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The Nation: Youth Political Party Leaders

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd Interviews Youth Political Party Leaders

New Zealand First’s youth wing divided its party last week over pill testing at festivals.

So are other parties listening as well?

Simon Shepherd interviewed William Woodward, president of Young New Zealand First, Kelsey Lee, co-convener of Young Greens and Sam Stead, president of the Young Nationals.

Young Labour was invited to join the youth panel, but they declined.

Shepherd: Can I just start with you, William? Do you believe that there is an increasing voice amongst young people?

William Woodward: Well, for sure. I think people have always been willing to listen to young people. It’s just a question of whether or not we want to stand up. When we look at the election results just now with the local elections turnout, we didn’t see huge numbers, but what we did see was young people standing up and saying that they wanted to run as candidates, and I know personally a couple of people that did do that. And I think that’s the direction we need to do, because we need to be, at the end of the day, collectively holding the responsibility for our own futures, and that’s how we do it.

So, Kelsey, are you heartened by what you saw in the local body elections, or not?

Kelsey Lee: Yeah. In Wellington, we had some really awesome candidates such as Tamatha Paul and Sophie Handford running, and they both got elected, which was really awesome. I think our generation has become a little bit more politicised due to issues like climate change and that kind of thing, which is really important, because at the end of the day, we’re going to be the people that are most affected by the decisions that Parliament’s making. So we need to be not only advocating for issues but involved in the change-making process throughout the entire way.

Sure. Sam, within the National Party – Young Nats has been around for a long time – but is it decreasing, or is it increasing? How would you describe the membership, and how would you describe the voice?

Sam Stead: We’re definitely seeing more young people coming and becoming involved with our party. Definitely, when we shifted away from being in government to being in opposition, we were worried about that, but we saw the exact opposite response; we saw more people putting their hand up and saying, ‘Yep, I want to get involved. I want to have my voice heard.’ That’s actually really exciting to see from young people.

Are you being treated as equals, or are you being treated as somebody that’s just handing out a leaflet?

Stead: Absolute equals. In the National Party, I’m treated equal to our regional chairs group, so I lead a strong contingent within the party, and I report directly to the board of directors – so absolute equal alongside the senior party.

Because I’ve interviewed an author – a lady called Sylvia Nissen – who says that some of the apathy amongst young people is because they feel that they don’t get equal treatment when they’re involved in a political party. What do you say to that, Kelsey?

Lee: I don’t find that within the political party, as such. Young Greens, we’ve got quite a lot of individuality, and we’re quite— We could do— not what we want, but we don’t necessarily have to always follow party line as strictly if we don’t agree with it, which I think is really unique and really cool. Yeah, I think maybe outside of that, when you’re… I think it’s more other people who aren’t involved in your political party – they, sort of, ‘Oh, you’re young. You don’t necessarily know. You don’t have the life experience.’

Yeah, yeah. You just mentioned about not following political party line. William, so, Young New Zealand First broke ranks over the pill-testing at last week’s convention. How did that go down?

Woodward: Well, I wouldn’t say we broke ranks, necessarily. We broke the current position. Yeah, we broke the position. But we did have a good amount of support from our MPs, and that really shines light on the fact that we are a party that is really looking to our youth to start the conversation. Were they looking to us to join the conversation as well? We didn’t really receive consultation with regards to pill-testing policy prior to that, so this really gave us our opportunity to stand up, have a voice and join the conversation.

Okay. So you didn’t receive any consultation from, say, senior party members. When you did stand up and have your voice, what did Winston Peters say to you?

Woodward: Winston Peters actually— His role in that whole debate was facilitating it. So, he wanted it to be done, and it was first thing on the Sunday of the convention. Specifically, he didn’t speak to that remit, but we did—

What about Darroch Ball, who was dead against pill testing?

Woodward: Yeah. Darroch Ball and I didn’t agree on pill testing at all, no.

Okay, all right. And how did that go down? I mean, how did you get the gumption to stand up and say, ‘We don’t agree with you’?

Woodward: Well, it really came down to what our principles were, and that’s looking out for the young people of New Zealand. And I think it was – in terms of how we got the vote through – it was a matter of putting it into perspective for a lot of people, like, ‘This could be your children, your grandchildren,’ and so forth. And that really made it a lot more realistic of an argument for people to understand, specifically for people that just don’t live around the reality of drugs, which is unfortunately the way that our society has gone.

Okay. Well, let’s talk more drugs. Kelsey, cannabis referendum – how are you going to vote?

Lee: I’ll definitely be voting yes.

And why is that?

Lee: Well, I think it’s about harm reduction, right? Our current system – we know it’s harmful for young people and for Maori. So, for people that have criminal convictions, it affects their life so much when you want to get a job or if you want to go overseas.

Okay. Sam, how are you going to vote?
Stead: I’m going to wait until I see the legislation and the actual framework that’s put around it. I’ve got some concerns around the commercialisation of cannabis and marijuana products. But equally, I do agree we need to take a harm-reduction approach.

That’s interesting, because some say in your party, at the senior level, that harm reduction equals decriminalisation by stealth.

Stead: And I don’t think you have to conflate the two. I don’t think decriminalisation necessarily equals harm reduction. There’s a number of things – you know, in terms of providing the right support to people that are in addiction cycles and making sure that they’re looked after in the correct medical sense – that doesn’t have to be led by the decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs.

All right. Cannabis referendum – how about you, William?

Woodward: Yeah, so, personally, I can see the merit in it, the principles, but I am with Sam on this one. I want to see the legislation and the framework for how that goes. But personally, I’m leaning towards a yes.

Okay. Just quickly – should you be able to grow your own? Anyone? Kelsey?

Lee: Yes.


Stead: No.


Woodward: No.

No. All right. Let’s move on to climate change – so probably the issue for young people, I would imagine. Kelsey, do you feel let down by this week’s deal with farmers over emissions?

Lee: It’s pretty clear in the Green Party policy that farmers should be included into the ETS. So I guess that decision was slightly disappointing, because when it comes to climate change, what makes it so scary is time, right? We don’t have time.

They’ve been given another five years.

Lee: Yeah. So, according to the ICCC, we’ve got 12 years before there’s irreversible damage to the planet, so we really need to be acting further. The government needs to be going further and acting faster as well.

I would imagine that there’s… with, say, the Young Nats or with the National Party perspective, that’s totally opposite. You’ve got senior party officials like Judith Collins actually casting doubt on the science of climate change.

Stead: I don’t know if it’s casting doubt on the science of climate change. I think it’s casting doubt on what the correct response is to climate change. Look, the Young Nats have been big supporters of the Carbon Zero Bill, the initial phases. But what we do have concerns around is the emissions targets that have been put on that. We need a just transition – totally agree with that. But you can’t just shut down or harm an industry to deliver on that.

Sure, but do you think that your senior leadership is taking climate change seriously enough?

Stead: I do, absolutely. And I’ve got to pay a lot of credit to Todd Muller and Scott Simpson for the work they’re doing, and they’re very open to engaging with us in the youth wing on that topic.

But are they open to engaging with the government, to the coalition with this?

Stead: I think so. Todd Muller and Scott specifically have been negotiating the Carbon Zero Bill to try to deliver a result that the party can support, and we’re really big fans of that idea.

All right. New Zealand First is often seen as the handbrake on more progressive policies of the coalition. Do you think that has happened in this instance? Do you think New Zealand First has stopped Labour from putting agriculture into the ETS?

Woodward: Well, I think really what it comes down to is making sure that we are able to have a healthy transition to a sustainable economy, a full sustainable economy. And that really won’t be overnight. So I think that it’s something we need to work on. With regards to the previous question, you were asking — how seriously do we take climate change — 100% seriously. I asked Ron Mark when we met him what did he think was the biggest threat to New Zealand, and he said climate change. That’s in light of the amount of defence spending, humanitarian aid spending that’s going in. So I wouldn’t say it’s a question of we don’t believe it’s going to happen. I came from the United States, where I grew up over my high school years, and they can’t even find a consensus. So I’d say that step one’s done, and it’s moving on to how we can make it without destroying our economy at the same time.

So, Kelsey, hearing that, you would probably not agree with those two positions.

Lee: Um, no, no. Again, we need to be acting as fast as we can. We need to be going further, because what we’re doing now simply isn’t going to be enough.

So, from the Young Greens’ perspective, is it frustrating to see all the negotiations that the coalition has to go through to find a position?

Lee: I mean, yeah. I mean, obviously the Green Party, if we had the Green Party way, it would be much stronger and that kind of thing. But it is part of— I mean, yeah. When you’re in a coalition government, you do have to make compromises and that kind of thing. But, yeah, still makes it incredibly disappointing.

Woodward: But we will get there.

Oh, so you’re positive about the response to climate change? The world’s not going to burn down?

Stead: I think progress is being made, absolutely. We’re getting there, and it is in the right direction.

Woodward: We also do have some of the most renewable agriculture around.

Kelsey, you’re sitting there going, ‘Oh my gosh.’

Stead: I saw a really good statistic a while ago, and it said that milk produced in New Zealand and shipped to Ireland, which is the next most efficient milk-producer in the world, is still more efficient than milk they produced there. So, you know, our farmers are actually doing a lot to deliver on their sustainability.

Yeah, but you can do more, can’t you?

Stead: Absolutely, you can always do more. But it’s doing more in the context of not damaging people’s livelihoods.

All right, well, let’s draw a line under that one. Let’s talk about the culture within the political parties. Do you believe— Well, we’ll start with you, Sam. Do you believe that there are safeguards within your parties if there was abusive behaviour?

Stead: Absolutely.

And I ask that because there was a review of culture within the National Party that we haven’t seen.

Stead: So, there was a health and safety review, and I was involved with that health and safety review. So as our youth wing leader, I was brought into that. And I’m very confident in the processes we have to make sure that our party’s a place that young people feel supported and welcomed in.

Okay. Kelsey?

Lee: Yeah, I mean, everyone should have the right to feel safe in any kind of organisation, which includes political parties. So, in the Greens we have a sexual harassment prevention policy, that as Young Greens, we have training, you know. So when it comes to summer camps and that kind of thing, which we are still really privileged to have, that we feel confident going into that. That if the situation was to happen, we could address it.

All right. That situation – were you referring to the Labour Summer Camp, are you?

Lee: Yeah.

All right, well, let’s bring it out in the open. New Zealand First – do you have those kinds of policies in place, in terms of abuse and sexual assault and those kinds of issues?

Woodward: Well, I wouldn’t say that — and it’s quite ironic — but I wouldn’t say that’s the biggest issue that we face in terms of our culture. I’d say that the biggest issue that we face is the cliché that we’re an old people’s youth wing.

But that’s a perception. That’s the perception of your party.

Woodward: That is a perception.

I’m talking about the culture of party members within the party.

Woodward: Oh, we’re 100% inclusive. We want to have the most diverse and the best people in our executive, around the country, from Kaitaia to Southland.


Woodward: And, yeah, we want to make sure that we can have all of those frameworks so that people feel safe, welcome, and that they can join the conversation.

There was a review of bullying and harassment within Parliament, which was commissioned by Speaker Trevor Mallard. And it came back as saying that parliament was a toxic workplace with systematic bullying. How would your generation do it differently? Kelsey?

Lee: Well, I think — I mean, I don’t necessarily know the answer of doing it differently, but I mean, I think the key issue is, when it comes to parliament, and obviously that trickles down into political parties as well, is that there’s such a power imbalance between different people, which makes the conversation really hard to engage with, you know? When it comes to conversation about things such as sexual harassment and that kind of stuff.


Lee: So, yeah.

I mean, looking from what’s been happening in Labour this year, Sam, I mean, standing back, are you shocked? Or are you sympathetic to what’s going on there?

Stead: I think sympathetic, or sort of sad to see the situation unfolding. I think young people have a really important place in politics, and a really important role to play. And that role’s unfortunately been reduced within Labour due to this. So, yeah, I mean, look, I think it’s not been handled well. And I feel for the Young Labour group, because they— yeah.

Okay. I want to move on to a quick-fire question round now, okay, guys? So your quick answers to a couple of policy things. Let’s start with you, William. Voting age – should it be lowered to 16?

Woodward: No.


Lee: Yes.


Stead: No.

Okay. Gay conversion therapy, William – should it be banned?

Woodward: Yes.


Lee: Yes.

Stead: Yeah, absolutely.

Okay, absolutely, good agreement on that. Legalised euthanasia, Sam – yes or no?

Stead: Uh, undecided. Unsure.

Okay. What about you, Kelsey?

Lee: Yes.

Woodward: Undecided.

Undecided. So, why are you two undecided? What’s holding you up on that decision?

Woodward: Well, I think that’s one issue where you really— It’s different if you actually have to go through that and have to deal with that. And I think that’s why it needs to be a referendum, because it’s so important.


Stead: I actually totally disagree with the referendum point.

Do you?

Stead: I think that was a cop-out by parliament. You know, we pay these people significant money, and they’ve done the research to sit there and make decisions for us. And I was disappointed to see it go to referendum.

And you agree with that, Kelsey?

Lee: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, when it comes down to issues which affect minority and minority rights, I don’t think the general public should necessarily be making those decisions.

Okay, all right, let’s move on. Light rail in Auckland – would you build it or scrap it? William?

Woodward: I’d scrap it in favour of fast rail, faster rail.

Faster rail, so heavy rail?

Woodward: Yep.

Out to the airport?

Woodward: Yep.

Okay. Kelsey?

Lee: Build it.

Build it.

Stead: Scrap it.

Scrap it. All right. Ihumātao – should the government buy the land, Sam?

Stead: No.

Lee: 100% Yes.

Woodward: It’s an indigenous issue, not my issue.

Right. So that’s a cop-out.

Woodward: You could say that, but I wouldn’t say that.

Lee: You’re a treaty partner.

Yeah. I mean, surely you should have a position on it? I mean, your leader Winston Peters has said that there’s no way that the government’s going to buy the land. Do you support that?

Woodward: If that’s what our team leader wants to do. I really just— I can’t find a position for myself on that issue.

Okay. Let’s move on. Free tertiary education – completely, yes or no, William?

Woodward: Well, first year free hasn’t shown the best results. But I think there’s merit in it. It’s an exploration, one year in.

Okay, cool. Kelsey?

Lee: Um, yeah. Education should not be something we have to pay for.


Stead: No.


Stead: No. Fees-free’s been a failure.

Fees-free has been a failure. Okay, and vape-free New Zealand – yes or no, Sam?

Stead: Um, no. I think that was the wrong messaging from the minister.
Lee: Yeah, I agree. It’s a better alternative than tobacco.

Okay. And William?

Woodward: Yeah, I’m with these guys as well.

Okay, one last question, and this is a tricky one for you. Name one policy you agree with from across the aisle. Kelsey, you’re first, and you have to name a National Party policy that you agree with.

Lee: Okay. I quite liked the work that was done, I think it was 2016, about family abuse, and the guidelines that— well, the legislation that came out around that which, obviously, Jan Logie, Green Party MP, has now picked up and improved on that kind of thing.

Okay, stretching back quite a way there. Okay, William, you have to name a Greens Party policy that you like.

Woodward: That’d be taking the cannabis reform to referendum; that would be my favourite.

Okay, all right. And Sam, what’s a Labour Party policy that you like?

Stead: This is actually a combined Labour-Greens policy; it’s the Green Investment Fund. So that’s a policy Young Nats are really big supporters of. I think that market forces leading to better outcomes in the climate space is a really good thing. So credit to that, and it’s ones we’re big fans of.

Great, all right. Well, that’s all we’ve got time for this morning. I’d just like to thank our young political panel, Sam, Kelsey and William. Thanks for your time.

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