THIS week I had the privilege of sitting in Melbourne’s Parliament House to report on the 120 young people taking part in the YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament.
Running for the past 33 years, it’s a program which allows teams of
individuals aged 16-25 from schools, councils and communities across the state present a piece of legislation on the floors of Victoria’s parliament, learning valuable parliamentary and societal skills.
The bills presented are those they’ve written themselves, developed out of concerns and conversations they’ve had in their own communities.
Those passed are then handed to Minister for Youth Gabrielle Williams for consideration, with 20 such bills over the program’s history having
become law, including mandatory wearing of bike helmets, blood
alcohol limits for those
accompanying learner drivers, and legal recognition for carers of people with disabilities.
The program I was part of for the week, the Youth Press Gallery, runs alongside parliament, giving further voice to the work youth parliamentarians have undertaken.
I had the chance to sit in the Legislative Assembly and Council and watch debates, as well as learn valuable skills in political journalism including how to take notes, live tweet an event, write to strict deadlines and interview youth parliamentarians.
However, in the midst of the emotion these people brought to parliament and the endless interjections, I couldn’t help but think how incredible it was that young people were being given rule over our parliament for three days, to put their thoughts, passions and interests out there for honest debate and consideration.
Here’s a place, usually full of people much older, having its tables turned with youth voicing their opinions on issues they deem important and that they truly believe can help improve the state where we all live.
The fact this advocacy could then influence our policy future, is something even greater.
If this isn’t the definition of a healthy democracy, where all people who live within it are literally having a say, then I don’t know what is.
Our city also had a reason to smile throughout the program, with six young Bendigonians, sponsored by the new Bendigo Youth Council, taking their beliefs to Spring Street to advocate for Victorian public schools introducing compulsory LGBTIQ sex education.
After rigorous debate, it was passed unanimously, with the team representing all of us, most importantly our young people, with passion and conviction.
What this whole process shows is that young people do have ideas worth sharing, and, if given the chance – whether in a platform like this or simply within their own communities – they can make a meaningful contribution to the advancement of our society.
In this sense, the old adage is true; if today’s young people are to be our leaders of tomorrow, then involving them in decision making of today, can only make the world they’re set to inherit even greater.
By SAM KANE
Member of the YMCA Youth Press Gallery.