38. Ivanhoe Girls Grammar School Youth Parliament Team 2013

12 Jun

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“We’re going to be the leaders of the world,” Rachel Mao, 18, exclaims. The audacity and courage of Rachel’s statement goes unnoticed by her and those around her. This is how they think. They are unapologetic, self assured and excited to be part of Generation Y, the future leaders of Australia. It can be breathtaking for older generations!

Before me, Rachel is joined by Crystal Wong, Gloria Deng and Mihika Hegde. They are all from the Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar team for Youth Parliament 2013. While the ministers of Victoria are absent for a week in July, 120 young people take over the chambers of Parliament and debate bills they have designed around issues important to them.

Hand-picked from a pool of year 11 applicants, the members of this team are as diverse as they are united. They agree everyone in the team “has a range of qualities, interests and skills, so as a team worked really well together” – and work they did. For six months they brainstormed and researched their chosen issue to craft the perfect bill, one that has an admirable and impressive balance between idealism and pragmatism.

Gloria says they wanted a bill that was “practical and captured what we were passionate about as a team … we thought about what needed the most change in Australia.” They decided on a bill titled “The Abolishment of Factory Farming” because the team was “really passionate about animal rights”. Factory farming is an industry where livestock is raised in highly confined spaces to produce high output at low cost, something that has become increasingly concerning for young people in particular as it raises many ethical issues. Their bill boldly stated that it’s aim was “to completely phase out factory farming by 2030”. The bill is highly ambitious even when compared to other Youth Parliament bills but the girls were determined to create a bill that was willing to make the necessary scarifies to create an Australia that is responsible, ethical and sustainable in the treatment towards livestock.

Speaking with wisdom beyond her years, Mihika explains why reducing cruelty towards animals is important: “Even though it’s such a new issue that’s only just come out into mainstream society, it’s been going on a long, long time. So there’s a shock factor to it, which is why it’s so important that we take that shock and turn it into actions.”

Truly the definition of striking while the iron is hot, the girls took their ambitious bill into Parliament House to be debated. Reflecting reality, not all bills debated are passed in the world of Youth Parliament. Their peers vote on a bill after a few rounds of healthy debate. The girls explain that friendship doesn’t come into play; their peers will decide if a bill should pass based purely on its merit. Crystal says firmly: “Everyone is serious about it. We actually think about whether a bill would change society for the better.”

Considering successful bills are passed onto the real-life relevant minister for consideration, with many influencing real laws, there was a lot of hard work and emotion at stake when the Ivanhoe team presented its bill for debate. Rachel reminisces about the moment their bill passed: “It was really exciting because we worked really hard to put our bill together. Having it debated and having support from everyone was really great.”

Inspired and empowered by the success of the bill and their time on Youth Parliament, the Ivanhoe girls explain how their lives have changed and been influenced. Gloria excitedly explains that they’re not usually in an environment with lots of different young people who want to create change. “It was really empowering,” she says. “At school, I didn’t really have anything, then I went to Youth Parliament and learned that I could have my passion!”

Crystal’s experience was rather personal: “I never used to debate or do public speaking. Going to Youth Parliament I proved to myself that it’s not that bad to speak out.”

It’s clear to me that Youth Parliament itself has been enriched and honored by the presence of these young women, powerhouses of change. As we close our interview, I challenge them by asking: “Why does youth engagement matter?” There is no doubt the cliché of the apathy and disengagement among young people runs rampant in society – what do the Ivanhoe girls think of this? Not much, apparently. They discovered that Australia is full of young people who want to make a change and are prepared to shoulder the problems they will inherit. Rachel implores young people to recognise that they” have the power to do something and to make a change”.

Mihika, with a determined glint in her eye, leaves me with words that once again astound me and remind me that the young women before me are forces to be reckoned with, now and in the future: “It sounds clichéd but we are the future of Australia. The problems we have today are the ones that will be solved by us in the very near future.”

Words: Amy Bryans

Photo: Sean Porter

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