Six months ago, I had never heard of the term Youth Parliament. It interested me enough to make me apply to join the program and with God’s grace, I was selected. With me in the program were 95 others. All of us were representatives of an electorate in New South Wales.
We were told that the program would be held in two sessions. The first session, known as a training camp would be held during the Term 1 school holidays. The second session, residential camp, would take place during the Term 2 holidays.
The training camp was all about basics. We learned about formulating and preparing legislative bills on issues which were of concern to us as youths.
I along with fellow sikh Rana Singh were both selected for the same portfolio area; Multicultural and Ethnic affairs. After much deliberation, we eventually settled on a bill to target racism in the state. The bill called for the establishment of a Cultural Religious Appreciation Committee. This committee would implement a compulsory program aimed at teaching appreciation of religions and cultures in Australia to year 7-8 students.
While we achieved much, we also found that our efforts had left us with key flaws that needed correcting. This led our portfolio to split into Sponsors and Refuters of the bill. Discussions between those sponsoring the bill and those refuting against it left us with much to mull over as we left at the end of our first session or training camp.
I could not wait for Term 2 to end and for the holidays and the residential camp to start.
What I experienced was amazing. We went to parliament, to debate the bills which we had worked so hard on. The atmosphere in which we worked was awesome. We functioned like actual parliamentarians and even surprised them with the calibre of our debates.
At parliament, all portfolios came together into Government and Opposition groups. We as Government spoke on a wide spectrum of issues which including adolescent health care, domestic violence, bridging the gap between rural and regional areas and euthanasia. Arguing each time for our party, before voting with our conscience at the resolve of the debate.
Each day, different portfolio groups would present and debate their bills. The night before our bill was to be presented was a hectic and nervous one with last minute details being addressed.
On the morning itself, all our hard work came to 45 minutes of intense debate and when the vote was taken our bill had been passed with unanimous numbers. It was then handed to the relieving Premier of NSW to view and amend before debate in the house.
I was also fortunate enough to make a ministerial speech before Parliament during the course of the day. I spoke about Sikhism and how Sikhs in the community were targeted by racism and the words did not have fall on deaf ears, with many interested to know more about our faith and ways of life.
But it was not all about work, we enjoyed some valuable fun time throughout the course of the camp, with rugby and soccer games, a cruise and a disco. Not surprisingly, I have come away with many new friendships and I hope these will last for a long time.
On a personal note, this has been the most empowering experience of my life! I have learnt so much. I now know what it is to work under pressure, how to write speeches and how to command attention instead of demanding it.
I am glad I was given this opportunity not only to represent myself as an individual, but my community, my electorate and Sikhs all around.
I have learned how to make a difference and what steps I can take to change the world. I would recommend this program to anyone who qualifies for it. It is not just a camp. It is a life experience.