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Address to Local Authorities Youth Conference

Office of the Hon Laila Harré
Minister of Women's Affairs
Minister of Youth Affairs
Associate Minister of Commerce
Associate Minister of Labour

Hon Laila Harré
Address to Local Authorities Youth Conference of the New Millennium
Lawson Field Theatre, Vogel St Gisborne

Embargoed until delivery at 8.30am, Monday May 22 2000

Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to share ideas with a group of people whose top priority is exactly the same as mine –finding ways to improve the welfare and wellbeing of young New Zealanders.

Firstly I would like to thank the Mayor of Gisborne, John Clarke, and staff at the Gisborne District Council for the effort you have put into organising this event.

What is happening here today is so much more than just a conference. It is a huge and long overdue step towards the establishment of a nationwide youth network among New Zealand's local authorities, and I can't imagine a better place than Gisborne for these foundations to be put in place.

Not only does Gisborne have a young and growing population, it is home to the largest proportion of Maori children in New Zealand. This will make the region a key player in the development of a nationwide youth development strategy, which is one of my priorities as Minister of Youth Affairs. But more on that later.

Vision or plans for the future development of Youth

The first part of my task here today is to outline my vision or plans for the future development of youth. Here I have two options. I can either lay before you my wish list or I can give you a realistic idea of what I am likely to achieve as Minister of Youth Affairs.

Sensibly, I will do the latter, but first let me indulge in setting out some benchmarks for a society truly focussed on youth development.

These are full employment, free education and access to health care, and a happy healthy youth population that has every opportunity to be themselves and achieve their full potential.

Let me contrast this with the reality I was presented with when I took over the Youth Affairs portfolio in December last year.

Young people are more likely to be unemployed than any other age group. If you're a young Maori or Pacific Island person you are twice as likely to be unemployed as your Pakeha counterparts.

The median annual income of the young almost halved between 1986 and 1996, dropping from $14,700 to $8100.

Our 15 to 24-year-olds are credited with the highest OECD rate for road deaths and the second highest suicide rate after Finland.

Our 18-23 year olds consume a quarter of the total alcohol consumed in the country.

On top of this, there are widening disparities between Maori and non-Maori rates for teen pregnancy, youth suicide, self-injury and mental health.

Young Maori and Pacific Island people are more likely to leave school without qualifications, be unemployed and receive a low income.

So as you can see, with statistics like that it's pretty hard to entertain any flights of fancy in this job.

That doesn't mean we don't have goals, and with the backing of the Ministry of Youth Affairs we're putting work programmes in place to help us achieve these.

New Zealand Youth Development Strategy

I'm of the opinion that prevention is the best cure for the myriad of negative statistics that plague our young people. Our high rates of youth suicide, teen pregnancy and road deaths are all outcomes that cannot be looked at in isolation.

What they tell us is that too many of our young people are experiencing very real crises and falling through the gaps of a poor, some would say non-existent, New Zealand youth development strategy.

And these are not problems that the young create for themselves. They are problems that our society – our grown ups – create for them. We have to take responsibility for sorting things our alongside young New Zealanders.

If we're going to reduce negative statistics and outcomes young people we must adopt a youth development approach. I'm pleased to announce that this is one of the Ministry of Youth Affairs' key priority projects this year.

A youth development strategy would work to improve outcomes for young people in several ways.

Firstly, it would boost an understanding in the public sector about how to develop policies for young people that are integrated and work for young people, including specific consideration of rangatahi Maori and young Pacific people.

It would also put in place a set of government initiatives aimed at delivering effective, integrated services to youth and increase their participation in decision-making.

Labour market and youth minimum wage

Another area in which I hope to make vast improvements is that of young people's participation in the labour market.

By August this year I hope to be able to report back to my government colleagues on options for improving information on the working patterns of young people under 16, with a view to increasing legislative protection.

At the moment we are working through options to improve the youth minimum wage of 16 and 17 year olds, and the government has already agreed in principle to reduce the threshold for the adult minimum wage from 20 to 18.

This is a vital step in the modernisation of New Zealand's minimum employment code, and fits in with work the government has already done to introduce new industrial relations legislation – the Employment Relations Bill.

The removal of the award rates under the Employment Contracts Act had massive ramifications for young workers. The Employment Relations Bill isn't about a return to award rates, but it works in other ways to improve the bargaining power of a group of workers that have a very low expectation of what they are worth.

Youth offending and Gisborne announcement

Another area I am working on as Minister of Youth Affairs is how to deal with the much-publicised issue of youth offending. Again, these negative statistics illustrate the need for a coherent youth development strategy that takes into account the specific needs of any given community. That's where you come in.

A good example of what I mean can be found here in Gisborne, and I'm pleased to be able to deliver a bit of good news on this front.

The Government has approved funding in this year's budget for a neighbourhood-based safety project in Gisborne that takes a multi-faceted approach to dealing with crime in the community.

The Crime Prevention Unit will administer the programme, but it's being driven at a local level by the Gisborne Safer Communities Council, Te Whare Tawharau, and Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa.

The programme targets youth offending statistics in an area where 48% of offenders are less than 21 years of age. It aims to do this by developing recreational and life-skills initiatives for young people.

It also encourages residents to take pride in their neighbourhoods by fostering a sense of belonging and strengthening neighbourhood support networks.

As I said before, prevention is the best cure in this case and this is the kind of project we need to see more of to deal with issues like youth offending.

Regional development and job creation

Another important partnership between this government, local authorities and the private sector will be in the area of regional and economic development. In short, I'm talking about job creation.

This is being driven by Alliance leader Jim Anderton and is based on the principle that everyone should have access and input into to the economic development process.

This includes business, individuals, trade unions, community groups, private companies, Maori economic entities and local authorities. Young people's participation in this process is crucial, as they will be the workforce of the future.

For this reason, any regional development strategy must consider young people as an asset, not a liability.

Like Gisborne, most regions will be able to draw on the expertise of existing youth organisations and networks to come up with community-driven economic development strategies. This will help prevent the marginalisation of young people in this process due to negative adult perceptions.

You have asked how you, as local authorities, can help me achieve my goals as Minister of Youth Affairs. That offer means a lot to me, and you can rest assured I am more than happy to share my task with you.

Youth participation in decision making

There are several ways local authorities can work with central government to improve both the participation of, and outcomes for young people.

Many councils around New Zealand now have youth councils, and it's vital that the input of these young decision-makers is taken seriously and given the recognition it deserves.

For this to happen youth councils must be given independence in terms of their advisory role to council and shouldn't feel the need to acquiesce with council decisions they may disagree with.

By the same token, councils should be open to their youth members and be willing to justify any decision not to take their advice. Young people, like others, don't expect to be agreed with all the time, but they do expect to be heard.

If they are to be effective youth councils must also be well resourced and have the administrative support needed to do the job well, without political pressure from senior councillors or advisers.

In short, I would ask that you take your youth council seriously by truly listening to what its members have to say and reflecting this in your day-to-day decisions.

Youth councils also have a valuable contribution to make on projects your senior councillors may not have the knowledge to deal with, or quite honestly are simply too old to deal with constructively.

Let me give you an example of how a scheme developed in conjunction with my local youth council will soon benefit young people and decision-makers around the country.

I live in Waitakere City, west Auckland, which I'm proud to say has a well established youth council that is held in very high regard. It's great to see Ian Leader here today. Ian is a fellow westie and someone who is doing excellent work with the Waitakere City Youth Council. Kiaora Ian.

The Waitakere City Youth Council played an integral role in the design and implementation of a pilot study on the health and wellbeing of young New Zealanders.

The youth council gave project leaders advice on what form the survey should take, the kinds of questions that should be asked, and what kind of a approach would get the most honest and relevant response from their peers.

The result was an assisted, self-interview multi-media survey which students completed on laptop computers. The results of that pilot were so successful that the Health Research Council last week announced a three-year grant to take it nationwide. This project will be the first comprehensive survey of youth health and wellbeing, and will generate a valuable and unprecedented database on adolescent health conditions.

Local authorities are also well positioned to support the development of youth programmes in their regions, and to do this well their staff and elected members need to understand what youth development is.

Quite simply it's a process of growing up, a process that involves a young person's family, peer group, school and community.

Local authorities can help make growing up a positive experience by putting in place a local youth development strategy. This should enable young people to do thing on their own terms, and not make them solely reliant on other people, namely adults.

It should ensure that young people feel valued and have a chance to use their valuable skills and knowledge in a productive way, and ensure young people have real input into the decision-making process.

Closing the gaps

This government has made a commitment to closing the gaps between Maori and non-Maori, something we will not be able to do without the support of local authorities.

Maori and Pacific people have the biggest youth population. In 1996, 38% of Maori were under the age of 15 compared with 20% of non-Maori.

It is crucial that young Maori and Pacific Island people are involved in the development of initiatives that aim to close these social and economic gaps.

Local authorities can encourage and support young Maori to develop community initiatives that will assist them with their education and employment needs.

Youth workers

Another way you can support the work I am doing is by supporting those in your community that are working on the ground with young people.

Youth workers are often the first port of call for young people either in or approaching the kind of crises represented in the statistics I shared with you earlier.

Local authorities can support a qualified youth work approach by employing or funding qualified youth workers or those who are willing to undertake formal training, and supporting the formation of local youth worker collectives.

The Canterbury Youth Workers Collective is an example of how such an organisation is operating for the benefit of young people and the community. It has 145 members who adhere to a code of ethics and meet regularly for training and networking purposes. It has established an NZQA accredited youth work training course in partnership with the local polytechnic, and it is working with other South Island youth workers to establish a regional collective.

So there are a few ideas about how you, as local authorities can help me achieve my goals as Minister of Youth Affairs. I understand that you will now break up into workshops to discuss some of the issues I have raised, and I welcome your honest feedback and hope I can answer any questions you have.

One thing you can do is keep up the good work, and continue working with myself and my colleagues to strengthen the link between central and local government and the local community.

I wish you well for the rest of the rest of the conference.


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