Opening of the Student Commonwealth Conference

  • Deborah Morris
Youth Affairs

Parliament Buildings, Wellington

Good morning, and welcome to Parliament. I hope you have a great time here today.

You're meeting in the seat of power. Right next door is the House of Representatives, where the major legislative debates and slinging matches take place.

I think that far too many young people don't actually believe that this place, Parliament, can affect them. My message to them is to sit up and take note - the decisions taken in this place every day impact on all New Zealanders, so it's vital that we all have our say.

In particular though, given that all of you are told time and again that you are the future of the nation... it's vital that you have the chance to have your say.

Parliamentarians don't have a good track record of involving young people in decision making. But, without that involvement and communication, we are in grave danger of taking decisions that are based on just part of the information.

How much better would the decisionsbe if decision makers took all of the information into account?

That's what I'd like to talk about today. I believe the theme Talking to One Another which was chosen by the Commonwealth Secretariat to mark Commonwealth Day and has also been chosen as the theme for your conference is particularly relevant.

You see, you can all make a difference to what is happening around you and the decisions that are being made.

You have the potential to make a difference on many levels: in yourself, your families, your local area, New Zealand, and even globally.

Talking locally At the local level, many City Councils have established youth councils to enable input from young people. When I attended the induction of the Auckland City Youth Council they were discussing the input the Youth Councillors might have on Aucklander's transport policies, amongst other things.

And it seems to me that unless the City Council had taken the time to talk to the youth and listen, it would not have occurred to them that young people were interested in the issue of transport.

As we all know - communication is a two way thing. It involves talking to one another and listening.

Central Government

And, when it comes to central government, there is an important role here for the Ministry of Youth Affairs. Part of the Ministry's job is to facilitate input and participation of youth into government and also to get information out to young people. There are a few ways they do that - through student reps in schools, focus groups and the Youth Parliament.

Your are also able to contact local MPs, petition Parliament, make submissions and write to us if you want to tell us anything.

This is important, because I believe that only young people can really articulate what young people want.

Talking globally Internationally you can play a huge role too. Not only do youth have huge spending power that can make or break a new product but young people are much more likely to grab new initiatives and technology, and at least give them a try.

Much of our youth culture is influenced by international culture, trends and pressures. That's fine, but we must ensure that while we co-operate on a global platform that our indigenous values and unique attributes are not totally rejected.

While talking globally, we should take pride in what we in New Zealand can offer. We can take pride in our history, our culture, our music, our language, and our people.

Next year, the Commonwealth Youth Ministers meeting will take place in Malaysia. I will be the youngest Minister there, so to make sure that youth set the agenda there will be regional youth forums prior to the main meeting.

There will also be youth participation and representation at the meeting itself. Talking to one another at that level, internationally, means pressure can be brought to bear on governments to encourage good practice when it comes to youth issues. We can also share information and learn from each other.

Talking to one another means we can share our collective wisdom and experience, plan for the future we want and set about achieving it together.

So, if just for a moment, New Zealand could stop and listen to what young people are saying, perhaps our communities and country would be different.

The Commonwealth Youth Programme conducted a survey on youth empowerment in the UK, Canada and New Zealand. The young people surveyed said they wanted a world in which finite resources are not wasted and human resources are not taken for granted.

That statement is an awesome example of just how perceptive and 'on to it' youth are. Today, as you discuss various issues and seek answers to them, you will all know that you can make a difference. And the various mechanisms for participation that I've described; the Youth Councils, Youth Parliament, Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Commonwealth Youth Programme are just some of the ways you are able to do that.

Conclusion In closing, I'd like to invite each of you to make contact with either the Ministry of Youth Affairs or me, if you would like any information about these things or government more generally. Government and young people need to be talking to one another, and listening, if we're going to get it right.

I wish you all the best today.