Illawarra students find their voice at YMCA Youth Parliament Program

Young voices: Jelena Zaric and Rita Andraos will head to NSW Parliament in July to present their bills on Aboriginal affairs and healthcare. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Young voices: Jelena Zaric and Rita Andraos will head to NSW Parliament in July to present their bills on Aboriginal affairs and healthcare. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Young people should take notice of what's going on in politics.

That's the message St Mary Star of the Sea College student Rita Andraos and Figtree High School's Jelena Zaric want to spread.

The pair spent part of their school holidays at a training camp for the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Program, after being selected as the youth members for Wollongong.

The program aims to give youth a voice on the running of NSW and a chance to further understand the parliamentary process.

At the camp, student representatives from across the state were split into groups and required to draft a bill that fitted within their assigned portfolio.

Jelena, 16, was made Minister for Health at the training camp, where her group worked on a bill to promote early prevention for sexual health for people in rural and regional areas, as well as an awareness campaign to promote safe sex among non-heterosexual people.

A keen public speaker and debater, Jelena said she thought the issue was an important one because there was still a stigma attached to discussing sexual health that needed to end.

Rita, who turns 15 next week, was in a group tackling Aboriginal affairs and helped create a bill to acknowledge the work of indigenous carers.

Both students wanted to take part in the program because they had an interest in politics and policy they wanted to pursue.

"I've always been interested in politics and while the writing we do isn't so much about politics as about policy, I'm interested in having a say," said Jelena.

Rita said it was important young people took a stand on issues that mattered to them, and encouraged more students to educate themselves about what was happening in their communities.

"There's so many things in the community that need to be done and we can change it if we wanted to," she said.

"And there's so many people, like me, who want to change it."

Jelena agreed, and added that young people often had more power than they realised.

"I think it's important high school students take an interest in all policy-making and I think it's sad they don't as much as they should.

"If the youth are talking about it, it will influence others to as well."

The student representatives will present their bills, on topics including health, roads, law reform and education, to MPs and ministers at NSW Parliament House while attending a residential camp at Yarramundi, near Richmond, in July.

Jelena admitted to being a bit "nerdy" when it came to politics, and was excited to present the finished bill as well as have the chance to visit Parliament.

"It's awesome to think they've entrusted youth to respect this place.

"I'm most excited to debate bills in Parliament and I'm a bit nerdy and keen about the parliamentary procedure, and the etiquette that goes with it."

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