The 15th annual YMCA Queensland Youth Parliament provided a breath of fresh air at Parliament House last month when their turn to speak finally came. Never failing to stir the pot, the 2010 group shed insight about rights for Indigenous Queenslanders, proposed a fat tax, attempted to lower the age of consent and voting age and called for the Arts to be a compulsory subject at school.
Youth co-ordinator Louis Paul Franks believes Youth Parliament is a “great platform” for youth to finally have their voices heard.
He said he spoke to young people and heard their concerns all the time; however he rarely found politicians who acknowledged the issues that young people found important. He credits Youth Parliament with offering them little choice but to listen.
The 92 members of this year YMCA Youth Parliament debated bills on local and state policy issues that were of particular interest to young people. The program aims to bring young Queenslanders together to learn about politics and have their voices heard by those who typically would not listen. This year a wide variety of youth aged 15-25 were selected to represent each Queensland’s 89 electorates. Three seats were also reserved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.
Mr Franks suggested that if politicians addressed youth issues they would have a better chance in attracting the youth vote.
“When political parties figure out how to respond to this youth attitude, I think they will be more successful at courting young people generally”.
Mr Franks said he encouraged a diverse range of individuals to become involved with the program.
“We get a diverse range of individuals from all different backgrounds and perspectives. People from the Torres Strait all the way down to the Gold Coast, people who immigrated here as refugees and people who have lived their whole lives out in regional Queensland.
“Some had never been to South East Queensland before. People with disabilities, people who come from Indigenous communities and people who have been or are homeless and of course we get the average suburban kid from South East Queensland. It really is a dynamic group that gets engaged and this diversity is at the core of the interesting debates and perspectives shared in the program.”
Every participant went through an application process in March 2010. Those selected went on to meet over a six month period in Brisbane to research and develop the youth bills. They then met for a week during September/October school holidays to debate the bills in Parliament and vote for or against them.
The 2010 Parliament presentation proved successful once more as participants elaborated on bills regarding school curriculum, a fat tax to tackle obesity, the introduction of indigenous electorates in Queensland Parliament, a ban on mining on prime agricultural lands, calls to alter the age of consent, equal rights for gay and lesbian couples in terms of adoption, IVF and surrogacy, allowing women to serve in the front line, preventing the proposed internet filter and daylight savings.
Mr Franks said all of the proposed bills passed this year were forwarded onto the Speaker, the Premier and Opposition Leader of Queensland for consideration.
The success of Youth Parliament every year is “undeniable”, Mr Franks said.
“It not only provides young people with awareness about public issues but also increases their confidence in public speaking and political knowledge. It is more than just a middle class debate club.” He said those involved with the club grow not only in mind but in body and spirit as well”.
Mr Franks said a variety of former participants went on to become state MPs. These included Kate Jones, Member for Ashgrove and Minister for Sustainability and Climate Change, Aidan McLindon, the Member for Beaudesert and Mark Ryan, Member for Morayfield.
Mr Franks said he “hoped to see more of our former participants bring some new blood to the major political parties in this state”.
The effectiveness of the program has not gone without notice from the community. Earlier this year the organisation was nominated as one of radio station Triple J’s Top 25 Under 25, which aims to recognise youth who are making a difference.
With applications opening mid January for the 2011 round, YMCA QLD Youth Parliament are currently seeking their next batch of young political superstars to represent their seat in parliament next year.
By Elisha Brinnand, Natasha Tonks and James Tait