Josh Gilligan is determined to enact meaningful change for young people. As a teenager growing up in regional Victoria, he experienced limited opportunities for young people to get involved in the community in worthwhile ways, and saw first-hand the barriers to education and employment that come with place-based disadvantage. After being elected to council in 2016, Councillor Gilligan has made these experiences count.

Elected at 23 as one of Wyndham City Council’s youngest ever councillors, Councillor Gilligan focuses many of his efforts on improved opportunities for young people to strive for success. “I am currently working on projects including pushing for mandatory employment targets of young people in council as a means to tackle youth unemployment. Projects like this have a lasting effect on future generations,” he said. “Education is the key to good jobs, better standard of living and stronger communities. Having the ability to be part of council to influence and develop public policy to help achieve these goals is what continues to inspire me.”

Portrait of Josh Gilligan, Wyndham City Councillor, standing against trees

But how does a young person get elected to city council?

Councillor Gilligan first started advocating for young people’s interests through his membership of the Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) Youth Reference Group (YRG). Meeting once a month, the group worked together to promote young people’s interests to policy-makers, politicians and the media. The YRG (yurg!) allowed Councillor Gilligan to participate in meaningful youth projects and develop the advocacy and leadership skills that have led to his position in politics today. “The YRG was a great environment to meet other young leaders from across the state, country and city. In fact, one of the former YRG committee members is still a close friend of mine today,” he said.

Councillor Gilligan continued to apply and develop these advocacy skills through his years at Deakin University and lobbied for ongoing funding for young people from socio-disadvantaged areas as part of a First in Family Grant scholarship program. “As the first in my family to gain access to tertiary education, I took a view that I should give back as much as I reasonably could during my university years” he said. Councillor Gilligan strongly supported the development of mentor faculty programs at Deakin that helped First in Family students to gain networks and mentorship to guide their initial steps through university. He was also a student representative on a number of faculty boards that argued the importance of investing in students from disadvantaged backgrounds as future generational leaders.

This advocacy work saw Councillor Gilligan receive Deakin University’s Vice Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding Contribution to University Life. Up to eight medals are presented each year to students who make an outstanding contribution to the life and work of Deakin University, through fostering a sense of community within Faculties or Schools. You could say Councillor Gilligan’s political life was born. “Politics for me is an environment where you can work to enact meaningful change that positively affects people’s lives. Empowering young people to engage in community is an essential component of a healthy, thriving community and I believe politics is the best mechanism to achieve this goal.”

Important goals for young Victorians

Young people aged 0–25 years are Wyndham’s fastest growing demographic and an important part of the city’s direction. Councillor Gilligan believes that council must deliver an environment that enables young people to get high-quality education and jobs. But youth services have not always been well funded in Victoria. “That’s why funding for youth services in Wyndham should be prioritised for the years ahead,” he said. “We need to continue delivering the services that young people need in our city – investing in public transport, our youth centres and activities for young people to participate in.”

One such service that Councillor Gilligan has fought for is the L2P Mentor program, which assists learners under 21 years of age, who don’t have access to a supervising driver or vehicle, to gain the driving experience required to apply for a probationary licence. “In the five years to 2016, more than 2,600 drivers between 18 and 25 years were involved in collisions in Wyndham and Hobsons Bay –10 were killed and 321 seriously injured. This illustrates precisely why I believe investing in the L2P Mentor Program will save lives.” Recent funding from the Victorian Government for this program was welcomed by Councillor Gilligan. “This means young people in the City of Wyndham can now access good-quality driving education,” he said.

Advice from a young politician

Participate, participate, participate! Councillor Gilligan says that only a small number of young people take up leadership roles in volunteer organisations or political parties, which leaves significant opportunity for any leader to rise through the ranks quickly. “The rewards when it comes to enhancing your leadership skills are endless and my advice would simply be to participate! Find time to join a club or group (including the YRG!) and you'll find significant benefits that'll influence your ability to navigate workplaces and bolstering your social skills.”

YACVic continues to create opportunities for young people to get involved in advocacy work through its youth participation model. While the YRG no longer exists, there are a number of ways young people can get involved in advocacy and leadership activities. Jump onto the YACVic website or call YACVic’s Participation and Development Coordinator on 03 9267 3702 to find out more.

Young people are also encouraged to get in touch with Councillor Josh Gilligan directly through his website.