Raise Your Voice campaign sees politicians statements replaced by youth speeches next month

It’s hard to spot any young people in our federal Parliament.

Just one politician in the Senate is under 30 and in the House of Representatives, there are even fewer: zero.

Only a handful of MPs are under 35.

It’s a pretty dire situation for young Australians, whose voices literally aren’t being heard.

But Ashleigh Streeter-Jones and Ruby Bisson want to change that this October.

The pair are heading up the first Youth Voice in Parliament week, where over 50 MPs and Senators from across the political spectrum will use their 90-second statements to read out speeches sent in by constituents under the age of 21.

“By and large, young people’s voices are missing from our politics at every level,” Ms Streeter-Jones, the founder of Raise Our Voice Australia, said.

The organisation is trying to get more young, diverse, female and non-binary people leading the conversation in politics and policy.

It provides training and mentoring to help make that happen, with the Youth Voice in Parliament initiative open to all gender identities.

“We want to create the next generation of diverse, passionate public service leaders,” she said.

The program came about after Ms Bisson met Ms Streeter-Jones on Instagram and pitched the concept that she’d already road-tested a few years earlier with federal MP for Paramatta Julie Owens.

“I said, ‘Julie, I don’t understand how Parliament works, but I’m sure you have lots of chances to read speeches. Why don’t you read the speeches written by young people from your electorate instead?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it’,” Ms Bisson said.

Minecraft, climate change some of the topic areas

Ms Bisson has already impressed by the submissions that have been flowing in.

“We’ve had 10-year-olds talking about the importance of Minecraft and why Minecraft should be part of the national curriculum and all of the diverse learnings that a young person can have by playing that game,” she said.

“We’ve had speeches on content education, we’ve had a lot of speeches on climate change, on Indigenous land rights, it’s really diverse.

“I’ve been so inspired by just the way that young people articulate the issues that they’re passionate about.”

Year Nine student Kate Luyten is one of the people who submitted a speech to the Youth Voice in Parliament program.

She’s excited at the prospect that her words could be read out on the floor of Parliament

“It’s something that seems so powerful to think of … [having politicians] able to hear our voice and having young kids being able to voice what they want,” she said.

Ms Bisson decided to tackle an issue she’s passionate about, gender equality, specifically looking at gendered violence.

“I started out with just the fact that one out of six women have experienced that in Australia … one day I want my daughter to be able to be safe in wherever she is and be confident that she won’t get hurt,” she said.

Kate wants to see politicians engage with more young people more often.

“At the end of the day, it’s our future that they’re changing,” she said.

“I think that if people my age and even younger were able to be experiencing what the politicians are doing, then maybe we would feel more included.”

MPs and Senators to choose winning speeches

Once speeches have been submitted, Raise Our Voice Australia will submit a shortlist to an MP or senator’s office, with the office to then decide which ones will be read.

Participating MP Dave Sharma, the member for Wentworth in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, told the ABC he would be selecting based on what those submitting speeches tell him they care about.

“If someone’s written something that’s compelling and authentic and sincere and insightful, then I think I’ll choose on the basis of that … it’s not going to be whether I agree with it or not,” he said.

He’s hoping the program can help participants gain confidence in dealing with the political system.

“I hope they get a sense that their local federal member of parliament … but also more broadly, politicians are interested in hearing from people,” Mr Sharma said.

Impact lasting beyond 90 seconds

After the speeches are submitted, the program will also see participants invited to attend workshops to build up their knowledge and skills to create the change they want to see in the political system. 

“It’s all run online and the training works with that cohort to increase their confidence as leaders, teach them a bit about the mechanisms of domestic policy and foreign policy,” Ms Streeter-Jones said.

“So how policy is made and how they can influence that both from inside government and outside government.

“We also pair participants with a mentor so they’ve got the opportunity to keep building their networks in these spaces later this year.”

For Ms Bisson, who also works in communications, the project presents an exciting opportunity to collect data on what matters to young people and use it to advocate for better representation.

“I don’t want to assume what young people are passionate about … I think the submissions will show us what young people are passionate about,” she said.

“There are a bunch of other questions in the submission process, asking whether this is the first time that they’re engaging with their federal politician, how much influence they feel that young people have.

“So for me, it’s really about a data piece and how we can then use that data to lobby for change within the Australian political system to invite more young people in those doors.”

Mr Sharma thinks politicians have work to do when it comes to engaging with young constituents.

“A lot of the difficult policy issues we’re facing now … they’re likely to be quite enduring in their implications which means young people have one of the biggest stakes in them, out of anyone,” he said.

“We get phone calls and emails and we go to community meetings and things like that where young people might not necessarily communicate in the same way, so it’s about getting them comfortable with communicating to us and getting us comfortable as well.

“Finding out what are the best ways to engage with them and what are the platforms and the formats and the methods of communication that they feel confident using to articulate their own views.”

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