On the morning of 28 March, 2017 I received a call from the Australian Electoral Commission informing me that my application to the National Indigenous Youth Parliament (NIYP) had been successful, and that from May 23 to 29 I would be representing my electorate of Fenner in a simulated parliament with 49 other Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
On Tuesday 23 May, following weeks of anticipation, I packed my bags and left work to meet my fellow participants at the accommodation on the outskirts of Canberra.
After a night of introductions, activities and yarning we jumped straight in to a series of activities, visits, and inspirational talks that allowed each and every-one of us the opportunity to learn, listen and engage.
Following an AEC-run election, a youth prime minister and opposition leader were appointed, splitting the 50 of us into two parties; government and opposition.
As the week progressed we experienced many amazing opportunities including meeting the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, the Governor General, and a whole range of other inspirational leaders including some current Indigenous Members of Parliament and the Senate.
We visited cultural institutions, including the Museum of Australian Democracy, the National Gallery of Australia, and AIATSIS; sat in on question time at Parliament House; visited the Tent Embassy, and had dinner with Minister Wyatt and Senator McCarthy.
We shared stories, laughs, and tears. By the time it came to the parliamentary debates, we had become a family away from family, leaning on and supporting one another despite our different backgrounds, views and opinions.
On May 27-28, the youth parliamentarians debated four bills in the House of Reps chamber at Old Parliament House. These were the,
- Indigenous Youth Mental Health Bill 2017;
- Restorative Intervention for Indigenous Young Offenders Bill 2017;
- Improving Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services in Rural and Remote Areas Bill 2017; and
- Indigenous Human Rights and Race Discrimination Bill 2017.
Each youth parliamentarian was given the opportunity to provide insight and debate; offering amendments and defending or rebutting arguments for and against the bill. Following a series of lively debates, we successfully passed all four bills, which with the endorsement of the youth governor general will be passed on to the government for consideration.
The parliament was presided over by special guests including the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Tony Smith MP.
Following the bill debates it was time for my most anticipated session, the adjournment debates.
In the adjournment speeches, the youth parliamentarians spoke of issues close to their heart and community. Inspirational stories of determination, success and cultural resurgence were mixed with those advocating particular issues of importance to communities; from drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, poverty and welfare dependency to mental health and suicide.
These speeches were accompanied by heartbreaking stories of loss, abuse, sadness and pain, and not a single person in the chamber was left without tears in their eyes.
Following lengthy and tearful goodbyes, the program came to an end on Monday 29 May with delegates departing the accommodation throughout the day, some from as far as the Torres Strait not getting back home until Tuesday night.
After the conclusion of the official program, six other participants, our two ACT mentors and I attended the launch of the Right Wrongs exhibition, and the live Q&A panel that was held at the Parliament House Great Hall.
The National Indigenous Youth Parliament was an outstanding experience, and has inspired and influenced me in many ways. I’d like to thank the AEC in collaboration with YMCA and MOAD for running the program and AIATSIS for supporting my attendance. With a special thanks to my fellow participants, particularly Team ACT, for making it such an enjoyable and rewarding experience.