National Indigenous Youth Parliament 2012

It gives me great pleasure to speak tonight about the National Indigenous Youth Parliament, which I presided over on Saturday afternoon at Old Parliament House. The event coincided with National Sorry Day, as well as the start of National Reconciliation Week this week. It was therefore poignant that the first ever Indigenous Youth Parliament be held over the weekend, in the same place where the Indigenous right to vote was established exactly 50 years ago. In 1962 Indigenous people obtained the right to vote in federal elections. And this allowed them to vote in the historic 1967 referendum, which amended the Constitution. And so 50 years on here we are, with our Indigenous leaders of the future here in Canberra playing an active role in the democratic process.

It was wonderful to see that democracy alive and well again in Old Parliament House. There were six representatives from each state and territory and two from the Torres Strait Islands in the old chamber, where they presented and debated bills on issues that matter to them. The event was run by the YMCA and the Australian Electoral Commission, marking one of their major events in this the Year of Enrolment. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the YMCA and the AEC for organising the event and the week of activities for these young Indigenous leaders. Members of the Indigenous Youth Parliament came from all over the country—from remote, regional and urban areas. Some are still at school and others are out there working in their communities. Many of them volunteer and have a deep interest in land rights, health, education and political representation for Indigenous people. Members from the ACT included Casey Keed, Felicia McLean, Frank Gafa, Brooke Dunemann, Melissa Passarelli and Stephanie Pollard. It was great to see them in action and see the passion and drive they have for making Australia a better place for Indigenous people.

Participants from all over the country spoke on a broad range of issues, which they debated fairly and respectfully. I presided over the Indigenous Housing Reform Youth Bill 2012 and the Mandatory Immunisation Youth Bill 2012. These bills were developed by the participants in the days before that, and they developed amendments to those bills. They went through the whole process of the first, second and third reading speeches and the debates on the amendments. It was a really rigorous process and introduced them not only to legislation and how to develop amendments but also to the whole process of putting legislation through the parliament. It was a fascinating experience for them and I know, from talking to them, that they gained a great deal out of it.

There were two adjournment debates and they drew on the personal experiences of those who were present. They revealed a real passion about a range of issues, such as leadership and the need for more opportunities in local communities. In a way it rallied their need to mobilise together. They were encouraged to work together to mobilise their communities and to go out there and seek opportunities—and take opportunities —and advance education and encourage people to use education as the transformer that it is.

The participants spoke about alcohol and drug problems, youth suicide and suicide more generally in their communities. They spoke about mental health issues. A number of the participants touched on youth suicide and spoke about their own personal experiences from school friends who had unfortunately committed suicide. They debated ways to improve our country and make it a better place. The issues ranged from discrimination on the internet to how to rehabilitate young people who have been in prison and from youth suicide to the need to educate people on same-sex marriage. There was a broad range of issues covered. Everyone who spoke on them spoke in a very brave, courageous and passionate way.

By the end of the weekend these young people had debated a range of issues, with many speaking from personal experiences, and many of them were deeply emotional and moving. I am sure they will take this experience back with them to their local communities, and perhaps even aspire to come back to this place one day and represent their local communities as federal members of parliament. I wish them all the best of luck in whatever their pursuits may be. They are wonderful young people. They are wonderful leaders.

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