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Mahuta: Bridging the age gap

Hon Nanaia Mahuta
Minister of Youth Affairs
Associate Minister of Local Government


Bridging the age gap

Address to Youth in Local Government Conference, New Plymouth


Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for inviting me to speak at this conference.

It’s a real pleasure to be here today, as this conference provides an opportunity for me to be here in my capacity as both the Minister of Youth Affairs, and the Associate Minister for Local Government. It is not often as Ministers that we get to combine portfolio responsibilities at one event, so it's fantastic to be here and have the opportunity to meet with some of the wonderful and diverse young people that we have in New Zealand – as well as many of the dedicated people who work hard to make our communities better places to live.

This conference is a fantastic opportunity to encourage and celebrate youth participation in local government.

Through my Youth Affairs portfolio, the Ministry of Youth Development is committed to supporting local government initiatives, both regionally and nationally, while through my Associate Local Government role, the Department of Internal Affairs' Local Government & Community branch works alongside local councils to ensure that the important link between central and local government is maintained.

With all that in mind, I wholeheartedly support the conference's theme ‘Puritia te Kīwai Kete o nga Rangatahi’ – which loosely translates to mean that young people and councils can work together to share knowledge, ideas and skills for the benefit of their communities.

It also reminds us that just as we need to encourage our young people to take up the challenge and to get involved, we also need to nurture and encourage them by supporting positive youth development in this country.

Councils today play a major role in promoting the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of our communities, while active and meaningful participation by young people is essential to re-energising, sustaining and growing the civic spirit of our communities.

This positive involvement empowers young people to make decisions about their own communities and develop a sense of worth, belonging and connection.

Local government is one of the key forums through which local communities, including young people, can have a say in decisions that affect them. Put another way, today’s local government is about local people maximising local opportunities and solving local challenges.

I can’t overestimate the importance of basing council decision-making, including responses to community outcomes, on good information about our communities, which of course has an impact on the lives of our young people and others.

However, getting this information together isn’t always easy. It requires a high level of involvement from all sectors of the community, including youth. That’s where the Ministry of Youth Development (MYD) can have a supporting role to play, through its networks with young people, youth workers, community agencies, other government departments – and of course, with local government.

The Ministry is a key partner in this conference and responsible for the sub-theme: “Inclusion – participation and how to engage young people”. It also contributed to the judging of last night’s Youth in Local Government Awards.

I want to take this time to say congratulations and well done to all the winners and nominees. These awards are a great way of recognising and acknowledging the value of youth participation in local councils and community projects. There are many negative stereotypes about young people today, and it is important that we counter that by talking about the many positive things that are happening, which I will come to shortly.

The Government’s vision for young people is set out in the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa (YDSA). The Labour-led Government launched the strategy in 2002 as a framework to guide all organisations that work with young people aged 12 to 24.

At its heart are a set of principles, aims, and goals, which I’ll say more about in a moment. First, though, I’d like to define just what we mean by this phrase "youth development".

Because adolescence is an important and often challenging time of transition, youth development is about supporting young people to develop the skills and attitudes they need to successfully take part in society, now and in the future. It’s about young people feeling they have something to contribute, and that their views are valued. It's about them feeling connected to their communities, believing they have good choices for their future, and feeling positive about their own identity.

Youth development is also about young people having active involvement in their families and whānau, schools and workplaces, communities, and peer groups, and having a say in decisions that affect them.

Of course, many of these areas overlap and reinforce each other – and they’re supported by the Strategy’s principles, which underpin and guide all of the Ministry's work.

These principles state that youth development must be based on:

- the big picture of young people’s lives

- healthy and positive connections with others

- young people’s strengths

- quality relationships

- full participation by young people

- good information-gathering and sharing.

But the great thing about this strategy is that it provides a framework that other organisations, agencies and individuals can use in their work with young people, to ensure genuine youth engagement and meaningful participation.

In line with the strategy, MYD also runs many projects and initiatives that aim to get young people involved and get their voices heard throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. These projects are all drawn together under the heading of "Aotearoa Youth Voices", a brand which reflects the importance of providing opportunities for young people's voices to be heard and for them to have a say in the decisions which affect them.

An example of where the Ministry is working with local government to identify opportunities to get young people involved in this process, is through two nationwide needs analyses, which were carried out at the end of last year with the support of local government. Surveys were sent to all territorial authorities and youth councils around the country.

Overall, responses from youth councils have produced a useful picture of youth council activity around New Zealand, ranging from details about the average age and length of service of youth councillors, to main activities conducted, council initiatives involved in, and budget and training needs.

Most of the local government respondents indicated that they would like youth participation training in their workplace. A significant majority indicated that a local government-specific resource for involving young people would help them in their work.

The information gained from these surveys has been used to design a new MYD project targeted at local government. This project will support territorial authorities and youth councils to increase the level of youth participation in decision-making at the local government level.

For the rest of 2006, MYD will be developing resources to assist territorial authorities to develop youth policies and strategies that are consistent with the principles of YDSA and the Local Government Act 2002, and to assist youth councils to engage in local government processes.

From the start of 2007, we will be engaging with a small group of local authorities over a six to 12 month period to work with their elected members, local government staff and youth councils to improve the level and the amount of youth participation in their council.

The new MYD resource on writing youth policies and strategies currently under development will be workshopped at this conference. This resource will provide guidance to territorial authorities in developing youth policies, strategies and plans that support the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa. The resource should also provide useful strategies to increase the level and amount of youth participation in decision-making and the long-term council community plan and community outcomes process.

This guide is part of a series of MYD-produced resources for increasing youth participation. It is intended that this resource will support local government staff who are either new to policy and/or new to youth participation.

While it is easy to talk about the goals of youth participation and involvement in development of policy, the challenge for all of us is to ensure that such involvement is genuine, real and meaningful. For example, there are many instances of youth-oriented activities which have been organised by well-intentioned adults for the benefit young people, but which have not involved young people themselves in the decision-making process.

This means we must "walk the talk" to ensure that what is written in policy is reflected in reality.

Achieving effective youth participation is about creating opportunities for young people to be involved in influencing, shaping, designing and contributing to policy and the development of services and programmes that will have an impact on their lives.

An effective and inclusive youth policy shows a council’s commitment to contributing to the development of young people in their city, district or regional community. There are many benefits to the development of sound youth policy, such as the better targeting of services and initiatives and improved coordination of resources and facilities.

Well-planned youth policy empowers young people to make decisions in their own community and develop a sense of worth and belonging.

And, as demonstrated by the response to the needs analysis surveys I mentioned earlier, youth councils are another excellent way for young people to get involved in decision-making and make their city or town a better place to live.

Another exciting MYD initiative which is aimed at building relationships between local and central government and young people in communities, is through the Youth Development Partnership Fund, now in its second year.

The Fund operates as a project-based fund to assist territorial authorities wishing to implement the YDSA to establish good youth development practice.

I would like to personally encourage applicants to this fund to strive for youth participation in decision-making in their proposals, and to pro-actively identify where young people can add value and be involved in the design, delivery and evaluation of projects and initiatives.

I was privileged recently to experience the positive impact that these Youth Development Partnership Fund projects have on young people, taking part as a judge in the inaugural Rangatahi Business Competition, organised by Hamilton City Council.

Budding young business people from Melville High School, Hillcrest High School, Fraser High School, Fairfield College, Te Kura o Te Kaokaoroa o Paatetere and Cambridge High School presented the findings of their projects, which examined six successful Māori businesses. The teams were taught, mentored and coached by Waikato Management School lecturers, mentors and senior Māori students.

The competition had four steps, with the purpose of encouraging Māori secondary school students to aspire to excellence, as well as encouraging higher educational goals – with a particular focus on education in business and entrepreneurial skills.

The common thread among all the businesses studied was that they each positively reflected culture in their operations, which was a key driver of success – particularly for those operating in international markets.

Locally, other innovative projects such as the “Human-Powered Vehicle Challenge”, developed by the South Taranaki District Council in conjunction with the local community and young people, is another excellent example of a youth-powered project that connected young people with training and job opportunities for the future.

Designing, building, testing and – best of all – racing a human powered vehicle, was the challenge for 11 teams of five young people from Hawera, Opunake and Manaia.

The inaugural challenge aimed to introduce young people to industries with skill shortages, particularly engineering. The project successfully proved that local young people do not have to look further afield for training opportunities – because there are options right there in front of them in their home town.

Each team was linked to a South Taranaki engineering firm, which provided supervised workshop access and technical guidance through a mentor. The number of entries surpassed the Trust's expectations.

Throughout the challenge, teams competed against each other in design, team spirit and quality of workmanship until the final race day – and this really sounds like fun– going as fast as possible in their own vehicles!

In all, 12 projects organised by local councils from around the country were funded, resulting in successful outcomes for many, many young people and their communities.

It is on that note, that I am delighted to announce the successful recipients of this year's Youth Development Partnership Fund.

I cannot imagine a more fitting venue in which to announce these project grants today, which, as I mentioned before, are all about central government joining forces with local authorities and their communities to support projects which address the needs of local young people.

Eleven councils, ranging from the far north to the heart of the south, and including rural and urban centres, have now agreed in principle to enter into partnership with MYD to run a range of exciting and innovative youth-focused projects.

Congratulations to the Far North District Council, Manukau City Council, Franklin District Council, Otorohanga District Council, Opotiki District Council, Taupo District Council, South Taranaki District Council, Nelson City Council, Grey District Council, Westland District Council, and Clutha District Council, who have all developed these projects with the support of their local communities and with input from young people.

It is also fitting that the theme of this year’s fund is education, training and employment, which aligns with the priorities set by the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs. The selected projects offer a huge range of opportunities, through activities which support enterprise, learning, leadership, participation, and development of resources for young people.

For those applicants who may have missed out on funding this time around, I am also delighted to announce that there will be an additional opportunity for territorial authorities to apply to the Youth Development Participation Fund (YDPF) again this year.

Following an evaluation of the first two funding rounds, MYD is also streamlining the YDPF application process.

A third funding round is now underway, and combined with new timelines, will enable district and city councils to gain funding for projects commencing in 2007. This funding round has been put forward in response to your feedback to enable more time for funding and planning projects in 2007 and 2008.

“Pathways towards Education, Training and Employment” will be the main theme for this next funding round.

In another response to local needs, the roll out of MYD’s four regional offices in the last year, is enabling the Ministry to support and achieve positive outcomes for young people at a local, regional and national level, as well as contribute to the whole-of-government initiatives that support of young people.

Staff in these regional teams will be working to build closer relationships with territorial authorities, contributing to local discussions and facilitating ways of responding to local needs more effectively, for example through the Fund I have just mentioned.

Today, I’ve given you an overview of this Government’s initiatives for youth participation in local government. It’s important to remember that this involvement is a relatively recent arrival on New Zealand’s social landscape. While we have made much good progress on youth participation in local government, there is still some work to do.

I want to close by affirming the powerful and positive impact that youth participation in local government has on young people and on the wider community. We would be mistaken if we imagined that young people themselves are the only ones to benefit from this. Young people belong to families and whānau, to schools and workplaces, to communities and to peer groups. This has an impact on all of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Thank you.


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