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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6397

Mr MELHAM (9:54 AM) —Last Wednesday, 10 June, I was fortunate to attend the Australian Youth Forum at the Bankstown town hall for young people aged between 15 and 24 in the Bankstown local government area. The Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, also was present at the three-hour forum. The Australian Youth Forum is run by the Australian government as a communication channel between the government, young people aged 15 to 24 and the organisations that work with, for and on behalf of young people. It is about engaging young people and the youth sector in ongoing public debate, getting their input into policy and decision-making processes on issues that affect young people’s lives now and in future.

It was a very productive forum and the young people who involved themselves in the forum were extremely impressive. I have to say that, having been in this place for over 19 years, I am a bit cynical these days. There is no politician on either side of politics at a national level that inspires me the way that Gough Whitlam inspired me to join a political party and to get involved in politics, or the way that Paul Keating inspired me when he was Prime Minister and championed the Native Title Act in 1993 against a lot of opposition, both within his party and in the community. I think the politician that most inspires me at the moment is Barack Obama in the United States. But the inspiration I get is actually from young people. The day itself was an inspiration, to hear their vision, to hear their enthusiasm, to see them not compromised by certain matters but putting forward in a very visionary way and an energetic way their hopes for the future and their ideas for our Commonwealth. That inspired me, because I knew the future was safe, as it was in their hands.

I believe it is incumbent on both sides of politics to facilitate the involvement of such young people and to try to bring them into the system, to encourage them to go into public life and to devote themselves to public service, not just private service. That is what came out of it. I actually walked away feeling as if I had had a blood transfusion. I was actually infused, and I became optimistic again. That is something that happens to me most of the times that I visit my local schools, listening to young children. Cynicism does creep in, and I think it is incumbent on us to try to extract that cynicism from the process. It is certainly there—it is there in the media—but in young people it is not there originally. We need to harness their energy and enthusiasm. I commend those involved in the forum and I commend the Australian Youth Forum and the minister, Kate Ellis. (Time expired)