By Neville Page, Rotary Club of North Melbourne
District 9800 has again performed strongly in the National Model United Nations Assembly (MUNA) debate in Canberra. Twenty six teams competed in this year’s event and our team of Lilian Gonzales, Lachlan Phan & Catherine Zhou achieved second place and were unlucky not to win.
Lilian is a year 11 student at Melbourne’s Girls College sponsored by Richmond Rotary Club; Catherine Zhou and Lachlan Pham are Year 12 students from Balwyn High School Sponsored by the North Balwyn Rotary Club. At the Saturday night semi-formal dinner hosted by ANU, Lilian Gonzales was the student chosen to speak and summarize the event up to that stage, selected based on her performance during that day.
On the Friday I was able to get the students into the Israeli Embassy where they had a meeting for almost 90 minutes.
Our students represented Iran but we were not going to get a meeting with them District 9800 have been running a Model United Nations Assembly program for many years with the event being held at Camp Getaway in Axedale. The program runs over a weekend at the end of May each year and is designed for students usually in senior classes of secondary schools. Over the years, they have primarily come from year 11 students but occasionally we have had some from year 10 and sometimes from year 12. The students usually work in teams of 2 and are allocated a country that they are to represent on the weekend and they are required to wear the national dress.
The aim of the program is to simulate the workings of the UN Assembly by having teams of two senior students from each of a number of schools represent a particular UN country in debates on matters of world political and social concern. It is a Rotary International program and enthusiastically supported by the United Nations.
During the weekend they will also learn about the workings of the United Nations, the Security Council and general rules of debate. MUNA also aims to enable students improve their public speaking and debating skills; and to encourage them to make sympathetic and informed comments on world problems and share their opinions and friendship with students from other schools.
Each year at the end of our Assembly we select the best 2 or 3 students to represent the District at the National Assembly in Canberra. This is held mid August each year and is held at the Old Parliament House which now operates as the Museum of Australian Democracy. The students debate in the old House of Representatives Room where so many of Australia’s iconic politicians have debated over many years. Each team is also required to have an adult counsellor to be responsible for them and I have had that role for quite a few years including this year.
In Canberra the students basically have 2 separate experiences. The first is the one that I organize for them on behalf of our District. which usually commences at about 7.15am on the Friday morning when we all meet at the Virgin check in lounge at Melbourne Airport. We take the 8.35am flight to Canberra where we arrive at about 9.45am. We grab our bags head straight to the rental car office, get in the car and drive straight to Duntroon Royal Military College where we are met by a Duntroon Chaplain, Air Commodore Royce Thompson. He is one of the most senior officers at Duntroon and always delights in telling the students that as a paratrooper he has taken off on many more flights than he has landed on. He shows them around the complex including the actual Changi Chapel, which has been reconstructed there. He also shows them through the main Chapel Building, which has a separate Anglican and Catholic section both served by a common foyer. The students usually end up for lunch in the officer’s mess.
We are then straight off to an Embassy, preferably the one of the country they are representing. This year our students represented Iran who as expected did not respond to our approaches and so I was able to organize a meeting inside the Israeli Embassy where the student have a question and answer session for about 90 minutes.
From there we are straight off the main Student Camp site where they register for the Assembly and the next phase starts all sun by the Canberra Sunrise Rotary Club. They are straight on a bus for a tour of the Australian National University.
This is an incredibly valuable insight for them to see - the University ranked only behind Melbourne in Australia and, depending on the course they choose, could easily be the chosen university for many of our MUNA students. Certainly some have gone on to study there and for them to get a chance to have an in depth tour of the whole university is very valuable aid in their selection process.
The students come back from the university, settle in and then off to dinner at the camp. Then straight after that the students get into the country blocs and begin a negotiation process of going through the 15 draft resolutions to come up with the 6 that will be debated for the weekend. After that it is “free time” to prepare their strategy for the weekend ahead.
Saturday morning it is breakfast and into their costumes and then off to the Old Parliament House. Then the debating begins with 1 resolution in each of the coming 6 sessions. This year there are 26 teams. 4 From Victoria, 1 from Tasmania, 2 from Queensland, 3 from ACT and the other 16 from NSW. Of the 26 teams, only 12 are as ours being sponsored by a Rotary District and they are from 9 different Districts. The other 14 teams are either sponsored directly by an individual Rotary Club or directly by a school and by far the majority of team Counsellors are school teachers. Most of the ACT and NSW teams drive to the venue.
On Saturday night there is a semi-formal dinner sponsored by ANU with a high profile guest speaker. At that dinner they ask one of the students to thank the guest speaker and another to summarize the whole event thus far. Lilian Gonzales was given that honour.
On Sunday they continue with the debating all morning and at lunch time the judges depart while the students are all given Certificates of Appreciation. The judges then returned and the team representing Japan was judged 1st followed by our own team of Catherine, Lachlan and Lilian judged 2nd. After receiving more Certificates and prize vouchers, we are then straight off to the Airport to return the hire car, check in and return back home.
It is an exhausting but stimulating weekend that is an amazing experience for the students and a rewarding one for the counsellor as well especially when they perform so well