Bringing the Premier to school

Teach For Australia Associate Chris Weinberg with Former Premier of Victoria Denis Napthine

Teach For Australia Associate Chris Weinberg with Former Premier of Victoria Denis Napthine

Looking back on what has been a frenetic and eye-opening year, Term 3 2014 will be memorable for years to come. With a semester under my belt, I have certainly found it easier to take on opportunities outside of the classroom that hopefully help my students and the community at large.

In line with my long-standing interest in politics and passion for getting young people more involved in the political process, it was with optimism that I reached out to Premier Denis Napthine to come visit my school, Portland Secondary College, for a forum with our student leaders.

After making this invitation early in the year, I soon discovered that above just being the Premier and the local member, Premier Napthine was uniquely connected to our school – his family studied at Portland Secondary College, when he lived in the town in his early years as a Member of Parliament. With many a teacher able to recollect an experience they had shared with the Premier, I was confident that any forum with the students would be an invaluable experience.

Lo and behold, in late August, we hosted the Premier for an hour-long forum over Friday lunchtime, as part of a day that saw the Premier out and about across Portland, making announcements as the State Election campaign began to gather pace. While the preparation for the forum was brief (such is the life of a prominent politician), the school’s leadership team and key members of the Student Representative Council were able to come together and scope out an array of topics that they wished to question the Premier upon.

Denis Napthine talking to students

I was privileged to host the forum and act as Tony Jones of Q&A for the day, helping to facilitate the questions that the students had prepared. From the outset, it was clear to the Premier that some of the questions the Portland Secondary College students had for him would rival those of the Press Gallery for substance, depth and relevance in the lead-up to the November election. Their questioning took on greater significance given that some of the Year 12 students will be voting for the first time this November as residents of the South-West Coast electorate.

Three key topics stood out from across the forum: the youth unemployment crisis in the region, proposals to trial the use of medical marijuana and the challenges for today’s youth in accessing a quality university education. With each of these topics, I was fortunate to step back and let the Premier talk directly with the students about his views and in turn see the students follow up with substantive responses.

If only every student, who was about to become another member of the voting community, could have the opportunity to ask questions directly of the leaders. In an era, where faith in political leadership and engagement of young people has been dually questioned, it was heartening to see my students ask questions about issues that they are knowledgeable and passionate about through their studies and experiences and obtain detailed responses from the most powerful person in the state.

I hope that looking ahead this can be the beginning of a push to rekindle political engagement amongst our youngest and soon-to-be voters. Their issues and hopes for the future need to be heard and hopefully there will be more politicians like Premier Napthine willing to listen. If successful, then Term 3 2014 will have been the start of something very promising.