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Monday, 11 August 2003
Page: 18057


Ms ROXON (9:20 PM) —I would like to talk tonight about a senior students forum that I held in my Gellibrand electorate office on Monday, 28 July. I had 17 students who accepted an invitation to come to talk to me about the sorts of issues that they were concerned about, the issues that they would like me to raise in this parliament in representing them. The students came from Braybrook College, Bayside Secondary College, Williamstown High School, the Westbourne Grammar Williamstown Campus, Sunshine College, Marion College, Gilmore College, Footscray City Secondary College and Caroline Chisholm Catholic College. The students were mostly VCE students, some from different years. There were some school captains, some SRC reps and some who were simply more interested in politics than others and were keen to come along and talk to me about their ideas. They were all bright and enthusiastic if, to start with, a little bit shy but they soon got talking about issues that they were very passionate about. One of the issues that came up—in fact it was the first topic of discussion—was their aspirations after finishing school. Every single one of the 17 students that came to my electorate office to talk to me wanted to go on, after they had finished their high school education, to some type of further education. I would like to read to the parliament, obviously without identifying each of them, a number of quotes and comments that different students made. I think they will give the flavour of the concerns that our young students have today. They said:

It scares us that we will no longer be able to afford further study beyond secondary school.

It is terrible that academic standards and qualifications can be put aside or lowered for full fee paying students but not for us.

It will be increasingly harder to strike the balance between study and working to support and pay for university or TAFE study.

We feel like we may have to choose between the course of our dreams and something else based on not what we want to do but what we can afford.

People in this House will be interested to know that a number of students specifically raised their concerns that their choices for getting a further education could affect their own parent's choices. They expressed a number of worries that a choice to go on and study further might affect the retirement choices of their parents. This is something that the 16- and 17-year-old students who came and talked to me were very conscious of. They also wanted to talk about the educational opportunities and particularly the perceptions of studying in Melbourne's west. They said that they sometimes feel it can be intimidating to come from the west. A couple said that they have been at functions or cross-school meetings where they feel that their education is devalued just because of where they live. One of them said, `We have the best English teacher in the state teaching at our school, but we can still be judged by where our school is located.' They have also said, `There is a perception, which is just plain wrong, that some of our schools are overcome by drugs. While some people might use drugs, all of us should not be branded by it.' Another comment was, `It can be disheartening that such a low proportion of students from public schools go on to study courses like law and medicine.'

It is interesting that these issues are playing on their minds and obviously they are of concern to me as a local member of parliament as issues that should be taken up and worked on. In particular in relation to drug education, there were some suggestions by the students that personal testimony would often be more compelling and persuasive than some of the drier factual information and education that was provided in this area. They understood that drug use was initially a choice and said, `Sometimes our parents and other adults do not give us credit for having made the choice to avoid drugs,' which I thought was interesting, and, `Understanding the consequences is an important part of ensuring that young people avoid drugs.'

They also wanted to make comments specifically about education funding and said that they felt there would be a preparedness to give up tax cuts or to pay more tax for greater public services but people just needed to see more clearly where their taxes were going. They also said—and you would have noticed from the list I read out that they were predominantly public schools, as is the case in my electorate—that there was nothing wrong with funding non-government schools as long as it was based on the needs of those schools.

They also expressed some concerns that young people needed more places to go for recreational activities where their parents would not worry about them but where they could also be independent. I am very proud of these students. I thought that they were very articulate. It does take a little bit of bravery to come along and tell your local member of parliament what you are interested in and what you want them to do. I congratulate them for coming and talking to me and making my job easier by explaining their interests and the sorts of issues that they would like me to pursue. I certainly will be taking these and the other issues they raised to the parliament in the debate on issues that affect them and on the sorts of matters that we develop in our policies. Thank you to all the students for participating. I hope that their schools will continue to participate in the future.