YouTHINK: Hundreds of youth were part of the national conversation

On Friday 20 February, hundreds of young Australians, aged 15 to 24, from across the country attended the inaugural Australian Youth Forum (AYF) event – youTHINK – hosted by the Minister for Youth, the Hon Kate Ellis MP.

Over 600 young people were linked by satellite in every capital city as well as Cairns and Alice Springs, enabling them to participate in a truly national conversation. Many other young people chose to participate through hosting their own forum or by contributing their views via the Ideas Boards on the AYF website at www.youth.gov.au/ayf

The youTHINK forum focused on the two topics of ‘Violence and Safety’ and ‘Contributing to our Democracy’. These topics were chosen through the AYF Steering Committee of 11 young people, who were involved in the design and format of the forum.

The AYF’s youTHINK forum enabled young people to speak out on these important issues and also be a part of a conversation about practical solutions.

This inaugural AYF event was synchronised by Master of Ceremonies, Fuzzy (Faustina Agolley) from Video Hits, amongst a crowd of around 120 young people at the host site in Sydney. The satellite broadcast reached the ten locations, beaming the Federal Minister for Youth; Angus McFarland, who is a member of the AYF Steering Committee; and the Young Australian of the Year, Jonty Bush, who is an anti violence campaigner. Other young speakers were Jono Chase from Step Back Think, a Melbourne youth organisation committed to improving public safety, and Morgan Forrest, the NSW President of the United Nations Youth Association, who spoke about the importance of young people making a contribution to our democracy.

After these brief speeches and introduction of the topics, hundreds of young Australians set to work giving their views on how we can make the country safer and more democratic.

During the first topic ‘Violence and Safety’, many participants stressed the need for safe public spaces that enable young people to feel safe in their environment. Much of the discussion also centred on the need for greater understanding of others, and this was seen as a key to reducing violent behaviour.

Greater education about cultural diversity, and respect for differences, was highlighted as a major step to addressing the rates of violence in our communities. Many participants talked about the need for those in positions of authority, including police, parents and teachers, to have greater understanding of youth culture.

Another consistent theme across the ten locations was the links between violence and alcohol. Many participants also put forth the view that Australia’s cultural acceptance of certain behaviours tied to violence is a contributing factor.

The second topic ‘Contributing to our Democracy’ was especially relevant to the Federal Government’s current review of electoral processes. There were some consistent themes with many participants expressing that young people do not see the relevance of politics to their own lives, and do not have a thorough understanding of the system.

There was much support for increased civics education through all levels of schooling, not just the later years. Relating to this was the need for greater youth representation in all levels of government, with some participants suggesting the need for a youth parliament. There was also strong support for moving to an automatic registration process when young people turn 18, and the introduction of voluntary voting for people aged 16 to 18 years.

All contributions from youTHINK participants will be carefully analysed and considered, along with participants’ comments on the event and suggestions for future forums. Feedback on youTHINK will be provided through the AYF website, including Minister Ellis’ response to the ideas and suggestions generated by the discussions in all ten locations.

Together with the AYF Steering Committee, the Minister for Youth will also be planning for some new AYF events and directions for the next year. There will be many more opportunities for young people to participate, by attending future events, joining online discussions and being involved in their local community.

YouTHINK is just the start of the continuous conversation between young people and the Federal Government.

For more information on youTHINK and the AYF, please visit www.youth.gov.au/ayf.