Victorian young people are calling for mandatory Reconciliation Action Plans in primary and secondary schools.

A team of six young people from the Yarra Ranges tabled the Mandatory Reconciliation Action Plans in Schools Bill 2021 in the Victorian Youth Parliament last week, saying this would create a more culturally safe and equitable school environment.

An overwhelming majority of the Youth Parliament’s representatives voted in favour.

The Bill comes at a time when First Nations groups are calling for changes to the education system to close the ‘knowledge gap’ about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and cultures.

Under the proposed Youth Parliament Bill, each school would create their own Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in consultation with local First Nations community members. The process would be overseen by Reconciliation Australia and the Department of Education.

Gunai-Monaro woman and youth parliamentarian, Chloe Baulch said a RAP can help First Nations people feel like they are being heard.

“I believe it should have already been mandated,” said the 20-year-old.

“I’ve been having conversations with First Nations people already about this and they just seem so for it. And knowing what some of the Elders in my community have already been trying to get done through schools, this would be a massive help.”

Victorian Youth Parliament debate on compulsory First Nations education in Victorian Schools. Photo Supplied Facebook.

According to Reconciliation Australia, a RAP is a formal statement of commitment to reconciliation.

For a RAP to be considered complete, a school must choose at least 14 of 40 possible actions, including ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Classroom’ and ‘Cultural Competence (training) for Staff’.

Baulch’s vision for RAPs in schools may just become reality.

In the Victorian Youth Parliament’s 35-year history, more than 30 policies presented by young people have gone on to become law.

However, if the state doesn’t mandate RAPs, there’s a strong chance most schools will create their own RAP.

According to Reconciliation Australia, there are already over 8000 schools and early learning centres creating RAPs across the country.

Youth Parliamentarian Ollie Hackett says it’s important to try to bridge the gap between First Nations and non-First Nations Australians.

“As a group we agreed that, especially as we’re all from the Yarra Ranges, it was something we saw often – because we have quite a few Indigenous people out our way – there’s still such a gap between the two groups,” said the 22-year-old.

“We think Reconciliation Action Plans can be a step in the right direction.”

Young people spoke about First Nations justice several times during the Youth Parliament’s sitting week, passing a bill calling for compulsory First Nations education in schools and another to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

The Victorian Youth Parliament is run by the YMCA and has 120 participants aged 16-25.

Usually held at Parliament House on Spring Street, the event was held over Zoom this year in line with lockdown restrictions. Bills passed, including the Mandatory Reconciliation Action Plans in Schools Bill, have been passed on to the Victorian Minister for Youth Ros Spence.

The 35th annual Victorian Youth Parliament sat from September 19-24. Chamber sessions can be viewed on the Youth Parliament YouTube channel.

By Simone Costa