Canberran Grace Knight, 21, was interested in being part of the project as soon as she saw it advertised on social media.
Source: Supplied/Grace Knight
Her submission, an update of Australian poet Dorothea McKellar’s iconic poem ‘My Country’, reflects the climate anxiety experienced by many young people in Australia following recent devastating bushfires and droughts.
“The original poem invokes the patriotism and love of the land that should now be guiding our desire to act on climate change and save future generations,” she told SBS News.
“I think it details so much of the beauty of this area, but it’s the same beauty that we would be losing [without stronger action]. I think it was really just a matter of applying that old infatuation of the land with the current state of the climate, with the fires and everything else that has been going on.”
Western Sydney-based Reya Ramanujachari, 15, has submitted a speech outlining a vision for the future where women and other marginalised groups – including migrants and refugees – are not “cast aside” by society.
“I am very passionate about humanitarianism and I eventually want to weave my way into politics,” she said.
“And I realised that if I get in with this speech, I can start to make real change and I can change the views of people and share my opinion of how we need to make change.”
Reya, a second-generation Indian migrant, said she doesn’t often feel represented in the media and in politics.
“So I thought I might need to be the representation for other people like me. I should take a stand and not wait for anyone else to do it.”
“I think that if we slowly start to change and become more multicultural in politics, we’re kind of representing the values of a more modern Australia and the values of an Australia that can connect with more people.”
I thought I might need to be the representation for other people like me. I should take a stand and not wait for anyone else to do it.
– Reya Ramanujachari, 15
Samples of speeches uploaded to the campaign’s social media platforms – some of which have been submitted by Australians as young as 10 – touch on a variety of topics including climate change, mental health and First Nations reconciliation.
A shortlist of speeches will be given to participating MPs at the start of next month, who will then decide which they will read during Youth Voice in Parliament Week, which runs 18-22 October.
“Most young Australians don’t possess a working knowledge of the Australian political system. Many don’t feel valued and heard by our policymakers either,” campaign co-lead Ruby Bisson said.
“At 18, I was passionate about social issues and hungry to learn more about politics but I couldn’t tell you the difference between the major parties. This campaign endeavours to increase the political literacy of young people and connect them with resources to help develop their knowledge, understanding and confidence in Australian politics.”
Liberal MP Dave Sharma, one of the participating politicians, said the campaign was a good way of engaging young people in politics and the parliamentary processes.
“Data tends to reflect that young people do feel disconnected and removed from the political and the parliamentary process and they often don’t see it as all that relevant to their lives, so this will hopefully get some people interested in that they can see some sort of fruits of their labour,” he said.
Mr Sharma said it is important future generations understand and are enthusiastic about the political system.
“A political system is only as good as we make it. It’s the collective good of all of us … and if people are disengaged or disenfranchised we will get worse policy, worse decisions, but also potentially, a worse political system.”
Ms Knight said it would be “incredibly validating” to have her poem read out in parliament.
“To have your voice heard allows you to continue to act and to continue to seek to make a difference.”
“What’s happening now will ultimately shape Australia in 20 years’ time. There’s so much to gain from allowing young people to have a seat at the table in this discussion because it’s affecting our future.”
Speech submissions for the Raise Our Voice in Parliament campaign are open until 21 September. More information is available here.