Five minutes with Laila Zakelj and Shaun Fitzpatrick, Regional Youth Taskforce

Published Friday 21 April 2023

Young brunette girl wearing a floral dress, looking at camera smiling.
young man wearing a collared shirt, looking at camera smiling

The Office for Regional Youth supports initiatives to improve lifestyles and outcomes of young people living in regional NSW. Each year, the Office for Regional Youth puts together a Regional Youth Taskforce which represents young people from throughout regional NSW.

We spoke with members of the 2023 Regional Youth Taskforce, Shaun Fitzpatrick (South East Region) and Laila Zakelj (Illawarra Shoalhaven Region) to find out more about the Taskforce and their work.

Can you tell us about the Regional Youth Taskforce? 

Shaun: The Regional Youth Taskforce is a group of 18 young people from across regional NSW who provide an essential connection between the NSW government and young people living and experiencing life in regional NSW. 

Being a member of the Taskforce allows us to have a say on ways government can improve outcomes for young people and better deliver services.

Throughout our one year tenure we are also regularly consulted and invited to contribute to various government policies and independent projects.

Laila: We meet four times a year to discuss issues that are relevant to the pillars of the Regional Youth Framework – Wellbeing, Connectivity, Work Ready and Community – so that we can help improve things for young people in regional areas across NSW.

We recently had our first meeting in Tamworth, where we focused on the connectivity pillar. We discussed our own perspectives and experiences then shared our suggestions and solutions and why we need to take action.  

What motivated you to apply to be part of the Taskforce?

Shaun: I decided to apply for the Taskforce so I can have a voice on issues that are faced by young people like me and assist the policy-making decisions of the NSW government. Also, for my personal development – to learn new skills and develop connections with other members and organisations. 

Laila: To be honest, I didn't know the Taskforce was a thing until I was nominated to do it by my school principal! But I liked the fact that I would be able to directly communicate with the people who make official changes within government and institutions – to have a voice and feel like I can make an impact with what I’m saying.

As a young person living in regional NSW, what types of discrimination do you think young people face? 

Shaun: Young people living in regional NSW face many types of discrimination and in some cases don't realise that they're being discriminated against. It is important that information and awareness about services, such as Anti-Discrimination NSW, reaches young people.

In my experience, young Aboriginal people, young people with a disability and young LGBTIQ people are all facing discrimination.

There is also discrimination against regional people in general. Young people who relocate to the city from regional NSW find it difficult to set up and understand how cities operate. Opportunities for young people can be hindered due to this disadvantage, and I think regional young people trying to develop a career in the city can be judged because they didn’t go to an elite Sydney school or they're just simply unsure of learning a whole new way of life.

Laila: We face all kinds of discrimination, whether it's indirectly or directly. Sexism, racism, homophobia, and even age bias. I feel discrimination by association is relevant to us and is quite common. And someone living in regional or rural areas can experience different discrimination than someone living in the city.

I haven’t directly experienced discrimination, but I know it does happen and it’s overlooked. I think education on the importance of individuality and encouraging self-expression is important because uniqueness is ultimately what makes the world an interesting place.

Youth Week is taking place in April. Why is Youth Week important and how will you be getting involved?

Shaun: Youth Week is a time when young people can share ideas, attend youth led events, celebrate the contribution young people have made to the community and have their voices heard on issues of concern. So, it’s exactly what the Taskforce does but at a local level, which is why it is so important.

This year I want to bring new ideas to the table – events that haven’t been done before! I also aim to work the NSW government to make youth activities more accessible across the entire state.

Laila: Youth Week is literally the celebration of the future generation! As a young person, it makes us feel like we're important and recognised.

It's also a great way for the youth to connect and build new relationships. It’s a way for us to expand our mindset and try new things – whether it be something creative or a sporting activity – It makes us feel like we belong, which is a beautiful thing.


Group shot of young people outside, standing in two rows
2023 Regional youth Taskforce
Last updated:

19 Apr 2023

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