Thursday 2 September 2010
Legislative Council Hansard


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, I know my special interest speech today will be of special interest to the member for Launceston - he must have known - who is a Whitelion ambassador, and also to the member for Rumney because she is the minister responsible for youth justice, and I am sure she will readily acknowledge that Tasmania's youth justice system is under a lot of pressure. It has to deal with a very complex problem which is difficult to understand without knowing what goes on in the minds of the young people in our community. Its role is absolutely vital - vital because a properly functioning youth justice system can effectively rehabilitate troubled young people and help them back into society if it has sufficient resources, and I suspect the member for Rumney would like more government resources for Tasmania's youth justice system.

Ms Thorp - I don't think there is a minister alive who wouldn't say yes to that.

Mr FINCH - However, I will point out that these resources are finite. The contribution of the non-government sectors I think needs to be recognised and supported, Madam President. I have known of the work of the Whitelion organisation for some time, and its success came to my attention again at a recent youth employment showcase in Launceston on 18 August. More than 200 young people had the opportunity to meet employers and participate in workshops providing job interview experience, and to find out what employers are looking for. That showcase targeted young people disconnected or at risk of being disconnected from education, training or employment to meet in person with employers and training organisations, to be interviewed for job positions, for work experience and/or vocational training placements, and to attend workshops. The result was that 50 young people applied for jobs. A principal organiser of that showcase was Whitelion's project manager, Neil Warnock, who has in-depth experience of young people with problems and, among other jobs, he managed Ashley some years ago. And he made a difference. If I put it this way, Madam President, Neil Warnock probably understands what goes on in troubled kids' heads better than anyone. The basis for Whitelion's success in my view is its mentoring program. Young people, particularly young males, from disrupted homes need role models. The introductory paragraph in Whitelion's fact sheet says:

'Whitelion is a non-profit organisation that supports disadvantaged young people to live more positive and fulfilled lives. Each year thousands of young people are disconnected from their community due to abuse, neglect, drug addiction and poverty. These young people have often had horrific life experiences, with few positive role models, and are caught in a "cycle of discouragement" that is very hard to break. Many end up in out-of-home care and, in some cases, in the youth justice system.'

While the youth justice system might have some success in helping troubled young people avoid becoming troubled adults in Risdon, organisations like Whitelion can help them not end up in the Youth Justice system in the first place. That is the hope. The estimated average annual cost for each bed in the youth custodial justice system is $164 000 and much more in the adult custodial system. Whitelion says that it costs $10 000 to fully engage one young person by providing them with a mentor and supporting them through the development of their work readiness skills and employment. I know that the Treasurer is listening very carefully there. It makes economic sense, and any State spending to support organisations like Whitelion would also make sense. Whitelion provides a variety of programs including early intervention, role modelling, mentoring, employment, leadership and specialist outreach support designed to cater for the particular life stage that young people may find themselves in.

Whatever the mix and composition, all programs are focused on developing positive relationships with what they call significant others and providing access to opportunities for social and skills development. Whitelion programs complement those provided by the statutory health and welfare systems. This holistic approach in identifying the needs of young people helps reconnect them with the community and reduces offending behaviour. I am here to speak in support. In conclusion, the positive initiatives that Whitelion offer to the troubled young people in our communities should have support from all those involved in the political process. It is not a party issue, it is a human issue.

Glenn Manton and a lot of good people are coming on board. Thank you, Madam President.