I was recently asked to give a short speech to a regional gathering of youth advisory council members. The young people had come from NGOs and Councils across the Southern Highlands, Wollondilly, Camden and Campbelltown areas. Given my experience in YACs at all levels, I felt I had something important to offer the attendees.
Below is the speech I prepared. Please note, as anyone who has seen one of my presentations will attest, I rarely stick very closely to the script.
At the start of 2010, I put my signature on the YAC report from the previous year. That year, we had made some really solid recommendation to the Government, but it didn’t seem like much had come of it. YACs can be a bit like that.
What are YAC meetings like?
They can drag on for hours and often nothing gets resolved. That’s just what government does. But you also get to learn a stack of stuff. You make contacts. You get friends and potentially you can get jobs out of it.
I have the unusual perspective of serving on youth advisory bodies under the Howard and Rudd Governments, and also in the dying days of a vastly unpopular government last year as Chair of the 2010 NSW Youth Advisory Council.
In those roles, I have seen the committees treated in lots of different ways. I have seen indifference, feigned interest, real interest from the Minister and the Government, genuine interest from the Minister but indifference from the Government and all sorts of interactions in between.
On the National Youth Roundtable, I was fortunate enough to travel to and from Melbourne and Canberra several times. We stayed in pretty great hotels, had pretty awesome meals and I got to hang out with some great people. We worked on a really detailed and interesting project aimed at addressing mental health concerns for young people. On the NSW YAC, I have again worked with some really awesome people from right across the state on a whole range of projects.
On the 2010 NSW YAC, we focused on four issues: young driver licence restrictions; access to higher education for young people from rural and regional areas; participation of young people in their local areas; and climate change.
[Here I relayed a story about fronting a press conference, unexpectedly, with then Minister for Roads David Borger about our young driver report]
Failing isn’t really failing. It’s just an opportunity to learn how to do better next time. So if you walk into a meeting and think that you have enough support to push something through and then it doesn’t happen, what do you do? You keep working at it. You learn more about your topic and you come back to the table more able to win the debate next time. That’s where YACs can be really helpful. You can find it endlessly frustrating, but in the end, there might just be something that gets through the layers of bureaucracy and really makes a difference.
I like to think of it this way, you might not really find that you have enough skills to fly at the end of the day, but if you end up falling, you’ll do it in style.
[Give due credit to Pixar for this line, which is from Toy Story]
That 2009 report I mentioned came back to me a few weeks ago. I received a Facebook message from a friend. He congratulated me on the report, as he had come across it in the course of his work and was summarising it for his boss, so she could keep up with youth issues in the community. That friend of mine works for the Prime Minister.