This Generation

  • Deborah Morris
Youth Affairs


"Tell them near and far - this generation is coming up.

You've got to lend an ear and hear what they've got to say.

This generation is going to walk with their heads held high."

Mr President, Leader Winston Peters, Deputy Leader Tau Henare, Colleagues and most importantly New Zealand First Party Members. It is my belief that just as this generation is going to walk with its head held high, New Zealand First should do likewise.

For nearly a year now we have been governing New Zealand. And as has already been said here this weekend, we did what nobody ever thought we could.

As a Party attending its' first annual convention since the election we should be celebrating our achievements - and there is heaps to celebrate.

We can be proud to say that we have made history in forming the first MMP Coalition Government. There can be no denying that each of us has learned a great deal.

We have done well, achieved a lot and we should tell people about that more.

Politics is about more than a sound bite in the media. Responsible politicians have to make judgements about the rights and wrongs of issues.

Little of that work is seen. It's not the stuff of heady sound bites and flashy headlines. It is the stuff of sound policy.

There are times when you have to ignore the opinion polls, when you have to take tough decisions. There are times when you've got to risk unpopularity, when you must look beyond tomorrow, when you make hard choices for the long-term good of the country.

The last few weeks have been particularly interesting! I think it has been a defining moment for New Zealand First, and I know that as long as we stick with our brief and tell people what we're about we will manage to do even better at the next election than we did in October 1996.

The New Zealand people need to know that.

New Zealand First is committed to making a positive contribution to the country and its people. The truth is that our success in this regard will depend not on what we say today - but on what all of us do tomorrow.

That's our mission, and we all need to work much more closely together if we wish to achieve it. The Parliamentary arm of the Party won't be successful by itself. We need the strong base that you people provide to support us in everything we do.

And it's that same common-sense approach that the country's youth need. When it comes to young people we are far too ready to focus on the negative. That has a couple of effects.

Firstly, I believe it polarises the generations from each other when young people really need older people to play an active part in their lives.

It also send young people a message about our expectations of them. Seeing the smiles of teenagers at their prizegivings, hearing about the people who have committed their lives to young work and feeling the sense of anticipation when young people realise they have options - I know the potential is enormous.

But underlying that potential there are also vulnerabilities. So I'd like to describe a couple of these to you.

To start with more children are being brought up in broken families where their father is never around. Nearly a quarter of New Zealand children live in sole parent families - and 82% of those sole parent families are headed by women.

We often seem to go out of our way to avoid the connection between our more pressing social problems and the absence of men in the lives of our kids. At the very least they need a stable male role model.

Unemployment is another major problem for New Zealand youth. Not only does it place pressure on our welfare system, but it ruins the self esteem of those who face endless months of endless boredom. What on earth could be worse than a young person straight out of school, supposedly with the world at their feet and the future before them, ending up on the dole?

You then ask why you hear young people saying "what's the use".

In the mouths of our teens, these are the three saddest words. They speak of emptiness in what should be a time of exploration. They speak of resignation in what should be a time of wonder. They speak of hopelessness that makes people numb to all they are and can be.

We can make a difference though. One clear success story is the Ministry of Youth Affairs Conservation Corps programme. This programme has enabled up to 80% of participants to find a job or enter training within 6 months of completing their course.

I'm hoping that Peter McCardle will be able to deliver new opportunities for young New Zealanders when he launches his employment strategy.

Another problem that I know you all feel strongly about is crime.

We know a lot about the profile of criminals. Crime is predominantly committed by young men. Research has shown that juvenile offenders tend to be of low intelligence, hyper-active and impulsive, their parents have supervised them poorly with harsh and erratic discipline, their parents are disproportionately more likely to be separated and they are more likely to come from low income families.

The combination of factors illustrates the complexity of youth issues.

The behaviours displayed - the party excesses, hedonistic highs and cynicism are symptoms of a deeper malaise. And it is my contention that each one of us here has a role to play in the lives of our youth.

There are very few young people who do not respond to a warm, genuine effort on the part of adults. The children of New Zealand are the responsibility of all of us. They need us. We need them.

The task facing policy makers and communities is to ensure all young people can make the transition to adulthood safely.

It seems to me that it is about all of us lifting our sights. If we expect the best of our young people we have to give our best to them.

They will not be bothered about themselves, their streets, their communities and their futures if we're not going to be bothered with them.

The feeling of enthusiasm we share here today, and commitment to New Zealand First's future, your electorates, your families and whanau, and young people means that together we can make a difference.

Look out for young people whose lives you can touch.

Listen to them and share your stories.

As I said at the start - this generation is coming up.

If we lend an ear and hear what they've got to say, we can help them achieve.

This generation is going to walk with their heads held high.

New Zealand First can walk with its head held high too.