“Hear, Hear” the Voice of the Youth

Young people all around the world are driven by their passions and aspire to achieve their individual goals. Some work towards beating a personal best in sports, doing well academically or saving for a car, and some young people aim to change the world.

Delegates of YMCA NSW Youth Parliament, and those sitting in youth parliaments like it all around the world, are many of the young people who cannot wait to make their mark. Debating and sharing their views on topical issues such as euthanasia and same-sex marriage, and local matters like rural irrigation management and public transport concessions, these young people are driven to actively shape their futures.

YMCA NSW Youth Parliament is an apolitical program run by a young volunteer taskforce to provide a forum for youth issues and advocacy. This program promotes leadership and community engagement by emulating the sessions of NSW State Parliament and giving students the chance to step into the shoes of their local parliamentarians.

The 2012 session of YMCA NSW Youth Parliament saw some of the most passionate young people debate many topical issues that challenge even our most experienced federal lawmakers. The Legislative Assembly was filled with an electric atmosphere as the young parliamentarians voiced ideas with wisdom beyond their years. Their perspectives on issues such as same-sex marriage, euthanasia, education, empowering women in the workforce, and reducing youth crime rates were not only shared with each other, but also submitted as formal recommendations to NSW State parliamentarians for consideration during policy reform.

Not only are these young people given the chance to change the world they live in, but this program changes their lives in return. As many past participants would agree, the word “life-changing” is truly an understatement. Many young people have proceeded to take their lessons learnt from YMCA NSW Youth Parliament and apply them to their individual goals. The program has produced active young citizens committed to making an impact such as Arjuna Dibley, executive director and founder of Australia-Indonesia Youth Association, and Brett Mason, European correspondent for Channel Ten News. In addition, many past youth parliamentarians have taken up positions as ministerial staffers and run as candidates in local, state and federal elections.

Youth advocacy programs such as YMCA NSW Youth Parliament provide an insight into the myriad of opportunities available for young people, especially for those who come from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds. Speaking from personal experience as a student from a country town, the program opened my mind to the opportunities that we, as young people, have to make a change and stand up for issues that affect us. It has also served to remind me of the power that an individual voice holds in a democratic society, and the importance of exercising this right as a minority group.

Upon being approached by a teacher to apply for this program, YMCA NSW Youth Parliament presented an opportunity for me to broaden my horizons and worldview. Finding out more about it, the opportunity became more enticing as a young student who had not found her place in other extra-curricular activities such as sport. Upon joining the program and interacting with returning past participants, I was wholly sceptical of just how life-changing youth parliament was. However, after meeting some of the most inspirational, knowledgeable and amazing young people, and engaging with them in debate whilst at the Legislative Assembly and across the dinner table, life-changing began to seem a fitting summation.

While many deemed the experience, “nerd camp”, it was the camp that gave me hope and belief in my own voice, and the voice of the youth. Originally, aiming to study architecture at university, YMCA NSW Youth Parliament reignited my passions in advocacy, emancipation and diplomacy. This, among many other reasons, has driven me to give back to the program that has given me so much. Through volunteering in the taskforce alongside many other past participants, we hope to share and foster the passions, friendships, and skills that we once gained from the program.

Fortunately, there is a youth parliament in every Australian state and territory, as well as a National Indigenous Youth Parliament. Youth parliaments are also widespread throughout the world, running in over thirty European nations and Asian countries such as East Timor and Pakistan. Globally, the fifth Commonwealth Youth Parliament will be convening in December this year, bringing together youth representatives from each nation state in the Commonwealth to discuss issues in an international youth forum.

As Gandhi once said, “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” As young people, it is our responsibility to change the world rather than wait for the world to change for us. Programs such as YMCA NSW Youth Parliament are just one of the many ways that young people can make this change their own.

Audrey Chan is a former youth parliamentarian, current university student, and media officer on the 2013 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Taskforce. Follow her @channychans.