Hope for new voice in Wattle Range Council

MILLICENT High School students might soon have a direct say on youth-related matters at Wattle Range Council, in what is considered a South Australian first.

The proposal, which is in its early stages, would allow students to attend regular council meetings and speak in the chamber.

The students would not have any voting rights, but it is thought their verbal input would be invaluable in the decisions made by council which would impact on young people.

Formal representation could also be extended to students at Penola High School and Kangaroo Inn Area School.

Mayor Des Noll and council chief executive Ben Gower have spoken to Millicent High principal John Shelton, Kangaroo Inn principal Annie Matthews and Penola High principal Ngaire Benfell.

The school leaders have supported the concept and will form a delegation to the monthly council meeting in Millicent tonight.

Wattle Range Council has always had a “grey tinge” since its formation in 1997 with only three councillors under 40 years of age elected in that time.

According to a staff report which accompanies tonight’s agenda, the youth council concept came to the attention of Mr Noll and Mr Gower when it was raised last year at a meeting of the Local Government Association of South Australia.

Across South Australia, only 2pc of the councillors elected at the last poll were aged between 18 and 24.

Among the proposals suggested in the staff report is each school has two representatives in the chamber and they would speak on youth-related issues at the invitation of the mayor.

The students would not be paid, but a travel allowance might be provided as well as the opportunity to join the councillors and senior staff at their evening meal.

“The junior council proposal would fit in the collaborate level of Wattle Range Council’s community engagement framework,” the staff report said.

“This potentially provides an opportunity for council to further strengthen its engagement with youth and to help ensure that youth needs and rights are considered during council’s decision-making process.

“Decision makers would have the direct opportunity to hear from youth representatives on matters brought before the council.

“Other potential benefits of the program may include raising local youth awareness about the role and processes of council and local government in general.

“It may encourage youth to consider nominating to be on council, become an employee, or participate in other ways into the future.

“A junior council would provide a ‘real life’ opportunity for youth to develop skills, experience and confidence locally in the areas of public speaking, researching information and communication with peers.”

Following the delegation from the three principals tonight, council staff have recommended Mr Gower draft a junior council policy for further consideration.