Youth want action now: UNICEF drought summit concludes

The participants of UNICEF's NSW Youth Drought Summit.
The participants of UNICEF's NSW Youth Drought Summit.

Nearly 100 young people from regional and remote NSW unleashed their thoughts at UNICEF Australia's first Youth Summit for young people living with drought last week.

The region was represented at the summit by Anastasia Hunter, Mikala McLean and William Thomas Kate Price, Lily Wright, Emma Chalker, Olivia Twyford and Meg Austin.

The young people at the summit produced a range of recommendations starting off with a request for drought-affected communities to have formal channels to communicate with ministers making decision on drought policy and for governments to enter agreements with Aboriginal communities on how water systems are managed.

The summit requested the prioritisation of the protection of cultural practices and sacred sites in water management and a review of Aboriginal water rights.

Other recommendations made by the young people included access to mental health nurses and psychiatrists in every rural hospital, employment schemes for farmers seeking work off their properties, programs that foster greater understanding between urban and regional-based youth and a HECS-style scheme for drought-affected families struggling to pay boarding school fees.

A fiery discussion took place between the participants and representatives of the Department of Education, the National Farmers Federation, NSW Health and shadow minister for water Cessnock MP Clayton Barr, and shadow minister for agriculture Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon.

UNICEF Australia chief executive Tony Stuart admonished the state and federal governments for not sending ministers to the event.

UNICEF Australia's head of policy and advocacy Amy Lamoin said young voices were missing from the national conversation.

"We really want to better understand what is happening for young people, and for politicians to take that into account when they make decisions about policy and investment. The summit is an independent and safe connector to leaders in NSW," she said.

Time also was spent discussing how to navigate well-being, self care and mental health at an individual and community level.

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