Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on July 11, 2016
Youth are taking over NSW Parliament this week, and they have a lot to say about what our government needs to change.
Abby Butler, 17 from Newcastle, is this year’s NSW Youth Premier for the 15th annual NSW Youth Parliament, which runs until July 15.
“Young people, and the issues we really care about, have been neglected in this federal election,” she said.
“It’s the young people that are really the drivers of our society and we need our voices to be heard in order for those big changes to be made.”
The group of 150 young people, aged from 15 to 18, will debate issues including drug testing at music festivals and other events, drug decriminalisation, mental health and the removal of religious practice from schools and parliament.
“Obviously it’s a very ingrained ideal that Australia is a Christian nation, but we’re becoming more diverse,” she said.
“State organisations and authorities shouldn’t be based upon the teaching of one particular ideal. Religious teaching should be an extracurricular activity or stay outside of schools.”
At the end of the week, the forum will present several bills to NSW MPs, to be considered for state law.
Over the years, half a dozen bills from the NSW Youth Parliament, which is organised by the YMCA NSW, have been ratified into state law, including the recent Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which lets people find out if their partners have a history of violent criminal offences.
The forum will push for the removal of homophobia and sexism in NSW, suggesting measures such as unisex bathrooms in schools and more representation of women in parliament.
“As much as we like to think, with our rose-coloured glasses on, that women and men are equal, they’re not,” said Ms Butler.
“In the field of politics, women are discouraged to voice their opinions and are seen as bossy, loud and overpowering when they make strong decisions. When men do the same, they’re seen as strong and being good leaders. There’s a real double standard.”
Ms Butler said that we need a more diverse parliament to reflect our diverse nation, with increased representation for women, people of colour and people with disability.
She said that this can be achieved without imposing “diversity quotas” in parliament.
Rather, society should elect representatives based on their merit rather than their race, gender, sex, background or religion.
“A lot of people in Youth Parliament aren’t of the age to vote,” said Ms Butler, “but through our advocacy and through us using our voices in our communities for the issues we really care about, we can actually make tangible changes.”