Speech to Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce

  • Deborah Morris
Women's Affairs

Good evening everybody thank you for the invitation to speak here today its a great pleasure to have been asked.

When I read the invitation and saw that last years speakers had included Suzanne Carty, the Editor of the Evening Post and Sharon Crosbie of Radio New Zealand it seemed a bit daunting to be invited to speak in the footsteps of such awesome women.

However I thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce myself and outline for you some of my thoughts and concerns for young people and in particular young women.

I also thought it would be a good chance to hear from you about what you expect from the Coalition and it will enable me to take your ideas back to my colleagues.

Politics after all is a two-way process.

Personal info (ad lib)

How I got where I am today
Obstacles and opportunities
Words of advice for any women contemplating a political career.
What attracted me to NZ First
I take great pride in being one of the youngest MPs in the new Parliament and the youngest ever Minister of the Crown. It has been a sudden and dramatic path from university student to parliamentary researcher which led me to the unique opportunity of involvement in the Coalition negotiations ... and now, Minister of Youth Affairs.

You may have read in tonight's paper of my consternation about always having my age quoted whenever I say anything.

If the media had its way, I'd preface everything I say to you this evening with .... remember, I'm 26, comma, and this is what I've got to say.

Anyway, the role of Minister of Youth Affairs is an exciting one, and one designed to increase the participation of young people, and also to ensure that Government policies are focused on the issues for young people.

I'd like to think that I am fairly "switched on" to the needs, desires and aspirations of young people. And one thing I'm very aware of is the need to avoid putting all young people into one single group. There are dangers inherent in labelling us as one clear social group, and attaching a stereo-typical image.

Young people are too diverse for that. Let me paint a picture.

Some young people feel alienated from the rest of society and their sense of self worth isn't always strong. Some of that has to do with the biological processes of growing up, but it can also be attributed to a number of other factors. Access to information, having the trustworthy of confidants, a lack of pride in ones culture for example.

Add to that the fact that our parents are probably working harder and longer hours than ever before, the world is increasingly competitive and we don't quite match those, "beautiful people" we see on TV and in films.

The result? A crisis perception. Where do we fit in this world? Are we worthwhile? And who cares anyway?

In contrast, there are some young people who appear overly confident. They're up with play, thriving at school or in work and having a blast of a time socially.

Those people still have the occasional moment of self-doubt but on the whole, they're ok.

So, young people can fit anywhere in that spectrum. They might have body piercing, op shop clothes, designer labels, dreadlocks or a shaved head. Who knows? They are enormously diverse.

So let's accept them for who they are, believe in them and encourage them to grow into the adults they want to be.

As I've grown in recent years I've discovered that my sense of self worth and comfort with who is Deborah Morris is, has developed. But, it is really only been in the years 23 - 26.

The years prior to that were tumultuous.

Let's recognise that it's no simple time being young, but it can also be a lot of fun - so long as you stay safe.

The media portrayal of young people is staggering. It's hugely negative - the affect of it is that it perpetuates the myth of young louts, it puts the focus on crime, and older New Zealanders begin to feel intimidated by us.

So, why have I mentioned these things today?

Because I see it as my responsibility to begin addressing the perception of young people to put the focus on the positive stuff while also being brave enough to acknowledge and address the negative.

I must effectively represent young people in Parliament and Cabinet.

Often young people and women are clumped together in the "too hard" basket - or they become an after thought when trying to rectify a policy that fails to appreciate diversity.

Many would declare young people to be a nuisance. Similarly, earlier this century many people claimed that women were a nuisance. Many still do!! I think being a nuisance can be great.

Young people do have a positive role to play in our communities. But how often do we give them a say in it? Its not that they arent capable of having a say, of contributing, of participating, of taking responsibility.

We often just dont give them a chance. As a new MP and a young Minister I want to change that.

My vision In my maiden speech I referred to my position as a list MP, and how I dont have a physical constituency. I want my constituency to be our young people.

Particularly those teenagers and young adults who do not feel a part of the political process ... nor have had a voice to represent them in the House.

We must recognise that learning differs greatly from instruction. Learning is about having the opportunity to experience something and then to use that knowledge when handling difficult situations.

So, we cant "just do things" for young people. We need to help them to do it for themselves.

The youth of the 1960s ushered in fundamental societal changes ... the anti-War, environmental and feminist lobbies of the 1960s and 1970s sprang from our youth and produced far-ranging reforms within our society.

In the 1990's, political apathy is the curse of the young. They don't get involved, so Parliament ignores them, so they feel disenchanted, and on it goes. I have described it as a "cynical distaste" of the process and the politicians. We're not the heroes anymore. So how about making the young people the heroes?

What if we gave them the opportunity to take an active interest in their own communities - through youth councils and the like - so that they can be a part of the decision making process - they can express their views and concerns and get some action.

We need to foster environments of ownership in our communities, especially in communities of interest, like women and young people.

The recent drive, both in politics and in the commercial market, for individualism has many positive aspects. However, individualism is not the answer to everything. We must ensure that all young people are supported, and encouraged to achieve their personal goals. In fact, some need to be encouraged to even set goals. This needs to be achieved in tandem with the goals and values of their community, whether that be a community of interest or locality.

I put it to you that strong individuals can work together in the interests of strong community. The two are not mutually exclusive.

In that context it is vital that we ensure young people are equipped with the appropriate skills, ready to tackle the future in front of them. It's about much more than is provided in the formal education structure, it is about ensuring that every young person is empowered to the best of their abilities.

I see that as part of the Ministry of Youth Affair's role.

In many ways its role is similar to that of the Ministry of Womens Affairs: We are a policy agency seeking to ensure the needs of a particular population group are reflected and considered.

On my visits in recent weeks, I've discovered that if people are stakeholders in their communities and projects, then you can be sure that something will happen. This is particularly true of women.

But on to women in politics now ...

I have to admit that I am not a great fan of the Westminster style of Parliamentary politics. It is a destructive and confrontational system and the move to MMP has ameliorated its side effects only a little.

Although there are now a record number of women MPs from all political persuasions it will be interesting to see whether that brings about some of the much hoped for change in New Zealand politics.

While I hope the impact of more women in the House will bring positive change, I would be disappointed if all MPs didnt also see it is their responsibility to improve the tenor of the debating chamber. It would be a mistake to think that women should be left to overhaul the system on their own!

The Coalition Agreement sets out quite clearly what the Government intends to deliver for women

agreement in principle to the establishment of a Womens Commissioner whose role will be one of advocacy in co-operation with the Ministry of Womens Affairs;
evaluation of the effectiveness of the Equal Employment Opportunity Trust in terms of progress being made in advancing pay equity and consideration of whether any further legislative initiatives are required to progress the closing of the pay gap;
a review of current child care policies to integrate services and reduce barriers to women seeking financial independence;
resourcing of violence prevention and education programmes within schools and the community;
continuation of funding for the Maori Womens Development Fund; and
a survey of unpaid work/time use.
These policies, many of them in New Zealand Firsts manifesto recognise the particular challenges that women continue to face in New Zealand society and the role that governments must play in beginning to address the various factors which contribute to those challenges.

At this juncture I would like to pay tribute to Rev Ann Batten. Ann worked extremely hard on New Zealand First's Women's policy and has a long history of work on women's issues. As a researcher helping a spokesperson finalise the policy, I always found Ann a pleasure to work with.

As the New Zealand First Women's Affairs spokesperson she must now work with the Hon Chris Fletcher to further improve Governments response and action on women's issues.

There are some enormous new challenges to our nations youth ... to create a meaningful and fulfilled life in a world that exhibits often confused and contradictory messages.

One of the issues that is consistently brought up when I meet with young people is that of sexuality education.

Often a young person's sexuality is at the heart of discovering just who they are. It is vital that we provide honest information that empowers them to make safe choices.

One of my roles is to establish proper bridges between young people and our democratic institutions. To involve youth in our decision-making process ... to provide them with a voice, ... but also the opportunity to make that voice heard.

And as you hear and observe what's going on in the lives of young New Zealanders, it is my hope that you will recognise the role that you too can play.

Encourage young people to get active even if it's just a letter to an MP. It could be participation in youth councils, being a student representative in a school, or perhaps being a youth MP in the Youth Parliament.

At the very least - enrol to vote!

Conclusion MMP has proven to be, I think, the right choice for New Zealand There are not many governments in the world that have written down, for all to see, a 3 year plan of business. The Coalition Agreement has some exciting ideas for New Zealand, and I would urge you all to read it if you get a chance.

Were working for a sound stable Government, putting New Zealanders First.

New Zealand First want to see a safe, healthy and enterprising New Zealand.

At the end of the day if we dont all take an interest in the future of our young people and cement the networks that are already in place ... then all the talk in the world, however well meaning will have been in vain.

Thank you.

- ENDS -