The 23rd annual West Australian Parliament was held last week and, in fitting comparison to Australia’s own political landscape, it was not without contention.
Member for the South Metropolitan Region and outspoken Liberal Democrat Aaron Stonehouse chaired the Youth Parliament for a second year in a row, which included Canning-based students Mikhail Acebo and Celestine Christo.
Mr Acebo, a Curtin University student and devoted community member with an eye on a political future, said the experience has made him re-think his path.
“I guess I wanted to get involved because I’m reaching that point towards adulthood where I want to take on more responsibility, you know?” he said.
“I want to be more helpful to the community and be more aware beyond just my own life,” he said.
Mr Acebo said the Youth Parliament made him much more aware of the parliamentary process and the compromise and debate that forms a large part of daily politics.
“Initially, they have this big talk about your responsibilities in the role. With MPs, I definitely feel like there’s a conflict there every day,” he said.
“There’s the constant thought of, ‘Should I represent my electorate, should I represent myself, should I represent my party’. I had the feeling that there’s a lot more to politics than we think about the parliamentary process.”
Mr Stonehouse congratulated the students on their involvement in the parliament but said he was taken aback by some of the debates made.
“I must admit and say that I did disagree with quite a bit of what the young members had to say – particularly on gender quotas, government spending and Australia’s constitutional arrangements,” he said.
“But that’s okay because that’s what Parliament is really all about: sharing your views, listening to others and keeping an open mind.
“It’s certainly what I try to do in the chamber.”
Mr Acebo said he was somewhat disenfranchised by the experience, but that he was still hoping to make effective change.
He said he would continue to be an active member of the community but that young people had a lot to learn if they hoped to be involved in politics.
“There’s a lot more emphasis put on the connections that have to be made – in many ways it’s like a business. It’s chaotic.
“And for me, growing up and always wanting to be involved in politics, I have grown cynical and now have to stop and think about if this is what I really want to do, because I’m asking myself whether it’s really all worth it.
“I’m now considering plans on how to stay in contact with my local MP.
“It’s a big thing, and I must say that if young people want to have their say in politics, they have to find out what goes on in parliament.”