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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4391

Mr BYRNE (Holt) (19:44): On the subject of young people and the contribution they make, I rise tonight to talk about some very special young people from my electorate and the surrounding region and some of the thoughts that they have had. The city of Casey has a large number of young people. The 2006 census had the total number of young people aged between 10 and 25 at 59,953. I am sure, given it is six years since that census was taken, it is many more than that now. This is a significant cohort of young people. They are the future of our community and the future of our country. The opinions of these people actually matter.

What has concerned me for some time in my electorate and the surrounding region is the way in which our young people have been categorised and the pressures that they are under, because obviously a large number of young people live in the area. In the community, if, say, a young man throws a party which comes to national attention, that is front and centre in the national media. But, when it comes to the many constructive things that our young people do and the contributions that they make to our community, we never read about it. What sort of message does that send to our young people? 'If you don't do anything bad you should not be reported upon; your opinions do not matter; your values do not matter; we do not want to hear you.'

So, as part of National Youth Week, I asked some of our city of Casey's 2011 and 2012 young student leaders to meet with me to tell me about the issues that concern them, to make sure their voices would be heard. It is ironic. This is allegedly the communication age of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+—you name it. At the push of a button you can communicate with anyone. Yet, in this torrent of communication devices, our young people in the community are often very alone. They feel very isolated. They feel very unheard. That was one of the key messages that I took from the meeting that I had in my office on 13 April.

These young community leaders to whom I spoke are: Kathryn Hazell, Tanisha Beveridge, Shabnam Safa, Danielle Rothwell, Luke Pel, Amanda Carron, Justine Jaramillo and Emilijia Stefanovic. They are great young leaders in our community and they are facing incredible challenges from within their community. They represent their community and the city of Casey extremely well.

We discussed a number of issues, and one issue that came out loud and clear was that they are being required to define who they are as people at ages 16 and 17. When we were growing up, Madam Deputy Speaker—and we will not talk about our age here—I did not feel that pressure. I did not have to have my life basically mapped out when I was 16 or 17, but we are asking our young people to do that. How fair is that for them? They certainly feel it is not fair. They are asked to behave a certain way. There is enormous peer pressure. They have to wear certain clothes. They have to drink at a younger age. They are subjected to a lot of bullying.

One of the most disturbing things is their mental health and wellbeing. I am hearing story after story of young people who know young people who have taken their own lives. That was one of the things highlighted by that group of young people with their lives before them. They had been touched by colleagues and friends who had committed suicide at such a young age. What is that saying? In fact, I was contacted by a young student leader about another suicide that happened a couple of days ago. What is going on in our community? We know the issue of youth suicide is an incredibly important issue and governments pay attention to it, but our young people are still dying—and that is not good enough. One death is too many. We have to do whatever we can in this place to listen to our young people and ensure that their voices are heard so that we do not have this situation continuing where young people feel they have no alternative but to take their lives. I said to our young community leaders that I would pass that message on.

They also spoke about the pressures that they have in year 12 to get that elusive university entry score—again, they are being asked to define themselves by whether they go to university. Even when they are seeking part-time work they are asked: do they have a university degree? Are they studying? That is enormous pressure for young people in our community to be put under, and it is not fair pressure. We were not subjected to that.

I say to our young community leaders: thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. We will listen to you. I am going to continue to have these forums and we are going to make sure your voices are heard in this community and in this place.