Getting out to vote: Youth and the 2019 local elections

I was recently on the panel of “Getting out to vote: Youth and the 2019 local elections” hosted by the University of Waikato). If you missed it, here’s the script I was supposed to stick to…

Hannah Huggan / Candra Pullon / Chloe Swarbrick / Me / Tomairangai McRae

We’ve been asked what the political priorities for youth are in this year’s local election.  I could give you a long list of what I think the issues facing Hamilton are but it feels a bit wrong me telling you what you what ‘the priorities are’ or what you should care about.  We’re all different, and what you want for the city will be different to what I want.  So I’m going to focus on what we can do to improve participation to give more people a voice to say what they want for themselves. But then I’m going to talk about how local government can play a role improving mental health to show how councils could be relevant.  

In October 2016 –the voter turnout in Hamilton went from 38 to 34% the lowest of all cities in NZ.  We saw the election of 12 councillors and a Mayor who looked nothing like the majority of Hamiltonians, certainly not me.  There’s nothing wrong with the make up of our current council if you are a male, over 50 with a Eurocentric viewpoint – but like I said that isn’t most of us so it is a problem.  No councillors under 40.  No Maori or Pasifika.  Only three women.  Many were long term politicians or professionals so far removed from trying to live on the $20-30,000 per year many young people live on. 

It’s a problem because even with the best of their intentions they won’t represent as well as we could ourselves.  We have different viewpoints on the purpose of life, what’s best for our family, how we want to live and what’s important to us.  That’s the crux of why we need as many people as possible influencing decision making through voting every three years and participating at any opportunity along the way.  It’s time they made that easier.

As a result of that low turnout and lack of diversity I founded Politics in the Tron a way to get more people political – by informing Hamiltonians about the issues and players in council; providing a hub for discussion and encouraging participation.   Ultimately it comes from a place of loving Hamilton but recognising it would be even better if more of us were involved in shaping it.  

But I and Politics in the Tron are just one cog in the wheel.  To increase engagement, we need to support the candidates putting their hand up, they will rouse the public’s interest and inspire us to get involved and vote.  We’ve seen that with youth and with women in this election so far.  We can also mobilise based on issues – like climate. 

The student enviroleaders and you’ll hear from Hannah soon, are a really great example, of a group who identified an issue, learnt about council processes, found communities to support the issue – and followed the slow process through.  

Unfortunately it also highlighted examples of what happens when young people do take concerns to councillors who are older – we heard patronising comments who called our leaders kids, used words like hysterical, brainwashed – but even worse, a comment along the lines of ‘well done for participating’ but ‘we know better and aren’t going to give you what you asked for’.  What I would like to know is if over 1000 businessmen signed a petition, filled the gallery and presented compelling reasons why this decision is best for the majority – would councillors have agreed and voted for what they were asking?  Time for a change I think.

If the average age of a Hamiltonian is 32, I think it’s time we saw the average age of elected members drop this year there’s no lack of credible candidates.  Head to Seed Waikato’s website for more information about those candidates specifically.

When I think about what is important to us – politics aside – two things stand out Climate change and mental health.  Councils need to a better job at showing us how decisions made impact on the issues we care about.

Most councillors would probably say mental health is a role for central government but physical health, housing affordability, sense of belonging and connection all impact on mental health and are all decisions that run past a councillor.  As I go through them briefly now I hope that it might help to show that local government can be relevant and it is worth voting.

I don’t know about you but when I’m active, walking and biking around – I feel good.  We know physical activity is good for our well-being so it makes sense to make sure that Hamilton has good, consistent, safe cycleways, footpaths and green spaces.  Making it easier and safer to exercise is good for mental health.

For good mental health we also want to feel connected with our communities however we choose to define them; connecting is easier when the hubs like community organisations or neighbourhood houses are well supported, like the new pan pasifika hub being built for our city – a great decision.  Community organisations play a crucial role in bringing people together enabling information sharing and looking after the isolated or the most vulnerable. Connection and belonging is good for our mental health.

Arts and culture are good for our mental health.  Your jam might be visual arts, theatre, dance, or music.  But here’s an example of what happens when your councillors are old and out of touch…  The decision to buy and demolish Victoria street buildings might have seemed like a great idea to a council who wanted to make the Victoria on the River park bigger – but what they failed to do is realise that one of those buildings included Nivara Lounge, which is arguably the most important live music venue in our city today.  It not only provides an inclusive venue for live musicians to perform, but also provides a space for members of our community to come together each month – for Sunday jazz, comedy clubs, hip hop nights etc. etc.  So while Nivara Lounge isn’t funded by council – the council make decisions which impact on the ability of venues like this to exist.  Music and arts are good for our mental health – so we need a council that understands the local scene.   

When you bring up affordable housing many – usually the rates control waka will tell you it’s a central govt thing – completely ignoring what is in council’s power to do and what might be best done locally. For example, the council have recently voted to put $2 million into a community land trust –so there will be houses available in Hamilton which has the land value taken out of the cost.  When a developer comes to council with a plan, council can specify how much of their development project has to be “affordable” housing – while that’s a loose word on the free market, it does provide an opportunity for slightly cheaper than average houses to be on the market.  Councils can do more to create affordable housing options by changing the district plan so that we see high rise apartments.  Cost of living is impacting on our mental health. Councils need supported to try as many tools as possible to address that.

I’ve shared some ideas today on how decisions council make every day impact on the city we live in, and that if we want a higher youth turnout they and we need to do a better job at making what councils do relatable.   

We’re looking at priorities for youth in the upcoming election, I think we should focus on  informing and encouraging people to participate and I know that if we can relate everything council does to mental health and climate that we will see that youthquake we’re all after.  We need help growing Politics in the Tron so that we all get more political in a space that is comfortable – so join me www.politicsinthetron.co.nz.

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