Richmond River High School student and youth parliamentarian Alex Jones.
Richmond River High School student and youth parliamentarian Alex Jones.

‘Hear hear’ to youth parliament

A trip to the NSW parliament chambers to engage in mock parliament debate has transformed Richmond River High School student Alex Jones. For a week, Alex was no longer just a Year 12 student but was known as the Honourable Alex Jones, member for Lismore.

Along with 100 other students from across the state, Alex successfully applied to be a member of this year’s YMCA youth parliament, along with two others from the Lismore area.

“We worked in teams and learned about parliamentary procedures and how to put together bills and legislation,” Alex said. “My team worked on a new bill for education which will improve the state-wide education system by changing the anti-bullying system in primary schools.”

The team spent a few months communicating over the web to finalise the bill.

“We wrote guidelines to change the student to mentor ratio (one mentor per two students) and to teach mentoring skills,” Alex said. “When I was in primary school, I mentored seven students and we weren’t taught much about it.

“We want to make sure that people are capable of being mentors and will work with their buddies as a team and create a friendship,” she said. “If someone is put in a position of responsibility, they put aside their feelings and work to create a team. We want to develop young children who know how to help others and not feel overwhelmed.”

With the bill finalised, Alex took her public speaking skills to Sydney for a week to engage in a mock parliament with the other students and debate their newly written legislation.

“We dressed in suits and spent three days sitting in a mock parliament, set out like the normal government,” Alex said. “Our team played the Opposition and we had bill posers and rebuffers sitting on the front bench. At the end we had an individual conscience vote and crossed the floor to vote yes or no.”

Alex believes that many state parliament members would benefit if an individual conscience voting system was adopted.

“So many members of parliament on the back bench don’t get a say and they are often closer to the people,” she said.

With a number of members of the state parliament there to mentor the students, all commented that the youth parliament was better behaved than the state parliament.

“We only said words like ‘hear, hear’ and ‘shame’ or three-word interjections,” Alex said. “We were lucky, we had some of the NSW parliament members speaking on our side.

“(Lismore MP) Thomas George was great. We had coffee with him in the parliamentary cafe and we will continue to have coffee with him here.”

Alex hopes to see a youth council established in the Lismore area.

“We need to raise our voice, putting youth views into local council. In my experience, the youth of the Northern Rivers are more likely to have their say. We grew up as hippies and we are comfortable creating our own view of the world,” she said. “We need to build ourselves as intellectual beings, rather than just teenagers.”

Alex won ‘the most outstanding speaker of the Opposition’ award for her contribution to the event and she will apply to attend next year’s youth parliament. Hoping to change the world for the better, Alex will now spend the rest of her year getting though the HSC while working and studying for a Certificate III in Aged Care. With plans for a career in health, studying nursing and medicine, it is possible that Alex may be responsible for helping influence future policies which shape Australian society.

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