My YP Journey, by Elyse Hudson

I am not someone who you would typically associate with politics. I am a university student, studying to become a mechanical engineer. I am a passionate fan of mathematics and science, yet the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament has been one of the most fantastic and worthwhile experiences of my life.

My first year in Youth Parliament was 2012, as a first year university student – not your typical participant by any stretch. I was the Youth Member for Charlestown on the Committee Investigating Parliamentary and Legal Reform. As a team we produced a bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia. Throughout this year, I developed close connections with my local politicians and media figures as I honed my advocacy skills and built networks that have continued into the future. Even though I sat on the backbenches, my passionate debating in the chamber resulted in me being awarded Best Speaker of the Opposition that year.

Naturally, there was a burning desire in me to return and give back to the program. Because I was still within the age bracket, I was fortunate enough to be able to return and be a part of the inaugural Youth Legislative Council in 2013. I was elected both Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council and Chairperson of the Committee Investigating Family and Community Services. This committee produced a fantastic bill and report on improving services for Male Victims of Domestic Violence, an issue I have continued to passionately advocate for. I also had the opportunity to have both my petition to equalise travel concessions for part-time, full-time and international tertiary students and my individual report on improving teacher quality debated and passed by the Legislative Council. Having my report passed unanimously has to be one of my proudest moments of my entire participation in the program.

The networks I have built because of Youth Parliament have allowed me to work with my Local Member as part of my local Youth Council to secure funding to run community events. It has offered me opportunities that I would otherwise have not had, such as appearing on national radio alongside Australian Wheelchair Racer Kurt Fearnley, and has opened doors I could not have imagined would be there for me, even in my wildest dreams.

A lot of people have asked me why I participate in these programs, when I do not aspire to become a politician. I believe that it is important to understand how Parliament works if you want to be an effective change maker. Youth Parliament has taught me a lot about parliamentary process and how to build networks to promote your ideas. This knowledge is essential to everyone, regardless of their future career, as it empowers you to move forward and share your ideas with the world.

In 2014, I will be returning as a Leadership Officer on the Youth Parliament Taskforce to the program that has empowered me with the skills to build my own career and develop my ideas. I want to use my experiences to inspire to the next generation of Youth Parliamentarians to make a difference. Everyone should try Youth Parliament, regardless of their background, interests, dreams and aspirations, because Youth Parliament has something to give to everyone and everyone has something to give to Youth Parliament.

Elyse Hudson
2012 Youth Member for Charlestown
2012 Best Speaker of the Opposition
2013 Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council
2013 Chairperson of the Committee Investigating Family and Community Services
2014 Taskforce Member

Check out this interview with Elyse from 2012:

To apply for the 2014 program, go to: http://www.ymcansw.org.au/activity/nswyp

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Jack McNally, 2013 Youth Parliamentarian, speaks of his experiences

The YMCA NSW Youth Parliament isn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill program. I started the program as one of the youngest participants, who really hadn’t done a lot of advocacy work or embarked on programs like this. I was really nervous and scared, thinking if I didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of every single political event currently occurring, I’d be shunned. I was nervous because I didn’t really know anyone doing the program wouldn’t make any friends. But, from the second I arrived, I didn’t feel that same foreboding feeling, I didn’t feel as though I wouldn’t belong – because the participants and taskforce didn’t just become my friends, but a second family. I’ve met some of the kindest and greatest people I’ve known and made friendships that will last a lifetime. Getting up in the chamber and speaking was like nothing I’ve ever done before. I was empowered to advocate for my electorate and for young people. Passionately proving your point while your benches screamed “hear, hear” in support was something that amazed me. Hearing the “shames” from the opposition just added to the fuel of the argument, and though you may have been opposition and government in the chamber, after you got back from sitting in Parliament, you were all one family. Youth Parliament really has changed my life, and I’m grateful every day for the most amazing experience of my life.

Jack McNally
2013 Youth Member for Menai
2013 Youth Minister for Housing

Jack

Education Policy Tested by Debate

One of the most controversial policies presented to the YMCA NSW Junior Parliament this year was designed by the education committee, and spearheaded by the Shadow Minister for Education and JMP for Mulgoa, Matthew Ramirez. The Shadow Minister proposed to introduce standardised testing for half yearly and yearly exams from years 7-10. The exams would test the applications of 5 key learning areas for stages 4 and 5, and be double marked by neighbouring schools for fairness.

In leading the case for the policy, Ramirez cited a noticeable fall in student motivation in years 7-10 since the abolition of the School Certificate. He argued that this left students ill-prepared to face their HSC in years 11 and 12. Furthermore, the new standardised exams would aim to test the application of knowledge, not the regurgitation of knowledge, and serve solely to assist students in their own learning and self-evaluation. This rules out the use of such exams to measure school and teacher performance, which is one of the more controversial elements of NAPLAN, the current national basic skills tests.

The Government, opposing the policy, questioned the need for such standardised tests in years 7-10, arguing that years of HSC preparation was unnecessary. Many Government members were also concerned that the study which would accompany the exams could eat into recreation time, which some students use for sports, volunteering or other community activities. The Government also raised concern at the potential for anxiety and other mental health issues among students as a result of the exams.

The debate inspired personal contributions from Junior MP’s on both sides, relaying the experience of their electorates. However, in the final vote the policy was defeated by a margin of 26 ayes to 47 noes.

Junior Government Targets Sex Education

Despite the demands of leading the Government, Premier Eden Blair also devoted her efforts at Junior Parliament to her other role as Minister for Women’s Affairs. The Premier sponsored a policy to de-stigmatise the sex education curriculum, to include same-sex relationships and a less restrictive treatment of contraception.

In reforming the sex education curriculum, the policy hopes to expand the content and reduce the potential awkwardness of these lessons. One key aspect of the policy involves equipping parents not just with appropriate information on sexual health, but also techniques to communicate the subject matter to their children effectively. The policy also hopes to increase the use of contraception amongst young people, as research by the Women’s Affairs committee found that up to 50% of young people have engaged in unprotected sex. To combat this, the policy aims to teach young people that both men and women can be responsible for contraception. The Premier’s favourite part of the policy helps to break down institutional homophobia, by requiring all schools to teach students about same-sex, as well as heterosexual relationships.

When asked whether the age of the Junior Parliament could complicate the debate, given the adult subject matter, the Premier called on Junior MP’s to maintain the high standard of debate they had shown in other sessions. It is pleasing to note the sensitive and intelligent contributions from all Junior MP that debated the policy. Despite the demands of the Premier’s office, Blair credits her deputy, Sophia Wakeling, and the Women’s Affairs committee for their efforts in ensuring the policy and the Government are in safe hands.

After respectful debate, the YMCA NSW Junior Parliament voted in support of the Women’s Affairs policy to reform sex education in schools, by a margin of 41 ayes to 33 noes.

Young People Debate Binge Drinking Policy

With almost 40% of 14-19 year olds drinking at levels that risk harm in the short term, it is no wonder that Junior MP’s at YMCA NSW Junior Parliament have identified this as an issue arising amongst their peers.

The policy drafted by the Justice, Juvenile Justice and Police committee, headed by Attorney General Hugh Bartley, Junior MP for Coogee, is focused on the implementation of a drug and alcohol education program in schools to break the culture of abuse. The government’s policy invites previous substance abusers to give talks to students, with the goal to correct attitudes toward drug consumption.

Research from the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household survey has found that 1 in 2 Australians aged 15-17 who get drunk will do something they regret.

“This allows drug abusers to tell their story to their peers and correct attitudes towards drug consumption” asserts Emily Falks, JMP for Gosford amongst the raucous from the interjecting Opposition.

However, the Opposition’s main argument against this policy is where it seeks to place previous substance abusers, some of whom may be criminally convicted, in schools.

“This is a policy with minimal resources and trusting former substance abusers in our schools is not practical” says Junior MP for Maitland, Isabella Mattsson.

Junior Premier Eden Blair defends the policy, reiterating that volunteer recovering addicts will be trained to speak to schools and reinforced the positives that both school students and recovering addicts can derive from this experience.

Drugs and alcohol specifically have a great debilitating effect on the minds and bodies of developing young people. Furthermore, alcohol is responsible for severe injuries and accidents with 70 Australian under 25 years being hospitalised per week for alcohol caused assault. The greater shock is that every week, four Australians under 25 will be victims to alcohol related causes of death.

This policy was defeated in the Legislative Assembly, with 33 ayes and 40 noes.

Health, I need somebody! Junior Parliamentarians Debate Childhood Obesity

The second day of the inaugural YMCA NSW Junior Parliament was opened by the committee investigating Health in the area of childhood obesity. The Health committee has worked in the past week on a policy to tackle “the pressing issue in Australia”. This policy focuses on a 3-pillar system regarding informative processes, exercise in primary schools and canteen food in high schools.

Health Minister Isabella Monardo outlined the committee’s 3-pillar policy. She said that the first policy would cater to parents and guardians to allow them to gain information about health and healthy foods through newsletters and pamphlets. She stressed the importance of the mandatory sport in primary schools due to the lack of a set curriculum covering this. The Minister also highlighted the importance of the traffic light system in secondary school canteens that would rate foods based on health, with green being good, red being bad, and orange being inbetween. She believed this only pertained to high schools as children are not necessarily independent in primary schools and rely on packed lunches or parental approved lunch orders.

In response to the policy, the Opposition found fault in the Government’s proposition by highlighting the importance of combined high school and primary school 3-pillar systems, rather than just one.

Shadow Health Minister Hannah Yang congratulated the Government on conducting a good debate, especially the Minister Isabella Monardo and the Premier Eden Blair. The Shadow Minister Hannah Yang did support the policy but argued the need for consistency in the 3-pillar process. She believed that in order to specifically target obesity in children, the policy should have been adapted to adopt both secondary and primary school together.

After a rigorous debate, the policy was passed 45 ayes to 28 noes. The Health committee believes this reflects the YMCA NSW Junior Parliaments views on this issue and hopes to also inspire change in the real Parliament.

Volunteering their Time to Debate Community Involvement

Young people are not engaged enough in their communities. This was the central premise of the Citizenship & Communities debate this morning, spearheaded by Junior Deputy Premier Sophia Wakeling. There was a certain sense of irony in the Junior MP’s, who have shown a high degree of commitment to their communities, debating youth apathy. The policy sponsored by the Government aims to boost volunteering among 12-15 year olds, by establishing the Youth Action Advocacy Program (YAAP) to administer volunteering by partnering with schools.

The Government led with arguments praising the benefits of volunteering both for the student and for charities which depend on volunteers to function. Deputy Premier Wakeling brought her personal passion of fostering community spirit to the debate, reinforced by the Government’s broad argument that the program would lift volunteerism from its current low rate of 36% of the population. The Government also used precedents, such as the Duke of Edinburgh program and Optus RockCorps to show that a scheme based on incentives would be effective.

To counter, the Opposition criticised the Government’s idealism and targeted the detail of the policy, specifically a requirement that 300 hours of volunteering would need to be completed before receiving a certificate and medallion. Many Opposition Junior MP’s questioned how 12-15 year olds could meet this commitment given already busy schedules, and the detrimental impact this could have on their education. The Opposition also attacked the suitability of young people at the lower edge of the age bracket as volunteers, with one suggestion to shift the age range to 14-17.

After presenting these equally compelling arguments, the final vote on the Citizenship & Communities policy to increase youth volunteering was the closest of the day. Passing by a margin of 39-34, the policy will now be presented to Victor Dominello, the Minister for Citizenship in the NSW Government. Congratulations to the committee!