Year 10 Student, Pacific Hills Christian School, NSW

The Every Voice Counts! Student Forum was an exciting and engaging opportunity for me and 30 other students to explore the workings of Parliament, politics, and responsible citizenship. From the moment the other students and I arrived in Canberra, we enjoyed a whirlwind of great opportunities and experiences.

From the first day of the program, we were given a great insight into the workings of politics via talks from Joshua Faulks, an Advisor to the Hon Philip Ruddock MP, the then Attorney-General, and Zoe McKenzie, the Chief of Staff to Senator the Hon George Brandis SC. They shared their experiences about Parliament and politics with us, and gave everyone a view of the day-to-day life of someone working in politics.

After the launch of Celebrating Democracy Week by the then Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, our respective local members were invited to come and meet with us. All of us enjoyed the chance to gain a more personal view of those who represent us in Parliament. Even my local member, the then Attorney-General the Hon Phillip Ruddock, was able to find some time in his very busy schedule to come and speak with myself and the other students - everyone was surprised and grateful that such an important figure would come to speak with us.

We were also fortunate enough to be spectators to one of the most exciting days of Parliamentary Question Time. The then Labor Opposition spent the duration of Question Time questioning the then Treasurer, the Hon Peter Costello, about his dealings with three journalists over dinner at a prestigious Canberra restaurant - much to the annoyance of the Coalition. The Hon Peter Costello retorted in his usual rousing manner, which was a scintillating experience indeed.

Of the many speakers who shared with us, one I found most fascinating was Ms Samantha Maiden, a political reporter for the Australian. She explored a journalist's role in Australia's society, and the question-and-answer session led to more intriguing discussion about the then Treasurer's aforementioned dinner, and the moral obligations and responsibilities of the journalists involved.

After the first two marathon days of the three-day experience, the time came to share our views on being a responsible citizen, and the standing of young people with regards to responsible citizenship. All of the students there expressed many different opinions and beliefs. There were people from many different backgrounds, each of whom had a chance to express their thoughts on the topic in the form of a mock Senate Committee Hearing.

The goal, after the lengthy debates of the Hearing, was to compile a report to the then Minister for Education, Science and Training on the topic of 'Being a Responsible Citizen'. We eventually completed the report, after hearing everyone's thoughts and opinions. It was quite a task to compile the report so quickly!

When the official program was all said and done, many of us were disappointed that we would be parting ways. All of us there shared the common interests that brought us to Canberra for Every Voice Counts!, and everyone was chatting together even on the first night. There were many interesting discussions and informal debates - that is, when people weren't just chatting.

The Every Voice Counts! program was a fantastic opportunity which let me explore my interests of politics and media, as well as many others. We were all very privileged to be a part of such a great program.