150 young people from across NSW will get the chance to debate a range of controversial issues at the 15th annual YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Sitting week which has just kicked off at NSW Parliament House in Sydney this morning.
Bree Godden, Communications Manager at the YMCA describes the process. "Over four sitting days, the cohort, aged between 15-18, will debate bills on issues as wide-ranging as drug testing at festivals, introducing unisex bathrooms in schools as a means to reduce homophobia and violence against LGBTIQ students, and adding ‘mental health days’ to workers’ entitlements."
The highly successful program has seen over half a dozen pieces of youth legislation passed into NSW Law, the most recent being the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.
Within the group there are a handful of Aboriginal students and they are excited about the chance to have their say at this week's debates. Tara Ellevsen, the Youth Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, says that her experience of Youth Parliament in the lead up to this week's debates has been rewarding . "I have really enjoyed it because I’ve been able to implement my ideas into tangible solutions. Being Aboriginal Affairs Minister has been somewhat challenging with preparing the bill and organising things, but it has definitely been very worthwhile and I can’t wait to debate the bill and see it passed."
Tara hopes to see a change in the opportunities given to all children and youth across socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to reflect a more balanced foundation for tomorrow's leaders. "I would ensure that all children and youth have the same opportunities regarding education, employment, extra curricular activities and living standards."
Whether it be a child in my own neighbourhood, an Indigenous child on the other side of Australia or a refugee child, each of them deserve the best possible upbringing.
Tara says that she has seen first hand the positive effect that youth who are empowered can have on the community. "Australia’s workforce would be stronger, our population would be happier and crime rates in Australia would be much lower."
Taris Watson is Environmental Minister for the Portfolio. "Currently, we are working on a bill that aims to reduce the harmful effects of packaging on the environment at a business level. In my role I take a lead position in the progress of the bill and will be responsible for debating it through parliament."
Whilst Taris is debating on environmental issues, her passion is to also see equal education outcomes for all young people.
If I had the power to change one thing I would aim to change the education gap in literacy and numeracy rates for students who come from Indigenous backgrounds
The Youth Parliament is an invaluable experience, giving the students first hand knowledge of the parliamentary process and most importantly a platform for voicing their concerns. Tara explains "I think general recognition of youth voices is an issue because we all have a lot of innovative ideas and opinions but many youth do not have the opportunity to express them."
Taris sees it as a great learning ground for sticking to your ideals. "The program has given me a deeper insight into how the parliamentary process works and also of the great strength of character and conviction politicians need to be able to stick to their beliefs and promises in the face of opposition and challenge."
The public galleries are open to anyone that would like to view the debates.
When: Monday 11-Friday 15 July 2016
Where: Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, NSW Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney
Time: 9am-5pm each day (except Wednesday)