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Image: Geoff Helisma

From Paris to Brailsford is 14 hours on a bus (or seven hours in a car)

Geoff Helisma

Paris Brailsford, 17, was unfazed when I asked her how long it took to get from Paris to Brailsford on a bus – in fact she had half an answer, albeit for a car journey, before I had time to say the question was an ‘ice-breaker’.

The Year 12 Maclean High School student has just been selected as a member of the NSW Government’s Regional Youth Taskforce.

Her curriculum vitae, for one so young, is an eye-opener: From 2017 to 2021, she took part in various leadership and advocacy projects, including student leadership conferences, UN Youth Australia, Young Australians in International Affairs, and Country to Canberra: Women in politics.

She has twice been elected to the NSW Youth Parliament, representing the federal and state electorates of Page and Clarence.

She’s passionate about public speaking, debating and political negotiation competitions, for which she has represented NSW – her speech on intrinsic racism resulted in first and fourth places at the NSW and Australian ‘My First Speech’ competitions, and she won the north coast region’s ‘Heywire’ writing competition for her piece, ‘My heroes wear helmets’.

So it came as no surprise when Paris said she thinks “it’s important for people, young and old, to have their opinions challenged”.

GH: Being chosen as one of the winners of Heywire, what does that mean to you as a young person living in a regional area?

PB: I think it’s a super opportunity, especially for a regional student … because I think regional students don’t have the same access to some of the contests, [like] writing competitions and the opportunities that metropolitan kids would have.

It was an opportunity to voice something I think is pretty special; that is the efforts made in [fighting] the bushfires.

GH: What are your ambitions in life?

PB: Being in year 12, it’s definitely something I’ve thought about and, I think, based on things that I really enjoy and the subjects I’ve taken, I’d love to pursue a career in law and economics.

I really love that sort of problem solving. I just love the logic of economics. I think the Australian Government has a pretty good approach to economics.

…We’ve just jumped into macro economics at school, which I’m really loving – you know, with [things like] trade liberalisation and protectionism. Just the flow-on effect – changing one thing, like interest rates, can change a lot of things.

GH: Your involvement with UN Youth Australia, can you tell me about that?

PB: I cannot speak highly enough of [it] … as a place where like-minded youth who are politically-minded can go … diplomacy and advocacy can come together. I think I’ve definitely learnt a lot from those people and made some super, awesome connections through UN Youth events – it’s really opened my mind and eyes to a lot of humanitarian issues, as well.

GH: Are there any aspirations beyond law and economics, given you’ve been a member of the youth parliaments and now a member of the NSW Government’s Regional Youth Taskforce?

PB: Law and economics are a super foundation, they are both very versatile courses; but I haven’t really thought that far into the future. Politics is something that definitely interests me, especially on a local level – and the work of Kevin Hogan and Chris Gulaptis: it’s good to see how involved they are [while] still having community-minded connections with people. But I’m honestly not sure what the future holds, but I’m the sort of person who loves university: I might study more, I might find myself a niche, I might go back and study a humanities degree. I’ll see where the road takes me, I guess.

GH: How would you describe yourself politically/ideologically?

PB: Probably centrist; I don’t have any really strong opinions; I think it’s important that there’re social change and things to drive social changes that may come from either [political] party. I don’t think I have enough lived experience to comment further.

GH: Some people around my age have said to me that young people today are not as responsible and/or proactive in life as they were in my youth (1960s/70s), what’s your response to that?

PB: I know lots of people who work three jobs, and juggle that with school and extracurricular activities. I know a lot of people my age – through net-working at events and that sort of thing – who are so politically minded; [for example] there’s an amazing young woman I know who is the president of the Tamil Refugee Council in Sydney. I know young leaders in rural and metropolitan communities who are creating social, economic and cultural change, and I think they need to be acknowledged. By no means do I think today’s youth are hopeless.

GH: Your selection to the youth taskforce, what does that mean to you?

PB: It’s an opportunity to make contributions in areas where, typically, youth opinions have not been valued before. I think, if we could all come together and share our opinions and points of view, and challenge those points of view, we could create a much better environment, [address] youth mental health issues … everything. To sum up, this is not a political opportunity for me. I have not fully determined where I sit on a political spectrum. But I [want] to take this opportunity and use it as an advocacy opportunity.