Forever Young

The ten of us sat, listening attentively, around a board room in Parliament House. The green of the desks reminded us of the House in which we sat. Minister Garrett was responding to our suggestions for changes to youth policy in this busy election year. The mood was serious and our brains were processing information so quickly that you could almost hear them churning behind our stony faces, flickering with tiny signs of emotion in response to the Minister's suggestions. That is until our wonderful Chair spilled the beans. It may have been my birthday. Sitting in Parliament at a serious steering committee meeting, I was suddenly in the very awkward position of having Happy Birthday sung by a Member of Parliament - a former front-liner of a famous Australian band - and my wonderful steering committee colleagues.

Our now eleven-person steering committee comprises wonderful young people from across Australia. We cover each state and territory, a variety of interests and different social backgrounds. There are those who grew up in other countries and have since made Australia their home, those who have grown up in regional or remote areas and moved to the city for University, those who've campaigned extensively for our nation to uphold the rights of those who may not have easily accessible advocacy pathways, those who've run university unions, or have been in care, or have diverse cultural backgrounds... Across our group, you can almost see the gamut of the Australian experience. And then there's me, not-so-humble medical student. Despite our different lives, we all share a common passion.


We all care about making the lives of young people in Australia as good as possible - about providing avenues for feedback and consultation with government, about providing challenges and equal opportunity regardless of background. And we're all pretty passionate about driving change. We've all tried our hands at non-government pathways for achieving these goals, through our volunteering or work, but thought there would be added benefit in going to the highest level - the federal government.

It's here we've learnt about the slow movements of political wheels; the energy it takes to pull an entire nation towards more effective policy is huge. And not everyone wants to go in the same direction. The consultations provide feedback that is by no means homogenous, which then means policies either compromise to fit the majority or become watered down to be somewhat, but not really, acceptable to all. And it is always hoped that state and local governments, non-profits and business will provide support and further improve those policies that cannot be wholly enacted by government. Because we all know that the government can't do it on its own.

The Commonwealth recommends that its member states have representative bodies for young people through a national youth council. In Australia, this body is the Australian Youth Forum and its steering committee, supported by the Office for Youth in the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The steering committee, reports to The Minister for Youth, currently the Hon Minister Garrett, with recommendations on topics of interest.

Our initial thoughts turned towards youth mental health and the growing community support for programs that assist young people in seeking and receiving the help they need. We know that there's a lot of support from the community, but we've also heard anecdotally that things aren't changing fast enough. And, as always, services never seem to make it to the people who need it most. We've put together a short survey to figure out where we're at in the youth mental health sector and what needs to change. We also know that young people facing homelessness are often forgotten about when it comes to politics. These young people often fly off the radar, with little knowledge of services available to them and often to the distress of their families and friends. We're trying to help find answers and need your help. We know that young people face a diverse range of challenges - we're here to listen to your solutions.

It's been a roller coaster few months adapting to our new positions with the steering committee. Just as we come to understand how best to advocate for young people, it will be time to hand over the baton to the 2014 crew. It's been a blast so far. Ten awesome new friends have shown me how, together, we can walk towards a brighter future. And from our time sitting together in board rooms across the country, I'm pretty sure Australia is in pretty good hands.


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