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Commissioner Children and Young People Ambassador Program

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Tags: Children and Young People, Young People

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, following on from what the minister for Education was talking about then, I take the opportunity to talk about the Commissioner Children and Young People's outstanding Ambassador Program.

On 4 October I went to the Ambassador Program interactive panel discussion, which was at the Launceston Conference Centre. I was on a panel with Mr Jaensch, member for Braddon and also Rebecca White, Leader of the Opposition. We faced more than 100 of the most astute, engaged, young Tasmanians I have ever had the privilege to spend time with. These are the ambassadors of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Leanne McLean.

When you were talking about the survey before, minister, I happened to be looking at one of the ambassador's regular updates. I do not know how many members in this place receive a regular update on the Ambassador Program from a young man called Joe Samuel Birch. I met Joe Birch at the Launceston panel discussion and his level of interest in the rights of children and young people and his determination to make a really strong contribution as an ambassador is truly impressive.

This afternoon Joe Birch has sent through an overview of report two. He has prepared a very professional report that includes a survey of young people that he took the initiative to do. He says:

For this survey I changed the program for the survey to be platformed from using Microsoft Office forms and this feature made it so much easier to use because I could track the responses easier.

I was pleased to see 20 people undertake the survey. In this report most parts of what people said will be included.

He also says:

Before going into reporting I acknowledge and pay respects to the traditional landowners of Australia, past, present and emerging, in which I commenced by ambassadorship.

I hope you enjoy reading this report. Please note that any feedback is welcome. To submit your feedback email Joe Birch. Thanks in advance and yours truly.

Joe asked other young people questions such as whether children should have access to free education services, no-cost levies, et cetera. Fifteen people answered yes to this question and overwhelmingly the response from young people was 83 per cent in favour.

Question two was should children be treated fairly, no matter what? The response was 94 per cent yes and 6 per cent no. I thought that was an interesting response from the 6 per cent. What Joe says as a qualifier is what I believe, that all children should be treated fairly, but there are some exceptions to this question that parents may not want to treat their children fairly.

Question three was should children have a say about decisions affecting them? Joe's response overwhelmingly to that survey was 89 per cent yes, children should have a say, and we know that to be true. We have to engage with young people, find safe spaces where they feel free to talk about issues that concern them or interest them, and we need to not only listen to what they say but they need to see us acting on what they have talked to us about.

Question four was why are the rights of children so important to you? Do you think children do not have enough access to rights? There was a number of responses and I will just read out a couple of them. Opinion one said:

I believe there are some grey areas between what is good for children and what is best for children and that there are issues of access and equity that have become more significant than they were a few decades ago.

Ambassador Joe replied to that:

I believe that access and equity are a big issue and we need to think about how not to make them a big issue.

Another opinion said:

Young people have valuable opinions. Sometimes they are dismissed because they are young and do not know everything.

Ambassador Joe replied:

Young people certainly have open mindsets and are always wanting to be listened to and the thing is the biggest problem is that schools do not listen to students voice enough.

This is the voice of young people. We have all been in school and been frustrated when we thought we were not heard or harshly judged, but this is an authentic response to a survey and some very considered responses.

As members of that panel we were asked a series, a barrage actually, of difficult questions. I think we all were very much on our toes responding to those young people's questions. Overwhelmingly, the issues that came up for them were concerns about climate and concerns about coalmining because that was when coalmining was topical in the news. There was a really interesting response to a question about the so-called religious freedoms bill. I described it as the 'right to be a bigot bill' and some very bright young man in the front went, 'You know, you're so right to call it the 'right to be bigot bill'. I just don't understand how any government could introduce legislation like that'.

It was just a delightful day and a privilege. One of the other exercises that they undertook through the Commissioner for Children - who is a great Commissioner for Children and well done to Leanne McLean - was working with artists in creating protest messages on umbrellas which echoes a bit the umbrella movement from Hong Kong, but again the depth of understanding, the intelligence and sense of connection and purpose amongst those young people as they decorated those umbrellas was truly inspiring. Every person I met that day - and they came from schools all over Tasmania, mostly grades 6, 7, 8 and 9 - was impressive, engaged and proud young Tasmanians who want to make a contribution to their state.

Madam Speaker, when we were asked what steps we could take to make sure young people were given a greater voice and had the capacity to influence decisions, I talked about the Greens policy to lower the voting age to 16 for young people who want to vote, and of course that was met very warmly by the ambassadors of the Commissioner for Children and Young People. These young Tasmanians want to have a say in their future, they have the capacity to give and contribute, and we need to listen to them and act on their behalf every day in this place.

In closing, I want to thank Joe Birch for updating members in this place on the important work he is doing as an ambassador. I have no doubt whatsoever that long after we have left this place and I am sitting in my rocking chair watching the clouds go by, young Joe Birch will be a member of parliament.