Member for Mildura Ali Cupper launches the pilot of her D22 education project at Mildura West Primary School last week. 

By JOHN DOOLEY

FOLLOWING her election last November as the Member for Mildura, Ali Cupper made a commitment to consult with school children across the electorate to hear directly from them about their ideas, and to capture their vision for our community. 

To start the consultation process, Ms Cupper last week launched the pilot of her ‘Destination 22’ (D22) education program at a gathering of Grade 5 and 6 students at Mildura West Primary School.

She spoke to them about the power of democratic speech, and her role as a Parliamentarian.

The unique consultation project will also see Ms Cupper meeting with principals and school councils to identify each school’s most pressing infrastructure needs.

During the dynamic group discussion at Mildura West, the children expressed some very advanced ideas and solutions on issues relating to their school, the Mildura Base Hospital and its proximity to the waste disposal landfill, and overseas aid, to highlight just a few topics.

Following the discussion session, the students were invited to express their ideas in words or pictures, which they documented on the special ‘D22 – Mallee kids map the future’ pages provided for the exercise.

“We want our school students to lead the conversation, because as our youngest citizens, these children have the biggest stake in our future, they are very good at big-picture thinking, and they provide unique insights into our community’s strengths and opportunities,” Ms Cupper said.

“Destination 22 is really about engaging our young voices. It’s important that they feel they are listened to and that they are democratic agents. 

“While they’re still at an age where they can’t vote, they can have their opinions heard. 

“I’m now a politician and community leader, and I think that this is a really important thing for me to do – to start to instil the idea in young people that they have a voice.

“It’s important that we have our ‘list’ of needs in terms of infrastructure and service items, but we also need to have a cohesive vision that all of that fits under, so that we really know where we are going as a community, and so that’s why I am coming to kids to talk to them.” 

Ms Cupper said that children tended not to let little obstacles get in the way of their ideas.

“You name any social problem or environmental or economic issue or problem we have – our kids can solve these with a good education and that’s why I am so passionate about D22, it’s a really special project for me,” she said.

“Kids do think about these issues, but are probably not asked, and I think that’s one of the issues relating to the low rates of voter enrolment for young people – they don’t feel engaged.

“If they go through their lives, from being born to turning 18, and no one has really asked them to participate in democracy – to actively participate in decision-making processes – well, why would they feel inspired to enrol to vote? You would feel that there isn’t any point.”

Mildura West Primary’s principal, Anne Robinson, said the school children are accustomed to thinking and articulating their thoughts to adults.

“Here at West the kids have a voice every day, every lesson, and they know that we listen and we make changes based on what they say,” she said.

“We take what they say seriously, and make changes according to what they say. I meet with them every Thursday at the principal’s lunch – a group of them join me – and we have done so for seven years – they’ll say, ‘This isn’t working, why can’t we have that’.”  

The D22 process will be adapted for use at each public school in the electorate, and will be guided by the preferences of each principal and school council. 

“I am passionate about nurturing our children’s ideas and encouraging them to grow. As a daughter of a State school principal, I am passionate about public education and thrilled to have the opportunity to work with our public schools to contribute to growing our next generation of leaders,” Ms Cupper said.