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Make Parliament relevant, say Greens

24 May, 2004

Make Parliament relevant, say Greens

The Green Party is calling for civics education to be taught in schools to make parliament more relevant to young people.

In a hard-hitting speech during Parliament's 150th anniversary celebration Green Co-leader Rod Donald said that declining participation, especially among young people, was the biggest challenge facing democracy in this country.

"The credibility of our democracy is on the line when substantial sections of society feel so alienated from the parliamentary process that they don't feel motivated to participate in it," said Mr Donald, the Green Party's Electoral Reform spokesperson. "One survey indicated that 37 per cent of 18-29-year-olds didn't vote at the last election."

"There are many causes for the lack of interest in parliament and we need to deal with them all rather than simply ignoring them.

"New Zealand has one of the most open parliamentary systems in the world, but most people don't have a clue about the legislative process. Civics education in schools would ensure that all New Zealanders know their rights, and their responsibilities, as citizens.

"This is the only way to make sure that parliament is run on behalf of the people of New Zealand, rather than on behalf of the big corporations which now dominate the submissions process and which exert undue influence through the millions of dollars they spend in lobbying.

"We must involve people in decision-making. And to do that, we need to ensure that all New Zealanders understand the opportunities that already exist to make their voices heard."

Rod Donald also called on MPs to set an example to the people they claimed to represent, by cleaning up their own behaviour in the house. "How on earth can we expect young people to show parliament any respect when MPs show so little respect to each other?

"The average school playground contains far less bullying, personal denigration and rudeness than an average day in the House," said Mr Donald. "If we expect the youth of Aotearoa to get involved in our democracy, then we have to teach them how parliament works and prove that it is worthy of respect.

"Democracy is not a spectator sport. It works best when there are lots of participants."

The Greens host the "Democracy: Is this as good as it gets?" seminar in the National Portrait Gallery, Bowen House, at 5:30pm today.

ENDS

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