(This article was written as a submission for the Palmerston North Youth-MP in response to the question: “What is an important issue for young people in Palmerston North, and what Government policy would you propose to address it?”)
Palmerston North is a leader in many facets. We endeavour to achieve environmentally sustainable development. Our sports and recreational facilities are among the best in the country and we are centre for food science, veterinary study and aviation excellence. In the same way New Zealand pulls above its weight internationally, we do so nationally, paving the way for small-town NZ.
Nonetheless, in a recent city image survey conducted by the PNCC in cooperation with the PNYC, we saw significant dissonance between youth and other groups in the way that they view Palmerston North. It becomes clear that both many of the achievements Palmerston North boasts are not known by the local youth, and that youth still perceive Palmerston North as lacking activities and as a dead end for opportunities outside of specific niches. Unfortunately, Youth had the lowest pride in their city of any of the respondent groups.
Why is it then, that the same rhetoric resonated through school ground conversation for years now is still present in our youth opinions? “Palmerston North doesn’t contain enough to do”, “it’s not innovative”, “it’s a dead-end for business and a place that no New Zealander would want to visit”. 38% of those living in Palmerston North are under the age of 24, but their cries are still struggling to be heard.
The reason for this is twofold; Youth are not sufficiently exposed to the local government decision-making and there no formal and paid representation in local government for the voice of youth.
Indeed, as the average age of local councillors’ creeps around 50, the question turns to where representation is meant to come from; is it from the people who sit around the table making the decisions, left to decode youth perspective from triennial multi-choice image surveys? Is it from volunteer organisations that make rushed and often inconsequential submissions to the local government (such as the PNYC) as the members juggle other commitments? Holding council meetings (the only real opportunity for submissions) during school and lecture time just places the last nail in the coffin of appropriate youth representation.
Furthermore, without a law degree and a few free hours, available and understandable information about the decisions that the council makes are nowhere to be found. I accept that Agendas and Minutes for PNCC are posted online. However, for those on the ground trying to make change and provide opportunities, often only in a volunteer capability, this is often too high a barrier to entry for them to receive the information that they require.
I propose to combat this, that local government “youth wards” are enacted through legislative change as a first step to ensuring youth representation within respective regional and territorial governments, such as the PNCC.
The importance in such a change cannot be understated. Obviously, having a youth elected face for youth opinion provides a definitive advantage to youth representation within a council setting. However, it also provides a more direct link for information usually contained within a council setting to be provided to the important youth organisations and groups that it can be utilised in. As a youth representative’s paid part-time occupation becomes to engage with, teach and take opinions from the youth of Palmerston North, we start to take down the barriers that currently encourage youth apathy in regional government affairs.
As currently we see almost no engagement of youth ideas in council direction and decisions, we could threaten to bring fresh, new ideas that are very relevant to a significant group of those in Palmerston North to the spotlight and engage our youth in their local politics.