Delegate: Ben Whitehouse (23 years)
Mr. Whitehouse (Australia): As Australia’s youth representative, I am honoured by the opportunity to address the General Assembly today. But just to be a little bit different, I am not going to talk about the World Programme of Action for Youth. I am going to talk about Australian young people.
I have travelled the length and breadth of my country, chatting with young people and asking them what is important to young Australians. It is my humble privilege to bring the Assembly their voices.
I would like to share the voices of two groups of Australian young people. The first is in an Australian Aboriginal community called Warmun, nearly 1,000 kilometres from the closest large city. Here, a group of young boys are surrounded by dilapidated houses, dirt streets crammed with rubbish, and peers who have never seen the inside of a school. The second, in a very different setting, is a group of 400 young people crammed into the town hall of a large capital city, where they are surrounded by tall, multi-million dollar buildings and the latest technology. Yet, despite the disparate nature of those two groups, both overwhelmingly assert that the two biggest issues facing the world today are the crisis in Iraq and continuing poverty in our world. That, in the case of the young Aboriginal boys, is true despite their own extreme challenges.
Mr. Martirosyan (Armenia), Vice-President, took the Chair.
Australia is a proudly multicultural country. While our indigenous peoples have called Australia home for more than 60,000 years, the evolving kaleidoscope of Australian life has seen many new faces become part of Australia in the last few years. The essence of Australian multiculturalism is that we do not all look the same and we do not all sound the same, but we are all Australian. It is our unity in our diversity that ties our dreams together.
While Australia’s young people are diverse in colour, creed and geography, our voices reflect the unity that binds our country. In particular, we overwhelmingly communicate three basic needs: the need for a sense of community, the need for a sense of safety, and the need for a purpose.
Australia is overwhelmingly a country of community. Beyond the overarching community of being Australian, we have many smaller communities — rural towns, suburbs, schools, and even football clubs. I have found that, for Australian young people, the drive to be part of a community, whatever form that takes, supersedes all else. The need to find a place to belong is the most powerful force in shaping who we are.
Yet as I found, that drive for community often conflicts with the other great desires of Australian young people: the desires for safety and purpose. In various areas of Australia, young people told me of the unrelenting violence that exists in their homes. In rural Australia, young people told me of the lack of opportunities present in their communities. Youth unemployment is soaring, educational opportunities pale in comparison to those offered in metropolitan areas, and recreational facilities are often considerably underdeveloped.
However, in response to my queries as to why they would choose to stay in their community, all I received were baffled looks. This is their home, they told me; this is where their family and friends are; this is where they belong — this is their community. They could try to seek opportunities elsewhere, but would find the transition too difficult and return to their place of belonging. The draw of their communities was far too powerful.
If it is community that is so powerful for young people, the foremost role of our society must be to enable those young people, first, to remain in their communities, but more importantly, to be able to reach their full potential within a safe and purposeful existence. [*18*]
One vital way to create communities that support and nurture young people is to include young people in the decision-making process. The Australian Government supports many programmes, such as youth advisory councils and the National Youth Roundtable, which offer young people a meaningful opportunity to dialogue with and advise those who make decisions on their behalf. Young Australians want not only to be kept informed of what decisions are being made on their behalf, but also to be involved in those decisions that affect their lives.
It is clear to me that, when given half a chance, young people have the most tremendous capacity to shape their own existence. Here are just three examples that I encountered. A few months ago, two teenagers organized a youth conference in rural Australia to enable other young Australians who live in the outback to meet and share opportunities. A young Australian in a seemingly depressed town in Northern Australia has recently created his community’s first youth group in an attempt to offer his peers alternatives to unemployment and drugs. A group of Australian Aboriginal young women in the north of Western Australia have created a dancing group in an extremely isolated community, thus providing teenage girls with an opportunity to participate meaningfully in their community. Just by being themselves, they are being extraordinary.
As Australia’s youth representative to the United Nations, I met countless young people who were captivated by the opportunity to have their voices heard at the United Nations. To be heard in the highest forum in the world is an opportunity without peer, especially for young people who may have never thought that their voices were valuable or worthy.
Youth representatives have the unique potential to bring voices from the ground to the highest decisionmaking body in the world. It is unique. It has the potential to change the United Nations from an abstract notion in young people’s minds into a genuine entity in the souls of countless young people throughout the world. There is nothing more vital to the prosperity of the United Nations than a new generation of people believing that the United Nations is listening to them and acting on their behalf. I urge countries to consider including a youth representative in their delegations to the United Nations.
I thank members for this opportunity today. There are countless young Australians who feel valued merely because representatives listened to me here.
UN Doc.: A/60/PV.27