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The Youth Parliament program gives Year 10 student MANAN LUTHRA a first-hand feel of parliamentary democracy

In the winter holidays, I found myself in the hallowed halls of the NSW State Parliament as a Youth Parliamentarian.
I represented the electorate of Davidson in the Legislative Assembly as a participant in the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament program. In my second year here, you would expect that I would be an old hand at this, but nothing could have prepared me for the people I’d meet, stories I’d hear, and experiences I would have that would shape me into a politically active young person.
The Youth Parliament program is the strongest promoter of apolitical youth advocacy the state has ever seen. From humble beginnings, with 50 participants 13 years ago, the program has since gone on to draft over a dozen bills into New South Wales legislation. For the 2015 program, I joined 124 other participants as a member of the Youth Legislative Assembly, while 75 participants went to the Legislative Council.
My own committee, the Infrastructure and Transport Committee, successfully had our bill pass both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. It was about Ridesharing services, focusing on standardising the practices of the Uber system with the practices of more conventional taxi industries. We were lucky that this issue had just received some media attention from TV shows like The Weekly and The Project! On top of the great result of our bill passing both Houses, our committee was also awarded the YMCA Youth Advocacy Shield for Best Committee in the Legislative Assembly! Our hard work researching, debating, and collaborating had been rewarded. I think I now understand the struggles our politicians go through in creating their own bills.
In my opinion, the highest points of our time in the Bear Pit were during our Matter of Public Importance (MPI) debates. Essentially, MPIs are a list of topics selected for debate. Over the course of our sitting week, MPI topics ranged from abolishing government selective schools, to investigating the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16, and establishing mental health as a serious issue concerning young people and the community. A particularly noteworthy moment was Jodi McKay, Member for Strathfield, and the main advocate for the lowering of the voting age, acting as the speaker for our debate on this important issue!
A wide array of other influential ‘speakers’, real members of the Legislative Assembly, took some time out of their schedules to listen to our debates. Thomas George (Member for Lismore), and John Robertson (Member for Blacktown), and Rosie Batty (Australian of the Year), who chaired our session on family violence, provided us with an invaluable opportunity to make our voice heard, the voice of a younger generation, on pressing issues that our society faces today.
The reception at the end of the first sitting day was another highlight. The Governor of NSW, His Excellency The Honourable David Hurley AC, graciously invited us to Governor’s House for an evening to celebrate the program, and the work we would be doing to learn about how policy is formulated. The event gave us the chance to take in the stunning views of the coast, reflect on our first day in parliament, and, of course, take some selfies with the Governor. It was very humbling to hear that someone as influential as His Excellency is so interested in what young people have to say!
Youth Parliament 2015 definitely lived up to all expectations. It was fantastic to see so many people, from all across the state, come together for a week to talk about issues that we are truly passionate about. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this program is one of the best things any young person, whether they’re political or not, can do. Hear, hear!
I’m now friends with some very bright young people – it will be interesting to see the heights they reach in the next eight to ten years.

Manan Luthra
Manan Luthra
Writer, cricket fan, gin and tonic enthusiast. Emerging journalist passionate about art, sport, and education

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