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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13353

Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (21:19): The young people who live in our electorates are often too young to vote, but we should not forget that we are still their representatives in the federal parliament. When I go to primary and secondary schools, I often talk to students about what I regard as the most important skill of a member of parliament—that is, the ability to listen. Earlier this year I realised that I had been listening very hard to the interests and issues raised by my older constituents but I was not doing as much as I could to listen to the views of young people. That is why I began the Hotham Writing Prize.

I asked students from all over Hotham to submit an essay or a letter raising an issue they are concerned about as a young Australian and, importantly, suggest how the government could address that issue. I also began this prize because writing about public policy is a passion of mine. This year I had the privilege to co-author, with my good friend the member for Gellibrand, a book entitled Two Futures. The Hotham Writing Prize was also a way of encouraging young people to go through that really important discipline of writing down their ideas. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the response that we got to the Hotham Writing Prize. Hundreds of young people from across my electorate took the time to put pen to paper and raise an issue with me. Last week I visited some of the Hotham schools that had award winners represented amongst the student population.

I would like the House to join with me in congratulating Louisa D'Ambra of St Mark's Primary School in Dingley Village, who was the winner of the junior writing prize. Louisa is an articulate and intelligent young woman, who wrote to me to raise the issue of homelessness. She argued that homelessness is not an issue that affects many young Australians directly but it is an issue that is on the minds of a lot of young people around the country. Louisa made a number of suggestions about what we could do about homelessness, including one I thought would be of interest to this House. She suggested that taking away some politicians' perks might be one way that we could help make sure that all Australians have a roof over their heads.

I want to congratulate Bria Raso from Heatherton Christian College, who wrote a passionate and articulate essay about women in sport. Bria is a soccer champ, but she is very frustrated that girls in sport do not get the same resources, attention and focus as boys who are of a similar standard and that is unfair. Bria raised a second and really crucial reason why this matters to her, and that is that young women around this country are constantly being bombarded with unhealthy and unattainable images of beauty. Bria suggested that, if women in sport got more attention, we would see a lot more strong, fit and healthy women that Australian girls could look up to.

The quality of entrants was of such a high standard that we commended, in particular, eight additional students who wrote excellent essays and letters to me. From St Patrick's Primary School in Murrumbeena, a very well-awarded school, we commended: Alex Lees, who wrote about the importance of recognising the contributions and abilities of Australians with disability; Ebony-Jane Holland, who wrote to me about the role of art as a therapeutic tool; and Aoife Dormer, who wrote to me about bullying. We also commended: Akitoshi Harvey, from Oakleigh South Primary School, who also wrote to me about bullying; Sarah Pachie, from St Mark's Primary School, and Charli Cuthbertson, from Huntingdale Primary School, who both wrote to me about animal cruelty; Siobhan McGlynn, from Sacred Heart Girls College, who wrote to me about the importance of good sexual education in our schools; and Victoria Tischchenko, from Cheltenham Secondary, who wrote to me about an idea she has about community youth centres.

I want to quickly mention three issues, which came up consistently in the essays that were written to me, which I believe deserve the attention of this parliament. Mr Speaker, young Australians are dealing with a lot of complex issues online. When you and I were young, our parents were able to shield us from behaviour and content that was inappropriate. For most Australian parents, that is actually no longer possible. There is a real thirst out there amongst young people to, for example, address online bullying, by programs which help young children understand what it can feel like to be bullied online. Community safety was also raised frequently with me. We need to do a lot more work in this chamber about how we can help our young people feel safer on our streets and in our parks. Finally, celebrating cultural diversity was an important subject, and it made me feel so relieved that there are so many clever young people around the country who are showing leadership in building strong and inclusive communities.

A lot of people around the country argue that young people are not interested in politics. I can tell them today that they could not be more wrong. These last few weeks, I have read hundreds of letters from passionate, well-informed and articulate young people. With these young people as our next generation of community leaders, I feel really positive about our country's future.