Year 11 Student, Catherine McAuley Westmead, NSW

Living in Sydney, I have visited Canberra and its variety of attractions quite a few times on school camps and family holidays, yet the Every Voice Counts experience allowed me to view our nation's capital with new eyes, new companions and a new enthusiasm.

Flying into Canberra airport, I sat curious and eager to meet the other 31 students and to get stuck into the action- packed activities. There was an incredible energy in the discussions we shared and the friendships we quickly formed, knowing that these like-minded students came from every corner of the country.

We began our three-day program at Parliament House listening to the incredibly interesting presentations from Joshua Faulks, an advisor to the then Attorney-General and Zoe McKenzie, the Chief of Staff of Senator the Hon George Brandis. It was after this that we launched 'Celebrating Democracy Week', receiving our certificates from The Hon. Julie Bishop, MP, the then Minister for Education, Science and Training, before each enjoying time to talk to our individual Members of Parliament. We then spent an hour in the real heart of Parliamentary life - Question Time. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to sit so close to the debate, watching the two sides battle for credibility.

From the new to the old: the day concluded in Old Parliament House, where we participated in a role-play of the Conscription debate. With hearty 'hear hears' and disgusted 'shame, shames', it was inspiring to sit in the same seats as the frontbenchers in 1964.

We were given the opportunity the next day to hear a presentation on public speaking from Jennifer Harwood, before heading to the National Archives. It was there that we began to tackle what it means to 'be a responsible citizen', listening to the enlightening speeches from all areas of society. Journalist Samantha Maiden gave us the inside picture of her work in the Canberra Press Gallery, Jonathan Nicholas spoke about the lobbying process and Adam Valvasori from World Vision spoke about our responsibility as global citizens. We concluded the day by exploring the exhibitions at both the Archives and the National Museum.

The last day involved putting together our perspectives, findings and recommendations through a mock Senate Inquiry. It was a fantastic opportunity to engage and collaborate as a group on a joint submission regarding 'being a responsible citizen', which would presented to the then Minister for Education, Science and Training. It was a wonderful way to end a wonderful experience. Such an opportunity certainly testified that 'every voice counts'. 

The experience encouraged us all to realise our rights and obligations as responsible citizens, to share what we learnt with our respective schools and to actively participate in our democracy, and in that regard I'd recommend it to anyone. More than anything else, the forum left me with spectacular memories of smiling faces, insightful debates and friendly facilitators; and an immense feeling of how lucky I was to be a part of it.