Applications are open for a new Wollongong Council – the only catch is candidates have to be aged between 12 and 17.
Current Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery isn’t handing over his title, but he will work alongside the Wollongong Youth Forum in a program being piloted in the city.
The forum is part of the Young Mayors program, run in partnership with the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) in four cities.
Cr Bradbery said Wollongong would become the first NSW region to democratically elect young people to their own Youth Forum.
“Young people are important contributors to our community and it’s essential their voices are heard when it comes to making plans for our city’s future,’’ he said.
“We already have a range of exciting opportunities for young people to provide input into council’s decision making. This program will be another way for young people to get involved in a proactive and positive way.
“So, whether you want to nominate yourself as a candidate, or to cast a vote in the election for someone you believe can achieve big things, now is the time to get involved.’’
Elected by their peers, Youth Forum members will work together to define priority action areas. The youth council will serve a 12-month term working with council to implement projects and events and influence decisions that impact their community.
Candidates for the youth forum have until 2 July to nominate. They will campaign from mid-July until the election, with access to free media training, campaigning workshops and marketing tutorials.
A Town Hall meeting will give candidates the chance to hear from and speak with constituents.
During September, ballot boxes will be set up in high schools and community spaces across the Wollongong region and young people aged between 12 and 17 will be eligible to vote.
FYA Executive Director of Civic and Cultural Engagement Molly Whelan said Wollongong’s pilot program to facilitate youth leadership and participation was similar to other Young Mayors programs in Mackay and Cairns in Queensland, and Horsham in Victoria.
“Young people are invested in building a better future, leading movements and doing the work to drive change,” she said.
“But they’re so often framed as the problem and excluded from discussions and decisions that affect them and their communities.
“This initiative will flip this dynamic on its head – to ensure that young people’s voices are not just heard, but listened to and that they are able to meaningfully influence the decisions that impact them and their communities.”
Members of the Youth Forum will take part in fortnightly meetings at Wollongong Youth Centre and be mentored by experts from FYA and Wollongong Council.
The Youth Forum will decide its priorities based on issues identified by young people in Wollongong. Youth councils around the world have run projects covering a range of issues, including campaigns for mental health, LGBTIQ+ equality, poverty reduction, sustainability, safety, tourism and youth homelessness support.
Nominations for the Wollongong Youth Forum are now open. Nomination forms and more information can be found on the FYA website.