Young Victorians call for seat at the table

13 May 2023

Young people from across the state have made presentations directly to Members of Parliament about issues that matter to them during a unique forum at Parliament House.

Housing, climate change, inclusivity, and mental health were among the concerns highlighted by the 60 young people, representing a variety of peak bodies and grassroots organisations, who attended the event.

The 'State of the Future' youth forum was inspired by recommendations made by young people in previous youth-led projects initiated by the Parliament of Victoria.

These projects revealed the eagerness of young people to have a platform to speak with MPs about the issues that affect them, and the desire of MPs to expand opportunities to consult with youth on these topics.  

‘The voices and perspective that we hear from young people do drive our agenda, and more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to engage in real issues that impact young people,’ Natalie Suleyman, Minister for Youth, said.

The aim of the youth forum was to deliver such a platform, and to develop additional opportunities for parliament to engage with young people into the future.

Forum participants held roundtable discussions on the issues that matter to them.

‘Young people do want a seat at the table; they need a seat at the table,’ the youth forum’s MC Sarah Ramantanis said.

‘We’re not just the future, we are already leaders today in our own communities.’

The event included a Q&A session with three MPs responsible for the youth portfolios in their respective parties and roundtable discussions about the issues of importance to young people.

Forum participants had their questions answered by MPs Aiv Puglielli, Natalie Suleyman and Sam Groth.

‘We know that there are really specific issues that young people are facing in the long-term,’ Aiv Puglielli, Greens Spokesperson for Youth, said.

‘I think it’s important that this parliament, at the forefront of any conversation that’s being had, acknowledges how much longer lasting those impacts will be felt by young people.’

The forum’s participants were also invited to deliver recommendations and engagement advice directly to the more than 20 MPs in attendance.

Ella Cheeseman encouraged MPs to engage with young people in the places they frequent.

During these presentations, young people called on MPs to connect with youth in spaces familiar to them, outside Parliament House.

‘If you want to engage with young people, go out and find them and sit with them…whether that’s at their football or netball clubs, their schools, their workplaces,’ forum participant Ella Cheeseman said.

‘Young people need to be empowered and they need to be inspired, and unfortunately that doesn’t always happen in rooms like this. It happens where they stand in everyday life.’

Several MPs, including Sam Groth, Shadow Minister for Youth, responded with promises to seek out further opportunities to listen and connect with young people.

‘It’s our commitment that we’ll get out…and listen to things that are important to you,’ he said.

‘You’re right, [it] can’t just be done at this place, it needs to also be done in places that are comfortable and where you do what you do.’

Imogen Johnstone spoke up for the voices of First Nations young people to be heard.

MPs were also encouraged to increase their cultural awareness and adopt a more personal approach when engaging with young people to help reduce the communication barriers that still exist.

‘Parliament is a big, scary place…and there is a lot of intergenerational trauma when it comes to politics,’ Imogen Johnstone, a proud Kamilaroi woman said.

She spoke of the importance of ensuring young people, especially First Nations youth, have a voice and the powerful impact feeling heard can have.

‘I’ve seen it today. I’ve had a 180 completely on parliament and I’ve seen if you…open up those doors, you are able to go and do these things, and commit to the cause,’ she said.

Jed Castle urged MPs to consult with young people on issues that impact their lives.

The recommendations shared with MPs had a number of similar themes, including increasing transparency, developing easily accessible information, and expanding consultation with young people on the issues that affect them.

‘Everything you’re doing has some impact on young people,’ forum participant Jed Castle said.

‘We’re recommending that you consult us on these matters. We need you to take the first step.’

Member for Ringwood, Will Fowles, also encouraged the young people in attendance to reach out to their local MPs about the issues they are passionate about through all available avenues, including social media and email.

‘It’s been really special today to hear considerations and contributions around a whole ton of different issues, and I accept absolutely that there is no issue that’s not a youth issue,’ he said.

‘It’s absolutely critical for us, as Members of Parliament, to get that opportunity to hear from you, but also to continue to engage with you after today, and I know every MP in this place, irrespective of political allegiance, would love to hear from you.’

The recommendations developed by young people during the forum will be considered in detail by MPs and parliament staff as they work to continue increasing opportunities to connect with young Victorians.

‘This is a really important continuation of a conversation we need to continue having with young people,’ Samantha Ratnam, Leader of the Victorian Greens, said.

‘I have to say that this chamber has never looked better than being full of passionate young people who I hope, along with my colleagues, will take more seats in these parliaments more and more as the years go by because our future literally depends on your voices being heard.’

MPs and representatives of youth organisations listened to a series of presentations by the young people participating in the forum.


About the Author

Ellie Claringbold

Freelance writer Ellie Claringbold was a participant in the inaugural Parliament Express program for young writers in 2022.