Youth forum gets answers from MPs
16 May 2023
‘I love this. I wish this could be replicated next week on Tuesday when Question Time actually begins,’ Natalie Suleyman, Minister for Youth, said during a Q&A session at Parliament House.
Held as part of the ‘State of the Future’ youth forum, the session provided young Victorians an opportunity to speak with Members of Parliament responsible for the youth portfolios in their respective parties.
Natalie Suleyman was joined on the panel by Sam Groth, Shadow Minister for Youth, and Aiv Puglielli, Greens Spokesperson for Youth.
Attendees sought advice from the three MPs on a variety of topics, including how to encourage political interest in unengaged youth, challenge unconscious bias and become more involved in the parliamentary process.
More than a third of Victoria’s population are currently under 30 making it essential for young people to engage with the decision-making processes that affect their lives.
Each of the panellists encouraged the 60 young people in attendance to participate in the engagement programs already operating across the state, including youth congress and youth parliament, and to explore the youth advisory groups that may have already been established within their electorate.
‘There are many programs where young people can get involved…but I would encourage you to also participate in your local council,’ Suleyman said.
‘I was 22 when I first got elected onto my local council, and back then…I had no knowledge of the three levels of government and how it impacted my life.
‘Then I realised [it’s a great way] to actually get involved and get that knowledge of how you can make a difference in your local community.’
Aiv Puglielli also shared his experience as a young person who felt ‘entirely detached’ from the decision-making processes that take place within Parliament House, and his journey through local council to become an MP.
‘I think if more young people realised just how possible it was for them to directly affect the decisions themselves in these seats of power, I would like to think we’d actually have a more representative parliament, across all ages, that takes into account the impact that decisions are going to have on future generations,’ he said.
The Shadow Minister for Youth noted that there are many possible pathways into politics. Groth represented Australia as a tennis player at the Olympic Games and in the Davis Cup and enjoyed a career in media before he was elected to parliament at the last election.
‘You don’t have to sit in this chamber having come from a political background. I wasn’t involved with council. I wasn’t working in a politician’s office,’ he said.
‘I’m from somewhere completely different [but I wanted] to put my hand up and make a change for the state.’
Suleyman also shared her desire to see more culturally and linguistically diverse Victorians fill the seats of power at Parliament House.
‘I’m very proud that I’m the first Muslim woman to enter this place because I know I’m not going to be the last,’ she said.
‘Regardless of your background, religion, the colour of your skin, political persuasion…you are welcomed, you are Victorian, you are Australian, and equally you can do anything or be anything you want.’
She encouraged members of the CALD community to persevere despite the challenges they face, reminding the audience that there will always be people ready to stand beside them.
To develop a connection with unengaged youth, Puglielli wants to see MPs increase their use of social media to ‘reach people where they’re at’ and provide a more accurate window into parliament.
‘I think the more that we can show young people, [and] people in general, what goes on in these halls of power…I think the more we will actually see people wanting to take part,’ he said.
Groth is about to trial a ‘politics in the pub’ tour around the state and believes more MPs should consider options that are ‘completely outside the scope’ of typical forms of political engagement.
‘By going out and doing a pub tour and speaking to young people, you can engage with people who, to be honest, don’t really care what goes on in here and maybe give them an understanding of what [parliament] actually does and the change they could make,’ Groth said.
The three panellists also encouraged young people to reach out to their MPs, share their concerns and hold them to account, agreeing that every MP should be accessible to the people they represent.
‘Go after your MP. Make yourself heard, they cannot ignore you. It is their job to represent you,’ Puglielli said.
But, helping connect young people with parliament isn’t just the work of MPs.
‘Go out into your local community, spread the word, speak to your friends, your family members and really let them know what parliament is and try to build that awareness,’ Suleyman said.
‘We all have a role to play.’
About the Author
Freelance writer Ellie Claringbold was a participant in the inaugural Parliament Express program for young writers in 2022.