Youth Put Social Issues on the Government Agenda
12 July 2016 at 11:41 am
A cohort of 160 young people will present policy ideas from mental health to LGBTQI rights to the New South Wales Government as part of the annual YMCA NSW Youth Parliament.
Over the four sitting days, which began Monday, the 15 to 18 year-old group will debate bills on significant and controversial issues as wide-ranging as unisex bathrooms in schools as a means to reduce homophobia and mental health leave.
The YMCA said the re-election of the Liberal National Party to government was timely and an opportunity for current leaders to hear about the concerns of the next generation.
YMCA NSW chair Marg Lennon told Pro Bono Australia News Youth Parliament was the organisation’s flagship program for young people.
“The YMCA NSW feels [the program] helps empower young people. We’ve given over 1,300 young people a voice over the last 15 years,” Lennon said.
“It helps them develop self esteem and resilience. The other thing that is probably most important is that they get to choose the topics and the bills that they want to talk about. It’s not about the adults saying this is a good idea.”
She said the issues have a strong social focus.
“They’ve got sustainable packaging, they’ve got things on better help for domestic violence victims, they’ve got multiculturalism bills. They’ve got all sorts of really important things that they think are going to make a difference,” she said.
“And I reckon what we’re doing here is developing the leaders of tomorrow. These are the young people who are going to be leading us either in business or in a political world.”
The cohort represents the 52 NSW electorates and were nominated either by their local member or high school. While the process is apolitical, they do form parties and elect a premier.
Youth member for Newcastle, 17 year-old Abby Butler, is this year’s leader. She said Youth Parliament gave young people an important platform to be heard by elected officials.
“For plenty of young people, it can seem as though our voices are drowned out by the enormity of big societal issues,” Butler said.
“The YMCA NSW Youth Parliament is a program that grows our voices, giving young people across the state a platform to speak and debate on the issues we are passionate about.”
She told ABC News that she joined the program to create real change.
“It sounded like something I would want to be a part of – advocating for issues I’m passionate about, leadership, meeting other people with the same interests,” she said.
“It’s not just make believe, we’re actually making a tangible difference… over the past 15 years the programs existed, there’s been [more than half a dozen] bills that have actually been legislated.”
More recently, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which allows people to find out if their partners have a history of violent criminal offences, was made state law.
Lennon said that, over the years, the initiative has made politicians take notice of the issues that are important to young Australians.
“A sitting member… said that he, and some of his other parliamentary colleagues read all the bills, because they can see what’s important to this group of people,” she said.
“The pollies do pay attention, every year it’s growing. The politicians can see that this is a useful thing.”
YMCA NSW CEO Leisa Hart said the program continues to break new ground every year.
“By simply giving our young people a platform to be heard, we open up so many opportunities to improve and strengthen our communities through their ideas,” Hart said.
“I am incredibly proud that the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament program continues to have a hand in shaping policy in this state and look forward to seeing what this year’s talented parliamentarians can achieve.”
The program is coordinated by a volunteer taskforce of past participants aged between 18 and 25.