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March 15, 2010

Young people are often an easy target for criticism and a lot of it is unwarranted.

I’m concerned that we often hear the negative stories about young people but don’t get to read about their many positive achievements in our community.

On the weekend I had the opportunity to judge the Lions Youth of the Year regional final in Lakes Entrance.

Five young people – Tayla Benness, Attrayoo Driscoll-Plavins, Billie Filmer, Zara La Roche and Emily Small – represented Orbost, Mallacoota, Lakes Entrance and Bairnsdale in the final.

In the end, Zara was the deserving winner, but in competitions like this, it never seems fair that there can only be one winner.

Each of the students impressed me with their passion and enthusiasm for the future. They competed to the best of their ability and demonstrated great respect for themselves and each other.

These are the same values that were on display during the State Surf Lifesaving Championships in Lakes Entrance on the long weekend.

Thousands of young people did their absolute best and accepted the results with good grace. East Gippsland celebrated several medal winners but for me, the true champions were those competitors who entered with no prospect of winning but gave their best shot in every event.

One of the best parts of my job is visiting schools throughout East Gippsland and talking to young people about their hopes and aspirations for the future.

Helping young East Gippslanders achieve their full potential is one of the main reasons I became interested in politics in the first place.

I believe there is a major role for governments to play in providing infrastructure and services that allow young people from regional areas to compete on a level playing field with their city counterparts.

That’s why I’ve fought so hard for improvements to the Youth Allowance system and that’s why I’m continually arguing for more funding to assist local community and sporting organisations.

Young people who are engaged in their community through involvement in activities like surf lifesaving, football, netball, live theatre, music and the arts, are more likely to have a positive outlook. They develop an understanding of what it means to be part of a community and the importance of volunteering to do our fair share.

There are many challenges facing young people today that were unheard of just 20-30 years ago.  Instead of judging young people, we need to be supporting them and encouraging them to find their feet in a rapidly changing world. They will make mistakes – as we all did – but after meeting another five outstanding young East Gippslanders on the weekend, I’m confident that our future is in good hands.

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