14 Oct 2019

Young councillors to push on climate change issues

10:10 am on 14 October 2019

Councils can expect more pressure from their own ranks to tackle climate change with a new crop of young councillors determined to fight it head on.

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Tamatha Paul, 22, is now a Wellington city councillor. Photo: Supplied / Tamatha Paul

Local Government New Zealand said there's been an increase in the number of young people and women elected to office.

A quarter of the country's mayors are now women, up from 19 percent in 2016 and there are five mayors who are under 40.

Sophie Handford, 18, is believed to be the country's youngest new councillor.

She has been elected to Kāpiti Coast District Council and said political inaction over climate change compelled her to join the race.

"I think as a young person who's relatively scared for her future, I feel the fear of climate change most days.

"It worries me that most of those in power at the moment aren't taking the necessary action that we need right now to safeguard my generations right to a future."

Down the road in the capital, 22-year-old Tamatha Paul is now a Wellington city councillor.

She said it seemed like more and more young people were getting interested in politics.

She credits the recent successes of international movements like the school strikes for climate change, and young local political leaders like the Green Party's Chlöe Swarbrick for bringing about a sea change.

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Climate activist Sophie Handford, left, has won a seat on the Kāpiti Coast District Council. Fellow activist Molly Doyle is alongside. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

"I think that really made it possible for people to really consider that young people are capable and competent enough to provide representation and do a good job in governance."

Ms Paul said she believed that if she had run three years ago she likely wouldn't have won.

She said the more young people saw their peers on councils, the more inspired they would be to get involved.

"Having someone that looks like them and has the same experiences as them and that they see in their community and amongst them all makes that easier - and I'm hoping that that's what I can do."

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Fisher Wang, 19, said there was a little stigma about his age. Photo: Supplied / Fisher Wang

Fisher Wang, 19, who's just been elected to Rotorua Lakes Council, also has a focus on on climate change and the environment.

He said he was determined to make a difference and would not let other councillors intimidate him.

"There is a little bit of stigma around my age. And a lot of people think I'll just say yes to anything or I'm easily manipulated.

"But I don't really believe that's the case. We all have values and we will stick to them. Going onto the council I'll have my stance, my voice, that's what I'm delivering."

Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull said having more young people and women meant councils would make better decisions.

"I think if we look at the experience of company boards, commercial boards, having more women represented on them certainly changes the dynamic and improves the decision making.

"So I would expect the same kind of outcomes from having more young people and more women on councils."

Grant Duncan, who specialises in politics at Massey University, said while the new blood would make a difference it was good that some of the old guard were sticking around.

"Because let's face it, experience does count. It is good to have experienced people around the council tables as well as to have have young energetic people, and a good mixture of gender and ethnic representation as well."

But Massey University senior lecturer in management Andrew Cardow said the increase in the number of young people voted in this election doesn't represent a major change.

"We can go through the country and pick these people out and say 'here they are, fantastic' - and it is. And it also puts a lie to this idea that young people are not engaged in politics - of course they are," he said.

"We're seeing a bit of an increase in this idea around climate change, but it's not as large as people think.

"On the whole the same people are being voted back into local government as were there before."

Dr Cardow said local government politicians make bland policy statements and fail to effectively engage with voters - such as holding clinics at specific times. To improve turnout, would-be politicians need to be educated on how to interact with voters.

The final election results are expected to be confirmed on Thursday.

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