Orginal speech delivered by Benson Saulo on the 4th Oct 2011.
Mr. Chair and fellow delegates,
I am delighted to address the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly as the Australian Youth Ambassador. As the world’s gaze is fixed on the impact that young people continue to have on societies around the globe, it is a privilege to represent the optimistic views and aspirations of Australian Youth.
My journey from growing up in the country town of Tamworth, New South Wales, attending a government school, to standing before you on the world stage as the first Aboriginal Australian to be appointed as Youth Ambassador is a testament to the opportunities available in Australia, an Australia that invests in human potential, an Australia that supports individual growth and community development.
I represent a generation that strongly believes that our future is not defined by borders or boundaries, race or religion but by our sense of responsibility to each other, an inherent sense of a global community which is premised on relationships and accountability.
In May this year I began my National Engagement Tour, a tour that is undertaken to gain a deeper understanding of issues affecting young people at a local, national and international level. I themed my tour ‘Towards a Unified Australia’. It was inspired by a 2010 speech by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, in which he discussed the steps taken, and journey still to go, for Australia to become a reconciled nation.
I have had the amazing opportunity to travel throughout Australia, over 38,000kms across our diverse and ancient landscape, visiting every State and Territory. I engaged over 10,000 people face-to-face and through social media. This opportunity continues to impact me not only as the Youth Ambassador but as a young Australian.
I have witnessed the challenges that continue to face families and young people living with disabilities, their teachers’ real concern for their student’s transition into further education and supported work, their family’s ongoing struggle for affordable carers. I have felt the weight of hopelessness in our most fragile communities, struggling with the intergenerational impacts of drugs, alcohol and cultural degradation. I have heard the concerns of the widening social gaps between generations and the growing trend of looking inward rather than looking outward.
While these concerns are very real, I am also filled with a sense of hope and optimism in the progress being made to address these issues. Knowledge that our commitment to our community still exists and our commitment to promote an equal and inclusive society is the core aspiration of enthusiastic and audacious young Australians.
Over the past 6 months I have had a particular focus on health, education, human rights and Indigenous affairs. My journey has provided an insight into each of these areas and has also highlighted the underlying common thread binding these areas; Education.
I am proud to say that the youth of Australia and the Australian government share a common vision, which is reflected in the commitments laid out in our National Strategy for Young Australians: “That all young people grow up safe, healthy, happy and resilient, and have the opportunities and skills they need to learn, work and engage in community life, and influence decisions that affect them.”
In the recent ‘Listen to Children’ report produced by the Australian Child Rights Taskforce, a coalition of 100 organizations, including UNICEF working with over 750 young people, identified that;
“There are specific groups of children who are not always afforded the same educational opportunities as other students, denying capacity to fulfill their potential. These groups include: Aboriginal children, children from refugee and newly arrived backgrounds and children with disabilities.”
Education is the basis for the development of our future leaders, leaders in business, leaders in innovation and ultimately leaders in our society. We as a nation believe to truly build capacity and equip, not only these identified groups but wider society, with the tools to fulfill their potential – we must rethink education; we must rethink its delivery and its role in the development and engagement of young people.
It is with this conviction that we have taken positive steps to support diverse learning styles including formal, informal, alternative and bilingual modes of education because we believe in the vital importance of engaging all of our multicultural, multifaceted communities.
Beyond our shores, Australia is focused on supporting education programs throughout Asia, the pacific and the world. In Indonesia, Australia is helping to build over 4000 schools, enabling 650,000 children from the poorest families to receive a decent education. In Pakistan we are supporting the enrollment of 46,000 girls in rural primary schools. Enabling young people with disabilities to have access to education is a large component of the support Australia provides within the Asia-Pacific region.
Australia provides support for the transition from primary to secondary school for children with hearing impairment and intellectual disabilities in Samoa and we are supporting the Papua New Guinean Department of Education to produce disability inclusive infrastructure guidelines for schools.
I am a firm believer that instilling a sense of social responsibility begins with the individual through exposure to and awareness of social issues. This awareness is also being supported through the rapid expansion of access to the internet and social media – empowering all generations to be connected and engaged in domestic and international dialogue, sharing and change.
My vision for the future of society lies in the fundamental belief that I am my brothers’ keeper; I am my sisters’ keeper. Understanding, that the lack of meaningful consultation at a grass-roots level prior to implementing unprecedented measures affecting these same communities; has an impact on all of our voices, in all of our communities. That 8 million displaced young people due to conflict, famine and environmental emergencies; has an impact on all of our abilities to ensure a secure future for humanity.
These are the impacts that we as a nation, we as a global community, must realize are not diminished by geographical and cultural divide because in a world that is becoming ever more technologically interconnected, as a global citizen, I believe, so to must our way of thinking.
I support the Australian Child Rights Taskforce recommendation to establish an independent National Children’s Commissioner. A Commissioner with the key responsibility of: establishing the strategic direction for youth based policy development and monitoring the extent to which Australian children are realizing their rights under the United Nation’s Convention of the Rights of the Child which Australia ratified in 1991.
The creation of National Children Commissioners, not only in Australia but abroad, would be an important step for youth throughout the world, to ensure that their voices are heard and respected and to ensure that youth services are adequately resourced, implemented and supported through strong governmental frameworks.
While there are many challenges and obstacles that face young people in Australia, and indeed globally, the sense of optimism in the future is evident. It is the young boy in the small town of Tennant Creek, Northern Territory, who wants to become a police officer so he can keep his community safe, it is the Noongah language teachers from Bunbury, Western Australia who believe culture is as relevant in our society today as ever, it is the vision shared by the young African refugee in Darwin with her goal to study medicine in Melbourne, Victoria.
These young people bare witness to the hope burning in our nation for a bright future for all, regardless of race, religion or gender. Through a continued focus on education, social responsibility and support for young people’s voices we can and must provide the opportunities that all young people deserve and that their rights specify under the convention. I have great faith that positive change through social development is attainable in our communities, in our institutions and indeed in our generation.