From primary school to Prime Minister – Gladstone’s Merin plots pathways to power

Toolooa High school student Merin Ward has been power tripping.

Merin took the trip of a lifetime last week, meeting Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and two of the most powerful women in Australia, Deputy PM and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop and Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash.

As one of the fourteen winners of the Country to Canberra Power Trip, Merin won her place in the program with an application essay chosen from hundreds of entries.

“We had to respond to the statement “from Primary School to Prime Minister, how do we create strong pathways to power for women,” Merin said. “A month had gone by and I hadn’t heard anything, so I thought I hadn’t got in. As it turned out they’d had so many entries that the short-listing process took longer than they expected.”

The only participant from Queensland, Merin, 16, continues the lead set by last year’s Toolooa High school captain, Jasmine Elliott, who won a place on the Power Trip last year.

“The phrase “It’s hard to be what you can’t see” really stuck with me from the trip. But we certainly do have a lot of strong women who stand up for equality at my school. Last year all four school captains were female,” Merin said.

Country to Canberra CEO Hannah Wandel said it was all about empowering young women with the skills and opportunities to help them overcome gender and geographical barriers to success.

“Distance, time and funding barriers make accessing education and career opportunities tough for rural and remote students. We need to ensure no matter where you’re from, what gender you are, or what your background is, we’re giving you the tools to succeed,” she said.

The group also undertook an entire day of leadership training and skill-building at the Australian National University, on topics like public speaking, leadership values and self-care.

The group also attended Question Time after which they met Ministers Bishop and Cash and the PM Malcolm Turnbull, who she described as ‘caring’ and ‘cool’.

“I was a bit intimidated to meet Julie Bishop,” Merin said. “But she was lovely. And Minister Cash had so much energy and was so enthusiastic. It was fantastic to meet all of them.”

Merin intends to spend her school holidays at a more relaxed pace: “I think I will just prep myself for what will no doubt be a very stressful year in Grade 12, by just relaxing as much as I can and seeing my friends. I enjoy school and it’s my last year so I want to make the most of it.”