‘Suicide and ice’ minister to save regional youth
A MINISTER for suicide and ice addiction will attempt to save youth in the bush, if the Coalition is returned to government.
With regional towns grappling with an ice scourge, high youth unemployment and a suicide rate that was twice as high as the city, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro said it was time to deal with the problems of young people in the bush head on.
The proposed new Cabinet position of "regional youth minister" will form part of a package of measures to be unveiled at the official campaign launch of the NSW Nationals in Queanbeyan today.
The minister will be charged with delivering the state's first regional youth strategy, tackling mental health, alcohol and drug rehabilitation and unemployment.
A Regional Youth Taskforce made up of community leaders and youth specialists with a track record of delivering will also be created to provide ongoing "grassroots" advice.
The government will also set up a new Office of Regional Youth, which will also address the issues of isolation and youth homelessness.
Half of the $100 million Stronger Country Communities Fund will also be directed towards programs aimed at supporting young people, including youth centres, PCYCs, sporting clubs and community colleges.
Mr Barilaro said the future of regional towns depended on the health of the state's youth.
The new minister would give young people outside the city a much-needed voice in Cabinet, he said.
"I have met with young people, police, youth advocates and youth hub representatives all over this state to get a true understanding of what is affecting our kids in regional NSW," Mr Barilaro said.
"Whether it is drug use, mental health issues, lack of opportunity or isolation I have learned that every town and every individual is different.
"As a government we must do better by our youth and provide tailored and ongoing support - we can build all the sports fields, schools, hospitals and highways in regional NSW, but it doesn't mean a thing if we don't have people to use them."
Anna Dugdale from the Youth Shack in Narrabri said the biggest challenge facing young people in the bush was access to services to tackle issues such as bullying, suicide and isolation.
"The drought is really bad, which impacts families and obviously then has a big impact on kids," she said.
"We are a town of 7000 people, so we don't get the specialist support that young people need."
The Nationals are under siege in six key seats, with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party posing a threat in Barwon and Murray, Labor making a play for Upper Hunter and Tweed, an independent in Coffs Harbour and the Greens in Lismore.
The party is attempting to win back disaffected voters through targeted policies such as a regional seniors card offering $250 free transport and petrol - a move political opponents dubbed "a bribe".