Making a difference at the National Indigenous Youth Parliament
The 2014 National Indigenous Youth Parliament, held in May 2014, was an opportunity for young Indigenous Australians to experience Australia’s electoral and parliamentary system first-hand. For Ineke Wallis and Arrin Hazelbane, the youth parliament was another important step towards a career in public life.
Arrin Hazelbane is a young Warai man with family connections to the west coast of South Australia and the Finniss River region of the Northern Territory. Arrin is currently studying law at the University of Adelaide. His aim is to pursue a career in politics, with aspirations to give back to his community and help other Indigenous people to break down barriers.
Ineke Wallis is from the East Arnhem region and is currently working as a governance and executive administration officer for the East Arnhem Regional Council in Nhulunbuy. As someone who speaks her mind, Ineke provides a vital link between the council and community representatives and she aspires to become an elected representative of her people.
Ineke and Arrin were among 50 young Indigenous leaders, aged 16–25, who took part in the second National Indigenous Youth Parliament. Once again, the youth parliament was a collaboration between the AEC, the YMCA and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.
The youth parliament programme included a visit to Parliament House to observe question time and meet and learn from members and senators. Arrin spoke at length to his South Australian representatives, Mark Butler MP, Senator Anne Ruston and Senator Penny Wright. Ineke received first-hand advice from Northern Territory Senator Nova Peris, the Hon Warren Snowdon MP and Natasha Griggs MP.
Participants also talked informally with political leaders such as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion; the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP; the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Mr Warren Mundine; and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP – who attended as the representative of the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon Michael Ronaldson. Many of the politicians who met and spoke with the youth parliamentarians later noted that the experience had reinvigorated their own enthusiasm and idealism.
Participants also attended a reception at Government House with His Excellency General the Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) and visited the Embassy of the United States to meet the US Ambassador to Australia, John Berry.
On Saturday, 31 May 2014 the participants arrived at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House for the official opening of the two-day simulated parliament.
The symbolism was very powerful as Arrin and Ineke took their place alongside the other future Indigenous leaders in the chamber where, in 1962, legislation giving Indigenous people the right to enrol and vote in federal elections had been debated more than 50 years earlier.
Arrin passionately debated the Indigenous Juvenile Justice and Alternative Sentencing Youth Bill 2014. Ineke debated the Indigenous Retirement Age and Access to Superannuation Youth Bill 2014. Their desire, and that of all the participants, to effect change and give a voice to Indigenous people was evident throughout the week.
‘[The National Indigenous Youth Parliament] enabled me to understand the importance of voting and not to underestimate each individual’s democratic rights’, said Arrin. ‘I am now a part of a collective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth voice. We are the voice of the future.’
‘It’s important for our mob to get educated and close the gap, as this is the only way for our people to have a brighter future’, Ineke said. ‘Being with so many great inspirational young Indigenous people made me see we can do it if we stick together.’