All is not lost! We might not always admit it, but we know that there is more in the cabinet than interestingly shaped bottles of liqueur. We know that parties are more than just the things banned on ball night. We, the youth of New Zealand, know that the speaker is not always the one talking. Politics is not something generally associated with youth, but you would be surprised how many young people have an opinion. I can say with absolute certainty at least 112.
On the July 6-7 the average age of a Member of Parliament (MP) dropped by roughly half a century, when112 youth representatives converged on the Beehive. Every one of these young people was chosen by a MP to represent them in the 2010 New Zealand Youth Parliament. The event was a full two days where we participated in a range of parliamentary procedures, including select committee meetings, party caucus, question time, and legislative and general debates.
We quickly realised that the select committees are where it all happens. This is the opportunity for MPs to debate, consider and hear evidence regarding any recommendations they might make to the government as a whole. I was part of the select committee for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Our inquiry was into whether New Zealand should be supporting the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. The answer from all members was a resounding ‘yes’. It was great to see such support for the concept of global citizenship and an acknowledgement from the younger generation that we have responsibilities that extend beyond our shores.
From our select committee rooms it was a confusing dash through the warren that is Parliament to the incredibly well hidden National Party caucus room. Here we discussed our views on the centrepiece of the event- The Age of Majority Bill. The bill looked at changing the general age at which a person becomes an adult from 20 to 18. This would affect legislation where currently no specific age is given, e.g. the Adoption Act 1955 and the District Courts Act 1947. It would also stop employers being able to pay those under 16 lower than the youth rate. After the legislative debate and a conscience vote the bill was passed.
Our second day of youth parliament started with an early for breakfast with Acting Prime Minister Bill English, the Hon Gerry Brownlee, Hon Nick Smith and Wayne Eagleson the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. We spent the rest of the day in the debating chamber. The general debate was a chance for individuals to bring forward issues important to them and their communities. Topics ranged from public transport to the monarchy to the mining of national parks. I have to say, being able to stand up and speak from the Prime Minister’s seat to a full debating chamber was something unforgettable. The issue I raised was how we can provide more opportunities for young people to examine national and international issues and their effects, allowing their view of the world to be defined, broadened and challenged. I have to say, Youth Parliament was a prime example of something which achieved all of this!
All of the Youth MPs hold their title for the next 6months, but what now? This experience made me realise that politics is something I definitely want to be involved with in the future. It’s not all ministerial credit cards and backbiting. Sometimes the media makes it easy for us to forget that MPs do have a huge responsibility and that they work harder than we give them credit for running the country.
There are certain seats where you never expect to sit, certain microphones you never expect to speak into, certain people you never expect to meet; especially when you’re 18 and still trying to work out what direction you want to take in life. Being selected to represent the Prime Minister of New Zealand at an event like Youth Parliament is one of the most amazing things I have had the opportunity to do. Troublesome teens? We, the 2010 Youth MPs, are definitely evidence to the contrary.