The 7th Youth Parliament was held on 16th and 17th of July, where 121 Youth MPs and 20 Youth Press Gallery members converged upon Wellington for two days. I blogged previously a preview of the 2013 Youth Parliament. What follows is an account of my personal experience, a review of the event as a whole, and a defence of the event and the use of taxpayers’ money to fund it.
Some Youth MPs, including myself, were fortunate to travel up to Wellington on Monday, one day before Youth Parliament began. (NB: Unless made necessary by flight schedules, the extra cost of this personal decision was met by the Youth MP his/herself and not by the taxpayer). In Wellington on Monday I received a tour from a member of my MP’s staff. This tour, whilst interesting in itself, was also a reminder about the staff who work for and with the Members. These staff are often naturally neglected or ignored by the public- short of “Hey Clint” moments. I will come back to the merits of Youth Parliament, as I see them, later on in this post but an understanding of the way MPs work (and Government works) is certainly beneficial to New Zealanders, regardless of any desire of one day to be an MP.
In Wellington, I along with some other Youth MPs from Dunedin, also met with staff at Save the Children, and the White Ribbon Campaign. We later encouraged all Youth MPs to wear white ribbons for the duration of the event as a statement condemning violence in all forms. If any of you have seen photos or video of Youth Parliament you will see that this was taken up by almost all MPs.
Tuesday morning began with a Powhiri and Official Opening by HE the Governor General. Many will have seen some controversy around the Powhiri with Sasha Borissenko reporting:
Labour MP Annette King said she was not comfortable with the “segregated nature” of the welcoming.
“In no way would this have happened during Helen Clark’s day,” she said.
Ms King said she would strive for gender equality for future Powhiri’s so that they could “accurately reflect” the House of Representatives.
“A change is long overdue, in my opinion,” she said.
“It was wrong. Some of my colleagues will disagree with me on this one.”
The Official Opening was much less controversial with speeches from the Governor General, Speaker, Minister of Youth Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
Sir Jerry remarked that:
In conclusion, you have been given a unique opportunity to learn and to show leadership. You – our rangitahi – represent our nation’s hopes and ambitions for the future. One day you will inherit this beautiful country and it will be people like yourselves who will sit in our Parliament and make decisions for the future of our nation and our democracy.
To close, I want to give credit and recognition to those who came to this land; to those who have departed and merged as stars in the heavens; and to those who built the tikanga of our democracy. In doing so, I will quote from the maiden speech of one of the first women Legislative Councillors, Mary Anderson. Her quote focuses upon her responsibility in being here, and it applies to MPs otherwise and you Youth MPs: “I do not look upon myself as a woman in this Chamber … I claim to represent the people”.
Following the official openings Youth Members moved to the Select Committee Rooms. I have already outlined what the Select Committees were to discuss but it is interesting to note what my Select Committee, Commerce, discussed with regards to our inquiry in to online purchasing. There was much contentious debate, and indeed sometimes I appeared to be alone in my views. It was debated whether GST should be applied to online purchases of a value less than $400 (the current minimum level). Whilst it was broadly agreed that it would be nice if GST was applied to all purchases made by New Zealanders, it was seen as difficult to collect. Some argued that Banks should collect GST on online purchases on behalf of the Government, as their objections to this are similar to that of retailers at the time of the introduction of GST. Others argued that the online retailers should collect the GST on behalf of the New Zealand Government, though issues of lack of jurisdiction and authority broadly counted this out. Internet safety was also discussed. Despite my suggestions that the burden of responsibility should be on the consumer, or the retailer if they desire to offer the service, the committee agreed that the Government should fund an advertising campaign to promote safe online practises.
Youth MPs also attended the caucus rooms of the Party whose MP selected them. In the Government caucus room, we discussed the role of MPs from the city and country, decisions around conscience issues, and Paul Foster Bell enlightened us as to what it was like to be a new MP.
In the evening, a “social event” was held. This received live coverage from Seven Sharp (something that I will mention shortly). Speeches were given, including from the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Youth Affairs, and it was generally a chance for Youth MPs to ‘get to know’ Adult MPs.
On the Wednesday, the real business of the House took place. I have made the Hansard of the day available here, so there is no point summarising exactly what happened at the event- although I do want to point out some aspects.
The Electoral Law Reform Bill, was much more controversial than I expected. Perhaps the most controversial aspect was the section that compelled all eligible New Zealanders to vote. Seamus Barnett from Palmerston North summarised this as:
Democracy lies at the heart of what it means to be human. The ability to choose your leader and to have freedom of choice is something that can be taken for granted, yet it is what differentiates us as people. We must have this inviolable right to choose, whether it be to choose a Prime Minister, a local MP, or to choose not to vote. New Zealand, as a progressive nation, must be seen to be upholding this freedom to choose. I believe that enforcing compulsory voting violates this right and therefore must not be allowed to occur. Voting epitomises freedom of choice, and compulsory voting is the antithesis of our democratic ideal. People must be allowed to choose not to vote, for whatever personal reasons, and the Government cannot interfere in what can be a very personal decision.
Peniata Endemann argued however:
We all have that friend who does not vote but who always moans aboutJohn Key and thinks it is OK. It is not OK. We must introduce compulsory voting to help these people. This way it will require them to go to the polling booth, have their say, and make it OK for them to moan about the Prime Minister.
Many YMPs (including me) voted against this Bill despite supporting some aspects. I am strongly in favour of a 4 year term, and not completely opposed to electronic voting as an option over time; but did not support the lowering of the age or compulsion to vote. The Bill failed 80-35 (with 3 abstentions).
Following the Legislative Debate, the General Debate was held. As with Parliament, the General Debate speeches could be of any topic of a YMP’s choosing. Jordan Brown, the Youth MP selected by Hon. Pita Sharples, delivered his speech completely in Maori.
I stand in this House as a representative of your people and of the youth as well. Like that leader Martin Luther King, I have a huge dream. My real passion is that the indigenous language of New Zealand is able to be spoken regardless who you are or where you are from. In time I want to go from my mainstream school to the Te Kōtuku secondary school to talk to my science teacher, history teacher, all my teachers. I want to go to the supermarket and to speak to the staff there in the chiefly language. Despite the Māori language being the indigenous language of New Zealand and a treasure of this land, very few people know how to speak Māori. What a repulsive situation that is.
A truly forceful speech!
Hanna Deal, from the Port Hills, delivered her speech completely in New Zealand Sign Language (with the aid of an interpreter):
It is very important for New Zealand youth to be aware of the Deaf community. I hope some of you would like to learn New Zealand Sign Language and get to know a variety of different cultural elements. Remember that technology can assist communication between me and you. I am Hannah. I am deaf and I am proud of it.
Immediately following that speech, Jay Evett, Youth MP for Hutt South, gave one of the most controversial speeches of the day when he called for the abolition of the Maori seats in Parliament. The speech ended in a walk out staged by some Maori members of Youth Parliament, (presumably) in protest over Jay’s own personal views.
JAY EVETT: No, not Labour. However, this was withdrawn at the request of the Māori Party. A referendum was promised in 2011 on the matter, but, like many things in politics, it was never fulfilled. I implore on behalf of New Zealanders everywhere that the current Government follows through with the promised referendum, if not the integration of the seats.This member fully believes in the importance of Māori traditions and culture. However, positive discrimination is not the way forward, and it is worse when it is endorsed by central government—
Eru Kapa Kingi: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would just like to let everyone know that he is not of Māori descent, so what he is saying—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! That is not a point of order. If we are going to get points of order raised, I will listen to them, but if they are frivolous points of order designed to interrupt a member’s speech, I will have no hesitation in asking that member to leave the Chamber for the rest of the debate. Jay Evett, you have an additional 30 seconds if you require it, in view of the fact that you were interrupted.JAY EVETT: It is time that we took the bold first step to addressing constitutionalracism in this country. Governor Hobson, upon signing the Treaty of Waitangi, madehis intentions for our nation well-known: “He iwi tahi tātou.”—we are one people. Let the Government finally honour this message and readdress the issue of separate Māori seats within the next parliamentary term. Thank you.
Disabled people face social barriers in schools, in workplaces, and in public. In 1988, Tītewhai Harawira, Hone Harawira’s mother, was found guilty of physically abusing a mental health patient in a health unit that she was in charge of.Michael Fryer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He is referencing a member of Parliament. That is insulting.Mr SPEAKER : No, no. The reference was to a person around a conviction. It is not a matter now before the court. The member is quite in order to make that reference that he has made.CALLUM LO: I will resume. It was a mental health unit that she was in charge of.How she justifies this to herself and how she sleeps at night I have no idea.
I was (am) a Youth MP, and will be blogging more fully on my experience on Monday morning. Despite(?) being a strong supporter of Marriage Equality and submitting to the Select Committee on the Bill, I did not walk out. I thought the walk out was immature and pathetic. Without falling in to the cliche of quoting Voltaire, she was just as entitled to hold her views against the reforms, as I am to hold views for the reforms.Despite strongly disagreeing with what she said, I participated in applause for her afterwards. She showed determination and a willingness to speak up for her views, something that did not deserve a “walkout” over. This is what makes Youth Parliament a better event than what too many people think. Strong and passionate debate about issues that matter- not just to youth, but to all New Zealanders.
TIM SHIELS (List): It gives me great pleasure to rise in this distinguished Chamber today to talk about something that is very important to me, and something that I hope will soon be very important to you. It is time New Zealand had an open discussion about the issue of organ donation. For too long there has been some sort of taboo around discussing this, and I hope this will change.I have a particular passion for organ donation awareness, as last year my beloved 20-year-old sister died whilst on a waiting list for a donated liver. I tell this story not to elicit sympathy or to pull the grief card, but merely to explain the dramatic effect that organ donation, or a lack thereof, can have on people.The rate of deceased organ donation in New Zealand is appalling, and it is much lower than in many other countries in the world. Something needs to be done about this.Although many people think that selecting “donor” on their driver’s licence means that the organs will be automatically donated upon their death, this is not the case. It is thed eceased person’s family who make the decision. It is time we had a discussion, as a nation, about this.There needs to be further support for live organ donors, as well. This is something that the Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill, the member’s bill formerly in the name of my adult MP, the Hon Michael Woodhouse, would do. This is something that I urge all my fellow youth members of Parliament to talk to their adult MPs about,in order to get more support.Wales has recently introduced an opt-out system of organ donation. This is where allWelsh citizens are automatically organ donators unless they opt out, which is something many people will want to do for spiritual or cultural reasons. Such a system in NewZealand would change attitudes towards organ donation and further increase the number of people who choose to donate their organs upon their death.I strongly hope that some fellow honourable Youth Parliament members will join me in my call for a change in Government policy on this matter.