Eight Illawarra teenagers have been elected 'Wollongong's young mayors' and will have a $10,0000 budget to back their vision for the Illawarra.
The team are yet to be sworn in as leaders in the unique program but have already discussed issues around safety in Wollongong, mental health services, and inclusive events for young people.
A handful of Australian regions have been chosen to take part in a pilot program by Foundation for Young Australia FYA which empowers youth to elect their own forum to represent them.
The program is also taking place in Mackay and Cairns in Queensland, and Horsham in Victoria.
In Wollongong, the only NSW participant in the program, eight young mayors aged between 13 to 18 were democratically elected by 1476 young people in the Wollongong LGA.
The program emulates a local council election, 15 voting booths were set up at schools and community centres in September. The candidates created their own campaigns and members will serve a one to two year term.
But don't call them an advisory group, they'll have more power to create change in the Illawarra.
"What we're trying to do is shift the dial on that to move how we position young people away from just simply advising to actually making decisions," Acting Executive Director of FYA, Tahlia Azaria said.
It's based on a UK model that provides youth forums with funding that Ms Azaria said ensures they can take their ideas "off paper and make them real".
What power do the young mayors of Wollongong have?
The plans for how the youth forum will work with Wollongong City Council are yet to be confirmed but their budget empowers them to create their own initiatives.
"We believe it's essential [young people are] part of the consultation process on matters that affect them either now or into the future," Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said in a statement.
"Through this program, young people in our region will have another way to engage in the work Council does on behalf of the community, and a new channel to provide their thoughts and feedback to Council on issues that they care most about."
The process could be similar to Mackay's youth forum where they have been invited by their local mayor to brief the council quarterly with their priority action plan.
The youth forum has a mandate to be representatives for young people in the Wollongong LGA.
Who are the young mayors and what issues have they raised?
Wollongong's young mayors include Jayden Atherton, Oskar Alefaio, Christelle Morla, Phoenix Horton, Matilda Miles, Sophie O'Dwyer, Abigail Stewart, and Emma Mattison.
The group have a big focus on community wellbeing, in particular marginalised communities such as LGBTQIA+, Indigenous, migrant, and low socioeconomic youth.
"A big thing that I've heard from all of them in different capacities is talking about safety in Wollongong," FYA program assistant for Wollongong, 19-year-old Tara Broso said.
"Whether that's physical safety like being able to walk around town as a young person or whether it's mental health."
The group highlighted access to disability services and long waits for mental health services as a concern.
They will spend several weeks training, then vote for a mayor and deputy mayor within the group.
With almost 1500 young people coming out to vote in the Illawarra in September, Ms Azaria debunks the stigma that young people are disengaged.
"Young people are not disengaged, but they can be disempowered," she said.
"If they're given a platform to have their say and to make change they can do some really outstanding things."