As she seeks a third term at the City of Sydney, Councillor Angela Vithoulkas speaks to the Sentinel about the importance of having a formal framework for youth to share concerns about their city. Story by youth editor, Corin Shearston.
Many years before Angela Vithoulkas was spurred into the world of Sydney politics and fierce advocacy, she grew up in the Sutherland Shire as the daughter of Greek migrants. After leaving school in Year 11 to go into the family business with her brother Con Vithoulkas, the longtime business partners became the owners and operators of VIVO Cafe in Sydney’s CBD, which closed in August 2018 after 16 years of trading. Angela has now owned and sold 17 businesses, based largely in hospitality, while becoming the first Greek-Australian woman to be elected to the City of Sydney Council.
When she was a youth herself, tied to her upbringing amidst the suburban daily grind, Angela’s development was hindered by a lack of learning resources. Subsequent decades of stable effort brought her to a position where she has the power to effect change and address problems facing the youth of today.
However, knowing what problems Sydney youth are currently facing requires direct input from the youth themselves. It is for this reason Angela is proposing to form Sydney’s very own Youth Council; in fact it’s one of the objectives in her seven point plan, which, she says, “is about reimagining the way government works”.
Above: Angela Vithoulkas promoting the Small Business Party alongside young members of her family. Sources: Angela Vithoulkas/Facebook, @angela_vithoulkas/Instagram.
Her proposed Youth Council is envisioned as a group of 24 young people, aged 13 to 25. Youth will be encouraged to join through promotion placed at Sydney high schools, universities and other youth spaces. After being elected from within the Youth Council, a Youth Mayor would be a conduit for advice to Sydney’s official councillors, relaying plans and concerns.
A Deputy Youth Mayor would also be elected, along with appointed chairs for categorised committees. Young people with differing expertise will be grouped into these committees, which will likely target project areas such as business, sustainability, the arts, sports and more.
Engagement in these areas will rely on the passion of innovative young minds, as they channel the same independent DIY spirit behind Angela’s nine years as an independent councillor and the formation of The Small Business Party, the independent political party she founded and leads.
Creating a well-represented cross section of cultures is also crucial.
“I want as much diversity on that Youth Council [to truly] represent a cross section of our youth,” Angela explains, “but it will be up to them to want to be part of it.”
Meeting frequencies and formats are yet to be decided, but in the age of Covid-19, a Youth Council – much like the overarching ‘real’ Council – would need the flexibility of both online and in-person meetings. As Angela notes, the use of online resources could have led to the NSW local government elections taking place in 2020 instead of being twice-delayed (they will now be held on 4 December, 2021).
Within a formal framework, focused by regular meetings and quarterly reports, Angela’s proposed Youth Council would aim to promote more youth-oriented dialogue within the City of Sydney, creating a beneficial relationship between young voters and elected adults. Needs and problems affecting young people could then be recognised and addressed effectively, with input from the Youth Council and relevant industry experts.
The City of Sydney’s ten year plan, up to 2030, has been released and a 2050 plan is soon due. A majority of citizens who will be dealing with the implications of these plans in 2030 and 2050 are still young now, and Angela says it’s vital that they be involved in decisions that will affect them. Decisions that adult councillors make today shouldn’t negatively affect future generations, she says.
Above: screenshots taken from TV appearances featuring Angela Vithoulkas: Paul Murray Live on Sky News Australia (left) and Your Money Live – Taking Stock with Brooke Corte and Chris Kohler, Channel 95/Foxtel 601. Photos: Angela Vithoulkas/Facebook.
Furthermore, participating youth will be empowered by witnessing the operations of local government and attending City of Sydney council meetings, which could start a trend for this model to be replicated in other councils across the country.
“We can help them to speak to state government and to federal government,” Angela enthuses. As the Sentinel reported last month, young female participants in the Katoomba-based EVIE equality project have already been enabled to sit in on Blue Mountains City Council meetings and access time with MPs. Things are already changing.
While the Youth Council will enable Sydney-based youth or students to have a formal advisory platform, they can’t have a legally binding role as they’re not bound by legislation or elected through a normal public process.
Nevertheless, they can still offer crucial insight across generations by voicing opinions on subjects that adults may not even know of.
“It’s just about starting that conversation,” Angela explains. “This idea is ready to go.”
Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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