14 Mar 2019

New Zealand's future leaders

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:25 pm on 14 March 2019

A Youth MP and Youth Press Gallery journalist say young people would like to engage in politics but feel helpless.

Tomorrow, teenagers around the country will protest against climate change. So, Afternoons decided to talk to a couple of students who are deeply interested in the issues facing them and the country. 

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Photo: Office of the clerk

Watene Campbell is a Youth MP based in Wellington. Joanna Li is the Youth Press Gallery journalist covering him.

Both say they will be at the student protest tomorrow and are fully supportive of the move.

“Absolutely,” says Li.

“I think our rangatahi should have the opportunity to fight for what they believe in so, yep, 100 percent,” Campbell says.

There are 120 Youth MPs, one for each electorate, and there are 20 Youth Press Gallery journalists there to keep them honest.

“We aren’t assigned to any news station in particular, we’re just there to hold them accountable according to our own views. I think that’s nice because it means we can obviously take our own spin on it, we’re not constricted by the big media restraints that normal stations might be,” Li explains.

Campbell says he wanted to become a Youth MP to give “a voice to the voiceless” and stand up for Māori and Pasifika youth who feel they can’t speak for themselves.

“I personally grew up in a Māori environment and going out into the wide world is completely different to what I’m used to. For me, it was a shock. It was really hard for me to step out of my comfort zone to speak up for what I believe in and I know that’s a big challenge to rangatahi Māori so, what I want to do is be a voice for everyone and be a platform for everyone who wants to say something but can’t.”

Youth have been labelled, perhaps unfairly, as not being engaged with politics and Li says it’s part of the reason she wanted to get involved in the first place.

“I believe that young people really do care about issues, the problem is that politics is often seen as an ‘adult’s world’ and seems so inaccessible, especially because of the language they use. If you tell someone about the capital gains tax, the language they use around it is basically unreadable to anybody who hasn’t been in politics, let alone a young person."

She says part of the reason youth appear disengaged and disillusioned is because it’s hard for them to understand it. She’s hoping to change that.

“I’m a huge advocate for accessibility in politics because, how can you fight for your rights, and know your own rights, if you can’t even understand what they are in the first place. So, I’m hoping as a member of the Youth Press Gallery to make these things more accessible and make sure everyone can understand them.

“Young people do care about it, it’s absolutely incorrect to say they don’t, the problem is they don’t know how to create change and that makes them feel helpless."

Campbell agrees completely.

“In this adult world that we live in, sometimes when rangatahi voice their opinions, adults look at them as kids who are just in the background. They don’t really take on what they say. I believe that this opportunity to be a Youth MP is a way to voice the opinions at a national level to show that rangatahi do have an idea, rangatahi do have a voice."

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