Young Ki­wis can in­flu­ence change

The ear­lier some­one starts vot­ing, the more likely they’ll con­tinue to do so, writes Mayor of Porirua City.

Central Otago Mirror - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE -

The right to have an opin­ion is a gift that New Zealan­ders shouldn’t take for granted. When you think about the mil­lions of peo­ple all over the world who can’t vote be­cause they live in com­mu­nist states or be­cause they’re fe­male, you start to re­alise how blessed we are that we live in a free, demo­cratic and civil so­ci­ety.

I love my com­mu­nity. I care about my neigh­bours. And that’s why I got in­volved in lo­cal pol­i­tics when I was just 15.

I ad­mit that pol­i­tics isn’t the typ­i­cal ca­reer path of the av­er­age teenager. But I was proud of my com­mu­nity and I felt like there were peo­ple on our lo­cal coun­cil who were try­ing to talk it down. Even though 75 per cent of my com­mu­nity’s res­i­dents were un­der the age of 45, most of our coun­cil was in their 50s. When I was 18 I stood for coun­cil be­cause I wanted to de­liver a younger voice. I was for­tu­nate enough to get elected, and in my first three years we pushed through a youth coun­cil and a skate­board park.

Ki­wis are al­lowed to vote when they turn 18. Our par­ents’ and grand­par­ents’ gen­er­a­tions had the im­por­tance of vot­ing drilled into them, which is why we see such a high turnout with mid­dleaged and older peo­ple. While some peo­ple might think 18 is too young to make an ed­u­cated de­ci­sion, there’s a lot of re­search out there that shows that the ear­lier some­one starts vot­ing, the more likely they’ll con­tinue to do so. It’s im­por­tant, then, that par­ents talk to their kids about what’s go­ing on in their com­mu­nity and their coun­try, how de­ci­sions are made, and how they can in­flu­ence change.

Vot­ing shows an in­ter­est in and com­mit­ment to your com­mu­nity. Lo­cal gov­ern­ment in­flu­ences our lives in ways we prob­a­bly don’t re­alise. Wa­ter, pub­lic trans­port, road­ing, parks, li­braries, swimming pools, events … If you value those things, then it’s vi­tal you vote for them.

The idea that ‘‘my vote won’t change any­thing’’ isn’t valid. There’s a say­ing that says, ‘‘Cities de­fine coun­tries.’’ I’d go one step fur­ther and say, ‘‘Sub­urbs de­fine cities.’’ If we can be ef­fec­tive in pos­i­tively in­flu­enc­ing our neigh­bour­hoods, we can shape broader pol­icy and life­style. It doesn’t take much to in­flu­ence change; just one per­son can get the ball rolling.

I know one young mum who saw a need for lunches at her lo­cal school, so she just started mak­ing them. Now she makes 1200 lunches ev­ery day and now her com­mu­nity has swung in be­hind her daily ef­forts. That kind of ini­tia­tive puts pres­sure on Gov­ern­ment, who isn’t pro­vid­ing that sup­port to feed kids, but prob­a­bly should be. Com­mu­ni­ties can make a dif­fer­ence.

If your kids haven’t voted be­fore or are al­most 18, start telling them that their voice counts just as much as any­one else’s. Dis­cuss the is­sues your com­mu­nity faces, and what would be a good so­lu­tion. The younger our kids start to care about what hap­pens to them and their com­mu­ni­ties, the more con­nected our com­mu­ni­ties will be­come.

PHOTO: 123RF

Ki­wis are al­lowed to vote when they turn 18, and as this young woman demon­strates vot­ing is not hard.

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