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Byron Shire
February 24, 2024

Local NSW Youth Taskforce member addressing public transport and drug driving

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Francois van Kempen has been selected as a member of the NSW Regional Youth Taskforce. Photo supplied.

In New York jumping on the subway to get to a friends place or wherever else you want to be is a pretty easy and unremarkable event. So the move from NYC to Ballina in NSW at age 11 was a bit of a shock for Francois van Kempen.

‘One of the most of striking differences was that here we only have two buses and until I was 17 I was at the mercy of my parents, who didn’t get home until 7pm, to help me get around,’ Francois told The Echo.

This isolation was one of the reasons Francois decided to take up his father’s suggestion and apply for the Regional Youth Taskforce.

Earlier this month 18 young people from across regional NSW, including Francois who  is a year 12 student at Emmanuel Anglican College in Ballina and lives in Tintenbar, were selected to join the second NSW regional Youth Taskforce for 2021. Francois is an active member of the community as well as being involved in Naval Cadets and the SES.

The regional taskforce will have four meetings with the Minister for Regional Youth, Bronnie Taylor MLC throughout 2021 to raise issues that affect young people in regional NSW improvements to education, digital connectivity, and public transport.

While public transport, or the lack there of, is a key issue that Francois is seeking to raise with the Minister for Regional Youth he is also seeking to raise the linked issue of drugs and driving.

Recently retired magistrate David Heilpern. Image Jeff ‘not guilty your honour’ Dawson

The resignation of former Northern Rivers magistrate David Heilpern ‘because he didn’t agree with drug driving laws’ and the impact of those laws on local people, particularly young people is something Francois is seeking to raise with the minister.

‘If you have a drug that is still detectable in your system two weeks later this can lead to you loosing your licence even when you are totally fine to drive,’ said Francouis.

‘The test only detects it [the drug] it doesn’t relate to the capacity of the driver to be in charge of a vehicle. My main cause for issue is the tin a big city like Sydney you can walk, catch a bus, tram, or train to work etc but here, if you lose you licence you’re screwed. Losing your licence takes away your income because there is no public transport. Being stuck at home, with no way to get around or get to a job and make an income, can take a toll on mental health.’

The four meetings will be held in various regional location around the state to give the taskforce members an opportunity to understand the various challenges different communities have.

‘I think it is really good the Regional Youth Minister set this up a few years ago,’ said Francois.

‘They are trying to move people around regional NSW so we can see what it is like and see how universal these issues are.’

Minister Taylor said ‘Our 18 new members will drive policy change and advocate for real outcomes for young people, continuing to be the voice of regional youth at the highest level in their state.

‘I can’t wait to work with them over the next year to build a safer, stronger regional NSW and to make sure we are addressing the wide range of issues impacting young people from the regions.’

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