For 16 years, Operation Newstart has been helping disaffected teenagers that are struggling at school by taking them out of said school for an entire term (bonus!) Half of their time is then spent outdoors doing different physical activities that help build their self-esteem, while the other half is spent volunteering and pursuing vocational training.
Brayden Cartwright, who was interviewed on the ABC's PM, learnt through the program not only how to surf, but also how to envision a larger sense of future. "School doesn't give you those opportunities to view other people's
perspectives. You learn to work as a team.
"I didn't pay much attention [at school]; I
didn't care too much. I mean, depression and anxiety and a lot of stress
weren't really helping. I didn't know what I was going to do in life,
where I was going to go. I was just going to be a bum on the streets. So
they really helped."
But unfortunately, now the Victoria Police - a major component in delivery of the program - has pulled out, stating that while it still wants to work with disengaged kids it is going to follow its own tack to do it. This has been a big blow to Operation Newstart, effectively meaning that they needed to suspend their Bendigo and Frankston programs. And now the Federal Government has withdrawn the $300,000 grant promised by the previous Labor Government to fill in the gaps left by the departure of the police in terms of delivery of the program, which puts in doubt the ability of the program to continue. The Federal Government wishes instead to put that money towards its own method of tackling the problem of youth crime, which happens to be installing more CCTV cameras and better lighting.
Control, not empowerment. Um, yeah, awesome idea. Take teenagers who have plenty of reasons to feel alienated and disenfranchised because their culture is one cold, alienated and disenfranchised biatch herself, and doesn't support them in the ways they're screaming out for internally, where life is confusing and changing and they're scrabbling to keep up with it. What better wise way to deal with those kids who are falling off the edges of everything by installing having even more electronic eyes to watch them from a distance and make them even more anxious and suspicious? Awesome vision there.
Operation Newstart says that it is doing the work that governments should be doing when it comes to helping to cut youth crime. I'm not so sure I agree with that statement. I mean, I feel confused these days about what role I believe a government is meant to play ~ I have a left-wing heart but I'm in agreement with those on the right when it comes to the need for limits to government size, at least when it comes to the calibre of government we see in the dying days of the Western Empire.
A government's influence (which seems so often to translate into abuse of power and control) seems to me to grow in proportion to its distrust of its citzenry, compounding their resultant powerlessness and alienation. We as a people are so routinely and regularly watched over, inspected, prodded and noiselessly threatened from afar that I don't even know if we even recognise half the time what that kind of environment has done to us.
I tend to think of a government's function primarily as a large centre of administration of our money and resources, rather than it being the province of things like keeping crime under control. The government should be a centralised place from which we can use our money in ways that will benefit us as a society. For that to happen, a government needs to have a level of trust in its citizens, where it gives them free rein instead of smothering them under accountability standards and red tape. Australia is so burdened by bureaucracy I reckon its edges must be starting to melt into the sea.
At this point in time anyway, governments are not good at operating in any other method other than the stock-standard old empire methods of control that alienates us all further. It is exactly the same way that our economic system functions, to keep us in slavery to running the rat wheel instead of being able to put our best talents to use for the benefit of ourselves and other people, and to receive their talents in return. Money is supposed to be a bridge between my talents and yours, not the seven-lane megahighway that shunts us all into the emergency lanes. The elements that are meant to be tools for our empowerment have instead become the hammers that smash us over the head.
I was a disaffected and alienated teenager once, and she doesn't beat so far down beneath my chest even these days, and I know for a fact that what you need most as a teenager is a tiny bit of security when there's barely none, belief from the adults around you that it's okay to let go and experiment, and evidence that those same adults aren't really a bunch of rather stupid dicks. Teenagers don't need much encouragement to think adults are dicks because that's part of the terrain that goes from being a child to becoming an adult. Teenagerhood is all about breaking free. Cultures other than ours have recognised this and initiations and rituals have been built into this time of life as par for the course ~ powerful, symbolic, culturally-embedded tools that helped teenagers move forward out of their comfort zones, learn to depend on themselves, take responsibility. We might not agree with the methods of some of those rituals and rites, and some of them might seem dodgy to our modern day sensibilities, but they served useful purposes. Ones that might have helped me feel less derailed myself, helped to encourage my own burgeoning sense of curiosity about the world, helped me to hone my risk-taking into stuff that might have been good instead of shagging guys when I was way too young for it and getting pissed every weekend because that was the only ritual going round that appealed to me. Seems crazy and shortsighted to me now, even when I think back to that same teenager because she had such an intense desire to engage and understand the world, to be given a chance. She couldn't have articulated it, but she was ripe for some ritual and ceremony and passage-riting, but unfortunately there were none for the taking in the culturally dead Australia of the 1980's.
And not much seems to have changed. Which is why initiatives like Operation Newstart are such important ones, and why relying on the government to initiate enterprises which work, that create meaning, that give us a sense of being the writers of our own story, is not something we should hold our breaths for. Because as far as I can see, the only language the Abbottoir Federal Government seems to speak is the usual one of control, fearmongering, and of adherence to the status quo. The last thing they want is for people to be empowered.
We must do that ourselves. Change has never, ever come from the top. Not the sort we're all looking for, or need, anyway. The sort of change that ... well, will change everything.