House debates

Monday, 9 September 2019


Whitlam Electorate: Youth Leaders Roundtable

7:50 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Nothing gives me more faith in the future of our country than spending time with the next generation of youth leaders. Last week, I held my annual Whitlam Youth Leaders Roundtable. It was attended by 60 students from 11 schools throughout my electorate, and I'm proud to say that this event is now in its ninth year. We bring together students from across the electorate to talk about issues which are important to them. I undertake to raise the issues that they've raised with me here in parliament.

This year, the schools in attendance included Kanahooka High School, Dapto High School, St Joseph's Catholic High School, Albion Park High School, St Paul's International College, Illawarra Sports High School, Chevalier College, Oak Flats High School, Calderwood Christian School, Lake Illawarra High School and Corpus Christi Catholic High School. Over the course of the day, I heard from students from many different backgrounds, and I was refreshed to hear the range of issues the students raised and were eager to see addressed.

These bright, young leaders talked passionately about climate change, mental health, education, employment, health care and age cared, and they had impressive knowledge about youth unemployment, the challenges facing young people and the long-term unemployed throughout regional centres. They were not afraid to confront the tough issues from the schoolyard to the parliament, whether it was body image, online bullying or abortion rights. When they tackled this issue, there was respectful debate. There were differences of opinion but sophisticated solutions. We can learn much from these young leaders. There was civil debate on strongly held issues, including issues of ethical and moral difference. I commend the students for the way they engaged on these issues.

They were convinced of the power of education and knowledge to overcome and solve so many of their problems and did not revert to the simple formula of demanding that government just fix everything. But one thing that they did want to see government act on was climate change to help save the environment that they preciously treasure so much. They want their children to be able to visit Australia's natural wonders, like the Great Barrier Reef. They know how urgent the task of climate action is, and they know that their future and the future of so many in our region relies on urgent action. For them, it isn't politics; it's simply the right thing to do. I was encouraged by their conviction and their need to fight for the things that they believe in. We should join them in this fight.

Our young people, like us, want our hospitals to be better equipped. They want to see more staff to improve health care in regional Australia. Locally, so many have experienced the effect of bed block in regional centres on a loved one, the importance of accessible and affordable diagnostic tests and surgery, and the need for aged care for the people in their family. They believe that more awareness is needed in mental health and that both students and teachers need training when it comes to mental health first aid. They were willing to be part of the solution and eager for government to increase funding in this area.

The students also wanted the government to increase funding to schools. I heard stories of overcrowded schools and textbooks not being available for basic subjects. They wanted to ensure that schools are equipped to handle the growing number of students across the region, and they wanted to see that every child in their community gets the chance to learn and see their potential. I support them in this.

Finally, they want more opportunity for young Australians. Students want to see the introduction of a life-skills course in school where students can learn how the workplace really works, how their taxes work, how superannuation and other rights at work operate, and how to draft a simple resume. They thought that this shouldn't be something that was just an add-on but should be something that was a core part of their curriculum.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the schools, who, on an annual basis, have entrusted their students to my care and for their ability to bring them together to engage in this respectful debate. I thank the teachers who gave up a day to come along and join with me in the discussion. Most of all, I thank the young student leaders. I am always motivated by their enthusiasm, and I'm always surprised by the sophistication they bring to the challenges that they face.

The Whitlam youth leaders roundtable is an initiative that I'm proud of, and I hope that it will continue for a long time into the future. These students weren't afraid to speak truth to power, and we in this place should learn a thing or two from their passion and their perspective. I undertook to report to the parliament; I have done so.