• Tony Ryall
Youth Affairs

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. First up, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor Deborah Morris. She brought a real flair, style and substance to this job. We wish her well with whatever she pursues in the future.

I'd like to focus on some of the issues in my Youth Affairs portfolio affecting young men and their risk-taking behaviour. Every one of us here tonight has had, or knows someone who has had their house broken into, their car stolen or stereo taken, a friend or family member assaulted, or worse, killed or seriously injured in a car accident involving young men, alcohol and speed.

It's no surprise that as a community, we can take a very dim view of some young men and the terrible cost their behaviour can cause to themselves, their families and the rest of us.

The fact is that there are rites of passage where young men test themselves that involve alcohol and cars. There are times when taking risks is a natural part of growing up. But for too many young men, the risks get out of hand.

In New Zealand, living life on-the-edge has become something of a national pastime. It's an attribute that we champion in the sporting arena, and in adventure tourism our reputation is for 'extreme' activities that push life to the limit.

But the secret to success of those sportsmen and women is knowing their limits and how far they can push without exceeding them.

That seems to be lost among many young men. They seem to have a fairly fatalistic world view of 'live for today and to hell the consequences'. But the trouble is when the risk goes too far, there are harmful consequences for all concerned. And the community is always left to pick up the pieces.

Actions such as not wearing cycle or motorbike helmets, not wearing seatbelts, drink-driving, drug abuse, unprotected sex, and physical violence have harmful consequences for the health and safety of young people and others. They have serious repercussions across all levels of society and they are an enormous cost to the community.

In the ACC area alone, young men's risk taking behaviour costs the community millions of dollars. Two of the most expensive areas are injuries from motor vehicles and injuries from sporting accidents.

From 1996-97, for these two areas alone, young males aged 15-24 cost the country $9.1 million dollars in new claims and $48.6 million in ongoing claims. In comparison, young women cost the country a fraction of this.

Other statistics are just as sobering:

15-24 year old men have the highest rate of road death,
young men are twice as likely to be killed or injured as young women,
young men aged 18-24 are over-represented among heavy drinkers,
hospital admissions for cannabis dependence are highest among young men aged 20-24 years,
male offending peaks in the 20-24 age group,
in 1996, 28787 men aged 15-24 were convicted of an offence.
I don't believe that we can stop young people taking risks. It is an inherent part of growing up, but I am interested in ways we can reduce the harm they do to themselves and others.

We need to recognise and support the normal rites of passage but not when it translates into damaging anti-social behaviour which hurts everyone else.

Tackling these issues will be a priority for the Ministry of Youth Affairs. There are no easy answers. We can start though, by understanding and appreciating the issues and concerns of young men. A research piece is before me now, and we are planning a wide consultation and listening process over the next few months.

We will listen to the community and we will seek the ideas of people who could be called the 'social entrepreneurs' ? groups of people in every community who have set up local answers to local problems.

The Government is willing to see how we can make a difference in this area.

If we help young men we can change their lives for the better, we can help share the worry of parents and families, and we can make our communities stronger.