From March 24-26, I was lucky enough to be chosen from approximately 4000 students from across Australia to participate in the 2015 National Schools Constitutional Convention in Canberra, certainly a great honor and an amazing experience. To get to the National Schools Constitutional Convention, I went to a Regional Constitutional Convention at Glen Waverley Secondary College in Term 1 last year, and then applied for the Victorian State Constitutional Convention in October 2014, where we debated on Australia’s supposed budget crisis. After attending the Victorian State Constitutional Convention, I applied for the National Schools Constitutional Convention and was chosen as one of the delegates for Victoria.
The annual National Schools Constitutional Convention is held to encourage students to discuss and debate issues regarding the Australian Constitution, and in 2015, we focused on the theme of ‘Checks and balances: Do we need an Australian Bill of Rights?’ I found it to be a very interesting topic, particularly in the light of this year being the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the very beginning of ‘human rights’ as part of law, and Australia being one of the few Western democracies without a Bill of Rights of any kind. We were incredibly lucky to be able to discuss this very pertinent issue in Old Parliament House, with guest speakers such as Senator the Hon. Scott Ryan, Tim Wilson, the Human Rights Commissioner and people from the High Commissions of New Zealand, Canada and Britain on panels, as well as Chief Justice French AC from the Australian High Court. We worked in smaller groups to debate about the various issues regarding a Bill of Rights in Australia, as well as listening to guest speakers to help determine our position on a Bill of Rights in Australia. On Day 3 of the Convention, we held a plebiscite (vote) on whether Australia should have a Bill of Rights, and overall, the delegates at the 2015 National Schools Constitutional Convention voted that we do not need one. The communique of our discussions was presented to the President of the Senate Senator the Hon. Stephen Perry and incorporated into Hansard.
Apart from the main debate, we also visited Parliament House and attended Question Time. It was a truly amazing experience to actually be there in person, watching the ‘theatre’ that Question Time is, and viewing one of only two copies of the Magna Carta outside of the UK. We also had the opportunity to hear from the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop MP, Speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as Members and Senators from the Australian Parliament, including Anna Burke MP, Catherine King MP and Bob Katter MP. On the second night, we were also lucky enough to be invited to an Official Reception at Government House where we met the Governor of Victoria His Excellency the Hon. Alex Chernov AC QC and Mrs Elizabeth Chernov, a truly memorable experience. We then attended a delicious Official Dinner at the High Court where we met the Hon. Justice Stephen Gageler, and the 2015 Young Australian of the Year Drisana Levitzke-Gray, an incredibly humble and lovely person, and my new role model. Finally, on the last day we visited the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House and the National Archives of Australia, where we saw the original Constitution and other key documents related to Australia’s birth as a nation. We were also very excited to meet politicians at the airport in Canberra who were nice enough to take pictures with us and speak to us, including the Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP and the Hon. Mark Dreyfus QC, MP.
I met so many amazing, like-minded people interested in politics, legal studies and current issues; however, we were not only linked in these interests, but by our great selfie-taking skills, our Snapchatting-while-the-speaker-is-speaking skills, and our absolutely perfect politeness. We all bonded really well during our time together, and it shows – not even 24 hours after we left each other, we were already planning a reunion! It was also incredibly humbling and thought-provoking to meet Indigenous Australians standing up for their rights and calling for the Constitution to recognize them and to prevent the forced closure of Indigenous communities. As a friend said, ‘My faith in Australians has been restored!’
Overall, I believe that the most important thing that I took away from attending the 2015 National Schools Constitutional Convention was that we must work to change the political culture in Australia, so that Australians, especially young Australians, are more involved in their community and in the government of Australia.
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