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It's Time to Take Notice of what Young Australians are Saying

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 A record number of entries to the Whitlam Institute’s What Matters writing competition in 2019 has unearthed a deep and compelling passion among young Australians on many of the fundamental issues facing humanity and the nation.

Inspired by Gough Whitlam's commitment to involving young people in the shaping of Australia, this annual writing competition asks school students in years 5 to 12 to write a short essay on 'what matters' to them, their family, community, country and world.

The competition, which has been running for 15 years, received over 4400 entries this year, an increase of 17% of the previous year. This year’s winner was MIA HORSFALL of Frensham School, with her essay The Air Is Different Here, announced at a ceremony on Monday 9 September at the Female Orphan School.

Topics covered in the finalist’s entries were diverse and included: the quality of public debate; loneliness; the threats associated with climate change; humanity; bio-diversity; violence against women and children; drought; poverty and homelessness; pollution; and racism.

 Whitlam Institute Director Leanne Smith said, “It is exhilarating to read the entries from this very talented group of young Australians. There is great beauty in their words and there are valuable insights in their arguments that deserve to be heard and responded to.

“Many of the entries also displayed laudable courage in grappling with sensitive public policy issues.

 “In a year where we have heard reactionary, shrill criticism of the reasoned and principled protests by students demanding action on climate change, it is refreshing, and indeed inspiring, to see that young Australians will not be silenced.

“The strong views expressed by many of the students should never be dismissed as partisan discourse on `fashionable’ topics. Not one of the finalist entries advocates on behalf of any established political brief. These students display genuine creativity in the development of their arguments, and a passionate quality in the writing. 

“One theme that has emerged from a plurality of topics covered is a sense that, no matter the quality of their reasoning, young people are not being accorded their rightful place in the `public square of opinion’. If they are being listened to at all, it is with a polite indifference.

“Not only should adults take more notice, and listen more intently to what young Australians are saying, we should very seriously take stock of their advice.

 “Perhaps at no other time in history do young people have more at stake for their future than the present. Decisions are being made today that will dramatically affect their lives for decades.

“There is a latent but powerful force for good among young Australians and it is time to seriously consider how their views can be better represented in our democracy,” Ms Smith said.

Read the finalist entries in full

Watch some of the finalists read short excerpts from their entries.

Watch the Awards Ceremony in full.


Media Contact

Shane Wells, the Whitlam Institute | 0450 523 769 | s.wells2@westernsydney.edu.au

Notes to Editors

The Whitlam Institute within Western Sydney University commemorates, and is inspired by, the life and work of one of Australia’s most respected Prime Ministers, The Hon. Gough Whitlam AC QC. As the custodian of Gough Whitlam’s legacy, the Whitlam Institute promotes the contemporary relevance of his vision of a more equal, open, tolerant and independent Australia.

The vision of the Whitlam Institute is to be a nationally significant institution delivering distinctive, bold and inspiring policy research and programs. Our work encourages common ground, inclusive national identity and civic engagement for all Australians. 

The Institute has a nation-building agenda that will (in Gough’s words) “…help the great and continuing work of building a more equal, open, tolerant and independent Australia”.