Raise Our Voice Australia presents youth voices to parliament

Ashleigh Streeter-Jones, founder of Raise Our Voices Australia. Photo: Raise Our Voices Australia/supplied.

The recent redesign of a unique political campaign has resulted in speeches from young people being read aloud by members of federal parliament. Youth editor Corin Shearston investigates.

The issue of political disengagement amongst Australia’s youth has been recognised for decades. Despite the passionate efforts of certain individuals, little has been done to assist the cause. 

After Australia’s first minister for education and training was appointed in 1966, twelve ministers for youth have been appointed since 1981. However, it’s not clear to see how these ministers have assisted youth to become empowered participants in our political process. 

A current shortage of youth councils and advisory boards represents the scale of this disengagement. Although being widespread, modern community initiatives seem to have remained at a light introductory level.

That was until writer and consent advocate Ruby Bisson launched a unique campaign in 2018, that was recently revamped on a larger scale with Raise Our Voice Australia (ROVA) founder Ashleigh Streeter-Jones

Recognised by Forbes for her work to get more young women into politics, Streeter-Jones founded ROVA as an organisation to increase female and gender non-binary voices in policy-making.

Ashleigh Streeter-Jones addresses supporters in public.
Photo: Raise Our Voices Australia/supplied.

Launched by ROVA on 2 August, the revamped campaign is being called Youth Voice in Parliament Week, and it runs from 18-22 October.

Attracting 603 eligible participants aged under 21 from every state and territory, the campaign called for the submission of 1.5 minute speeches to be read in the House of Representatives. 

The speeches are based around the question, “What is your vision for Australia in 20 years?”

Speaking to 2SER Radio’s Stef Posthuma on 9 September, Bisson explained, “This campaign is not necessarily designed to educate politicians.

“I think politicians know what young people care about,” she stated. “It’s about bringing young people into the process … helping young people realise that they can and should contact their federal politician[s].”

After submissions closed on 21 September, speeches were delivered to the offices of MPs and senators on 1 October. A majority of the speeches were left-leaning, advocating for awareness around climate change, Indigenous land rights and women’s rights. 

The writing of speeches has been encouraged by school teachers across the country and ultimately aims to correct the unfair misinterpretation of young people having no hope for the future.

Youth Voice in Parliament Week campaign founder Ruby Bisson appears on ABC News. Photo: Raise Our Voices Australia/supplied.

Noting an increased political involvement spurred by social media and other online platforms, Bisson believes Australian youth are more politically engaged than ever before. As Bisson believes, an individual’s passion about an issue actually makes them political, but many youth don’t realise that. 

“I don’t imagine a climate denier would read a speech about climate change,” Bisson said. “Maybe they’ll realise they have no choice when all speeches at the moment tend to reference [it].”

In showing their support for the opinions of young people, 46 MPs and 22 senators will be reading these speeches in parliament. Notable parliamentarian participants include South Australian senators Penny Wong and Sarah Hanson-Young, Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, and NSW MPs Dave Sharma, Susan Templeman and Chris Bowen. 

In a recent media statement, Dave Sharma, the Sydney-based member for Wentworth, said, “When young people are informed and empowered, they can place themselves at the forefront of change … their voice[s] can be incredibly powerful.”

Dave Sharma, Member for Wentworth. Photo: Raise Our Voices Australia/supplied.

“We really want a diverse range of young Australians to participate,” writes ROVA’s Heather McNab. “[We] believe this is a great way for youth from inner Sydney to have their say on what they hope the future holds.”

The campaign is being elevated by industry partners UNICEF, Generation: Politics, YWCA and Run For It, who are endeavouring to increase the political literacy of young people and develop their understanding of Australian politics.

It’s clear ROVA and these fellow organisations are passionate about having more young people in parliament. 

As ROVA references on their website, “It doesn’t help that a lot of the time, we leave school with absolutely no idea how the whole system works.” 

To that end, everyone who submitted a speech will be invited to attend a number of workshops focused on politics, activism and how to make change, which are occurring this month.

An online graphic for Raise Our Voice Australia. Photo: Raise Our Voice Australia/supplied.

As a ROVA participant last year stated, “[The organisation] opened my eyes to a world of possibility that I wasn’t aware was available to me”.

Another previous participant said, “I left the program with a strong network of mentors who work in politics and policy, as well as a community of passionate, like-minded women who were incredibly supportive and inspiring.” 

Meanwhile, certain speeches from the campaign will be featured on ROVA’s Facebook and Instagram pages. 

“This [campaign] is about amplifying that voice early,” Bisson states, “so that we can steer future leadership in what we perceive to be the right direction.” 

It certainly seems like a great way to go about it. 

Visit the Raise Your Voice Australia website for more information. 

Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.