Future parliamentarians experience political pressure at the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament 2015
By Vish Viswanathan
Thanks to the advent of the digital era and communication technologies, the current younger generation is developing skills not only in academics and sports, but also in leadership, confidence and presentation. Australian youth showcased this talent at the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) NSW 2015 Youth Parliament.
This annual program was conducted from July 4 to July 11, with over 200 participants in all, including youth parliamentarians, existing parliamentarians, volunteers and guests, the first ever session with such a large turnout. With high level stakeholders such as the Hon. Mike Baird, MP, Premier of NSW; Andrew Johnson, NSW Advocate for Children and Young People; Dame Quentin Bryce, former Governor-General of Australia; Rosie Batty, current Australian of the Year; John Robertson MP, former Leader of Opposition and Anna Bligh, YWCA CEO in attendance, it was an occasion of high merit for the young people.
The program was opened by His Excellency General the Hon David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of NSW, who also hosted an afternoon reception for the youth parliamentarians that featured the ‘Address in Reply’, delivered by the Youth Premier.
Attendees were certainly impressed with the quality of candidates as Mr Robertson attested saying, “This year’s group of participants have to be the best I have seen to date. I commend this program for bringing Domestic and Family Violence to the forefront during the debate. I was impressed with the level of debate and passion and pride these young people showed for such an important issue our community is facing.”
Hornsby State Liberal MP Matt Kean who spent the day with the young leaders said it was great watching them hone their political skills. “There was a great deal of talent on display representing the wonderful diversity in our community,” said Mr Kean adding, “I’d like to congratulate the YMCA on an outstanding initiative. I’d like to encourage all young people interested in public life to apply for next year’s program”.
Making the grade
However, the process of selection and involvement is a challenging task for these young people. The YMCA NSW Youth Parliament program is a 6-month program, which focuses on empowering young people to speak up on social issues they are passionate about, and developing them into community advocates. Apolitical in nature, the program promotes youth-led advocacy, active community leadership and parliamentary education.
Students in Years 10-12 are eligible to participate, and are either directly nominated into the program by their local State Member of Parliament or they have to apply via an open application process. The selected students are assessed based on their written application which asks them to submit three topics they would like to see debated in the Youth Parliament program. In addition, the Program Coordinator, Parliament & Education Manager and Youth Governor, who form the selection panel, look for young people who would most benefit from participating in the program.
The 2015 youth parliamentarians were involved in an initial 4 day training camp during the April school holidays, at which they met face-to-face for the first time, wrote their Bills and Reports, and received all the skills and information needed for the next step, the Youth Sitting Week.
The Residential Camp is organised during the July school holidays, and participants spent four days in NSW Parliament House, debating their Bills & Reports in front of Members of Parliament and senior leaders in industry and business.
The total number of participants was 158, with almost 40 participants hailing from regional NSW. The total number of electorates represented were74, from 93 in NSW. Miss Iman Farrar had the honour of representing the Youth Premier , while Mr Jeffrey Khoo took on the mantle of Opposition Leader.
Said Shi-Shi Luo, Youth & Government Manager of the YMCA, “The 2015 Youth Parliament program was the biggest program to date, with a fantastic group of young people who are extremely passionate about their community and making NSW a better state to live in. A strong theme which emerged from the Bills & Reports this year was centred on social justice which was excellent to see.”
The program also reached out to key community stakeholders and leaders, and capitalised on opportunities to engage a range of Members of Parliament. The program overall, has a very positive reputation among current MPs.
For the young participants, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to debate critical issues to a captive and receptive audience within the hallowed precinct of NSW’s Parliament House. Veteran political players were present to listen, advise, discuss and review their carefully planned Bills & Reports, and gauge the leadership qualities of these young people who may well, in the future, stand in their very shoes.
The program offered not just a unique perspective of issues that the youth today find compelling, but gave these young people the confidence to believe in themselves and present them as the young leaders of tomorrow.
Young Mekala Shankar was one of the Indian-origin participants at the youth parliament, who shared her experience with us.
Vish Viswanathan: Tell us about the YMCA Youth Parliament 2015.
Mekala Shankar: The Youth Parliament is an apolitical program aimed at accurately emulating the legislative processes of the NSW Parliament. Close to 200 youth MPs attended the 4 sitting days over a 5-day camp. We were split up into committees to investigate issues such as Rural and Regional Health, Law and Legal Reform, Women-related issues, among other things.
VV: How did the committee work and what was your specific portfolio?
MS: Each committee wrote a bill or tabled a report depending on the chamber they were placed in the Legislative Council (LC) or Legislative Assembly (LA) and their portfolio. I was part of the Law and Legal Reform Committee, and we tabled a report in the LC on the legalisation of medicinal cannabis.
Bills passed through the Legislative Assembly were then debated through the Legislative Council in order to be passed as a whole. Reports in the Legislative Committee were debated as well, in order to be endorsed. The most important outcome was the youth MPs learned the method in which our state legislates and the proper proceedings of parliamentary debate.
VV: Was there any healthy debate on any particular issue?
MS: In my chamber, a topic that came up multiple times throughout the sitting week, was domestic violence. This issue was something that closely affected and resonated many of the youth MLCs and was a very emotional topic when debated.
VV: How was the experience for you?
MS: The Youth Parliament program has been such a fantastic experience. I am so grateful to have been a part of it and hope to return in the future.