A delegation of four young people from UNICEF Australia's NSW Youth Summit on Living with Drought, including 15-year-old William Thomas from Tullamore, are meeting with federal government ministers and other decision-makers in Canberra this week to discuss their ideas for policy solutions and to push for long-term thinking, rather than ad hoc and reactive funding measures.
"The drought directly and specifically effects young people like us, our education and social connectedness - exacerbating existing challenges and inequalities across regional and remote Australia," William said ahead of the visit.
"We are urging the government to start a new year with a new commitment and a new plan."
Eight youth from our region were among the 100 young people who contributed to an historic summit hosted by the United Nations' children's charity UNICEF in October at Lake Macquarie, which also included Mikala McLean of Tullamore.
Meanwhile Year 10 Trundle Central School student Hamish Sanderson and Forbes farmer and drought coordinator Sally Downie were on the summit's steering committee.
UNICEF Australian Head of Policy and summit co-coordinator, Amy Lamoin said these young people from regional and remote NSW have already issued their call for action on a national drought policy.
"They are urging the government to start the next decade with an actionable plan and greater coordination of support services that will help communities withstand long term drought," she said.
"What we are proposing and asking for goes beyond existing initiatives to protect small business and assets," William added.
Sixteen-year-old Olivia Twyford from Bumbaldry is joining William in Canberra this week.
"We do not want to start another year, another decade, without an adequate plan - we cannot endure another year of the same policies and the same ad-hoc responses," she said.
"We are calling for accountable decision making and stronger coordination and leadership - we have ideas, solutions and strong personal motivations to be involved in the response.
"We are knowledge holders and community leaders and have solutions to local problems, as well as those on a wider scale."
In addition to calling for a national drought plan and improved coordination of services, the delegation is encouraging the government to take steps to future-proof their communities.
They are also asking for a national conversation on water security and ways we can bridge the divide between regional or remote communities and the cities.
Specifically, the delegation is seeking:
- A review of water rights and joint agreement with indigenous landholders on water management
- Access to decision makers and accountable decision making
- Improved community based mental health
- Measures to address family and financial stress, and
- A HECs-style deferred payment system for high school students.
"This delegation of young people want assurance from governments that there is a plan for the recovery phase, which is a notoriously difficult period," Ms Lamoin said.
"The impacts of drought have a long shelf life and we know, based on past experience, that the mental health of drought-affected people can worsen and drop off during these recovery phases."
UNICEF Australia's CEO, Tony Stuart said he was immensely proud to see these meetings taking place.
"Apart from being about children and young people having the opportunity to express their views, influence decision-making and work toward meaningful change, it is more importantly about being recognised as the stakeholders they are and being provided the rightful place at the table," he said.
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