding a government job guarantee to fight both soaring unemployment and climate change

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  • Young people are protesting the cuts to the JobSeeker allowance, and urging the government to tackle genuine reform instead.
  • As Australia faces health, economic and climate crises, grassroots campaigners at the Tomorrow Movement are advocating the government to implement a job guarantee.
  • The proposal would see the government effectively hire unemployed Australians to bolster sectors from healthcare to public housing to improve services and prepare for the effects of climate change.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

While the coronavirus itself might be indiscriminate, its economic impact has certainly hit young people the hardest.

Youth unemployment has risen to 16.4%, more than double the headline rate, with government forecasts pointing to more pain ahead.

As Treasury presented its budget update inside Parliament House on Thursday, young Australians marched outside to demand genuine reform.

“Young people all over the country are being left behind. We need an approach to recovering from this crisis that puts people first and creates good jobs and a society that works for all of us,” protest organiser Bella Himmelreich said.

The demonstration is part of the Tomorrow Movement, a relatively new national grassroots group led by volunteers rallying for major economic and climate reforms.

With Australia headed for its first recession in three decades, they are urging policymakers to look for new economic solutions rather than returning to policies that the group say have failed time and time again.

“Young people were already suffering before the coronavirus crisis [with] high unemployment, unaffordable housing and a climate crisis. We refuse to go back to a world that didn’t work for all of us,” Himmelreich said. “That’s why we’ll keep fighting for a recovery that puts people first.”

To put the country back to work and kickstart a genuine recovery, the group proposes policymakers adopt what’s known as a ‘job guarantee’. It would essentially see the government unconditionally hire all Australians who are looking for work in full-time minimum wage positions.

“If we want to get people back into jobs, there’s no shortage of meaningful work to be done in public housing, public health, aged care, climate, the arts and so many other areas,” communications lead James Clark told Business Insider Australia. “Why not put the country to work to meet the shortages we know we have?”

“We have to rebuild the economy but there’s no point rebuilding it the way it was before because it simply wasn’t working for most people, and it was especially failing the young,” he said.

The idea, while extreme for a Coalition government, has been endorsed by union groups including the United Workers Union as well as GetUp.

“These aren’t radical ideas. In a country as wealthy as Australia, they’re common sense and basic decency,” GetUp organisers said, outlining the policy as part of their proposed economic blueprint.

While the policy has been floating around for some time, progressive campaigners see the current coronavirus crisis as the perfect opportunity to be bold. Take Spain, which this month embarked on the world’s largest experiment with a universal basic income for 850,000 of its citizens. Even Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), the idea that governments like Australia can essentially print money without restraint, has become a mainstay of the news cycle.

However, while there might be growing public appetite for progressive solutions, the Morrison government is going in the other direction. It revealed it will take a knife to wage subsidies and welfare in September, a move Himmelreich and others naturally oppose.

“Pushing people into poverty doesn’t create jobs, it just makes it harder for hundreds of thousands of people to survive. The government must keep the rate of all social security payments above the poverty line,” Himmelreich said.

The government will cut $300 from the fortnightly payment in September, with most of the 1.6 million recipients to be reduced to $815. Modelling from the Australia Institute shows the move will push 375,000 Australians, including 80,000 children, below the poverty line.

With the current coronavirus supplement due to end entirely in December, unemployed Australians will then have to make do with just $282 a week.

The Morrison government justifies the cuts on the premise that heightened welfare discourages Australians from finding work. From August, recipients will again be required to meet ‘mutual obligations’, requiring them to apply for a determined number of positions in order to qualify for payments.

However, with hundreds of thousands more Australians expected to lose their jobs over the next six months, the activists at the Tomorrow Movement aren’t buying it.

“Young people are looking around and they know there are no jobs. Now they’re being told they need to go and apply for jobs that don’t exist,” Clark said. “If you’re in Melbourne and all of your experience is in hospitality or retail, how on earth are you meant to find a job at the moment?”

Part of registered charity Young Campaigns, the Tomorrow Movement is planning a series of protests against the cuts. It’ll see young people take action on 18 September to warn there’s no turning back.

The group is rallying for something akin to America’s Green New Deal, promoting the idea that twin economic and climate crises can be addressed collectively, through targeted public spending and the rapid growth of sustainable industries. It’s this idea that forms the very core of the movement.

“A lot of young people don’t really see much point in getting through the pandemic only for climate change to ruin their lives in 20 years anyway,” Clark said.

“Our mission is to help them find their voices and mobilise to fight for the future.”

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