Youth Participating In The Community

  • Tony Ryall
Youth Affairs

Your worship, Mayor Fletcher, City Councillors, Youth Councillors, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. I am delighted to be here.

Firstly let me begin by congratulating the members of the new Auckland City Youth Council. I am proud of the commitment you are making to your city and to other young Aucklanders.

Seems to me we should be encouraging young New Zealanders to take a greater interest in both community service and public service.

But let me clarify that.

A teenager brought home her new boyfriend to meet her parents, and they were appalled by his appearance: leather jacket, motorcycle boots, tattoos and a pierced nose. Later, the parents pulled their daughter aside and said "He doesn't seem very nice." "Mom," replied the daughter, "if he wasn't so nice, why would he be doing 5000 hours of community service?"

Now I don't mean that sort of community service! What I mean is the volunteer work going on in our community which seems to fall on the shoulders of a smaller and smaller group of good-spirited people.

Without people prepared to give of themselves to help others, our community will fall apart.

If you look around your city at the helping organisations you'll see mainly older New Zealanders being the backbone of community effort. Isn't it time our generations started helping out?

Young people are also missing from public service. Again, not a fashionable thing. Who would want to serve on a city council or in Parliament, with all the criticism and personal attacks that weary these elected people?

The survey of local authority elected members conducted after the 1998 local government elections indicates that there are just 6 elected members under the age of 30. That's just one percent of the total number of members.

Currently just 27 or four percent of elected members are in the 30 - 39 age group.

In Parliament, the record has slipped. After the 1990 general election, we had four young New Zealanders under 30 serving their communities in Parliament: Bill English, Roger Sowry, Nick Smith and myself. Today there's only one: Nanaia Mahuta a Labour list MP.

Nick Smith and I have been National's youngest MPs for the last eight years! We've got a couple of young people standing in likely-winnable seats this election, so we may join the ranks of the so-called "senior MPs" next year.

Many fine young people have been elected to the House of Representatives: from Jonathon Hunt to Simon Upton. People of all ages have voted to put young people into Parliament. If I might observe it's all about calibre and capacity, not tokenism.

It is important that the voices of young New Zealanders are heard in Wellington. Quite frankly, when I came to Parliament, whenever the Government made a decision to spend money, they sent the bill straight to the next generation! Everything was paid for by borrowing.

Balancing the books is one of the greatest gifts any government can give the next generation.

Closer to today, you may have seen TV One's series on MPs over Easter Weekend. Don't get the wrong impression. Public service - at local and national level - is incredibly satisfying, exciting and challenging. You can achieve good things with other good people.

You'll find that on the Youth Council.

Can I ask you this: Entering a very cold, dark room, you are presented with the choice of a fireplace, a wood stove and a lantern. What would you light first?

The match, of course. When working with volunteers, people needing services and the community or businesses, first the spark must be lit in you. If it isn't, how can you pass it on to others?

I hope you'll look upon your commitment to the Youth Council as the first steps in a lifetime of serving your community. I'll talk a little more about that later on.

As we all know the world is changing - fast. It is an amazing statistic that man's knowledge is now doubling every ten years.

The information and technology revolution has made today's young people the best informed of any in history.

But with the many benefits of technology come some drawbacks.

Young people are exposed to more risks and more temptations than earlier generations.

They may also come under extreme pressure, through the influence of the rapidly expanding media, to look and behave in certain ways.

There is also a risk that, should they fall behind in education, they will find it increasingly difficult to fully participate in this technology driven society of ours.

These things can place enormous pressures on young people.

The rate of change today creates many challenges for all of us. But young people are particularly affected by it.

Employment opportunities for them are changing. Employers are now looking for highly educated, technologically literate employees. That is why my colleague, Nick Smith, Minister of Education, has made technology in schools one of his highest priorities.

Recreation and leisure are changing. Young people are looking for new challenges, and are doing new things, in new places. Once rugby and netball formed the backbone of young New Zealander's recreation. Now, recreation opportunities seem limited only by the imagination.

And the make up of New Zealand society is changing. We are increasingly influenced by the pacific rim, especially by Asia. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Auckland.

In fact the rate of change is now so rapid that it is difficult for people like me, who were teenagers 15 years ago, to really understand all the issues that face young people in 1999.

One thing we have noticed is an increase in the level of risks young people are prepared to take. Whether this is as a result of increased pressure on young New Zealanders or whether it is to do with the influence of the media is unclear. Most likely it is combination of many factors.

Whatever the reasons, I am concerned about the level of high risk taking by young people, especially young men.

Statistics on the consequences of young men's risk taking are sobering:

From 1996-97, motor vehicle and sporting injuries amongst young males aged 15-24 cost the country $9.1 million dollars in new ACC claims and $48.6 million in ongoing claims,
15-24 year old men have the highest rate of road death,
young men are twice as likely to be killed or injured as young women,
young men aged 18-24 are over-represented among heavy drinkers,
hospital admissions for cannabis dependence are highest among young men aged 20-24 years,
male offending peaks in the 20-24 age group,
and in 1996, 28787 men aged 15-24 were convicted of an offence.
I don't believe that we can stop young people taking risks. It is an inherent part of growing up, but I am interested in ways we can reduce the harm they do to themselves and others.

We need to recognise and support the normal rites of passage but not when it translates into damaging anti-social behaviour which hurts everyone else.

There are no easy answers. We can start though, by understanding and appreciating the issues and concerns of young people.

We all have a responsibility to consider positive ways in which we can help young people experiencing difficulties. We need to develop an environment that encourages positive rather than negative behaviours.

Young people need to be able to access and experience "natural highs" with their peers in safe environments, where risk taking is within given boundaries.

The Auckland City Youth Council can help the Auckland community to achieve these goals.

It is important that young people become involved in the processes that shape their world. Equally it is also important that decision makers pay attention to young peoples' needs.

I fully support the Auckland City Council's Youth Council initiative. It is a credit to the City Council and to the young people who have been involved in the Youth Council.

I am delighted to see that, since its inception in 1984, the Youth Council continues to attract the support of people such as yourselves.

Central Government also has a number of initiatives that allow young people to express their views and participate in their communities. We too believe it is vital to gain an understanding and appreciation of the issues and concerns of young people

The Prime Minister's Youth Advisory Forum is one such initiative. It is made up of 15 young people aged between 12 and 25 years. These young people meet the Prime Minister and other key Ministers three times a year. They discuss a range of issues of importance to them and the future of New Zealand.

Other important initiatives include the Youth Parliament, which is formed every three years, and the Ministry of Youth Affairs, "representatives in schools" project.

Of course there are many other ways for young people to participate. It may be through their school, an NGO, a community group, a sports club, their workplace, or simply through their friends and peers. I encourage all young people to have their say and to participate in their communities.

I believe young people have a huge contribution to make. They able to make the community aware of the many challenges and difficulties they face. They also bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to old issues.

That is why the initiatives such as the Auckland City Youth Council have so much to offer.

Participating in the Auckland City Youth Council will no doubt provide many "natural highs". Just getting in there and having a go can be very exciting.

The challenge is real and the opportunities limitless in working for a better environment for the young people of Auckland.

Finally, I would like to thank you all for your commitment, and for giving freely of your time and experiences. I am sure you will find your membership of the Council rewarding.