Despite the decline in democratic standards in New Zealand over the last several years, one thing that I find thoroughly refreshing as a political observer in this country is the New Zealand Youth Parliament. For a two day period in the life cycle of each New Zealand Parliamentary term, the 121 Members of Parliament select a budding Parliamentarian from a high school in their local electorate to stand in their place for two days.
Over 16-17 July 2013, the Members of the New Zealand Parliament were given a number of tasks to do. They would participate in a debate on a Bill of Parliament – this year the agenda would deal with youth pay rates and the living wage as a topic; the members and stage a question time with the real Ministers of the Crown. The Speaker of the House during the Youth Parliament 2013 was the Hon David Carter.
The calibre of these young budding politicians is outstanding every time – even the Ministers of the Crown agreed in the case of the Youth Parliament of 2013 that the standard set was high. They showed a good grasp of the issues that they had chosen to concentrate on, in some cases better than many adults on the street would have. To stand up in Parliament and give a speech that results in a standing ovation from both sides of the House is a rarity, but that is what happened when the Member of the Youth Parliament standing in for New Zealand First list Member of Parliament, Denis O’Rourke spoke about state asset sales.
There were other highlights as well. One was the Youth Parliament Health Select Committee hearing from the New Zealand Drug Foundation about the allegedly disproportionate number of young people involved in drugs
Ministers Jo Goodhew, Nikki Kaye, Simon Bridges and Steven Joyce all confessed later on to have been taken by surprise by some of the questions that were asked. Members of the public in the Gallery observed that some Opposition Members of Parliament were rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the Ministers being asked questions that they had not thought of – though perhaps it is without detracting anything from the Youth Parliament, reflective of the state of the Opposition that it was High School students asking the hard questions.
Perhaps the only negative comment to make about the Youth Parliament is not so much a negative comment, but wondering whether or not it would be possible to have two of them. An alternative would be to extend the existing format to a three day session. Of course the first option raises some logistical issues especially if the Government of the day goes to an early election. The Youth Parliament has been held every three to four years since 1994, when the voting age was lowered to 18.
I look forward with some eager anticipation to seeing how the next Youth Parliament goes. It was a delightful two days during the school holidays that this years one occurred. Hopefully the delegates have taken away good memories of their time in Parliament. Who knows, maybe we will see some of them stand in the future.