Last week 120 Youth MPs sat and were reported on by 19 members of the Youth Press Gallery under the watch of the first Youth Clerk or Youth Parliamentary CEO.
In the week before that, the slick, well-funded campaign to lower the voting age to 16 was heard in the Supreme Court. “Youth” are seeking a declaration that the voting age of 18 is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.
Being one of the Youth MPs privileged to sit in the big green chairs, I will not and cannot support lowering the voting age to 16.
The event that highlighted this for me was a pre-planned walkout, when Matthew Fisken, the Youth MP for ACT’s Nicole McKee, stood to make a speech on firearms. A number of Youth MPs left the chamber as he started to speak.
Did I agree with everything Matt said? No, but some of it I did. This was his speech on a matter important to him and he deserved the right to be heard.
Nor did I agree with all that other Youth MPs said, but I didn’t disrespect them or the Youth Parliament by walking out. Did I believe Matt had an equal right to be heard? Absolutely.
The Youth MP for Trevor Mallard spoke to 1News afterwards, claiming the walkout was not a “stunt”. That is not credible.
It shows that some who want to be heard at age 16 want only their voice to be heard. Not mine, not Matt’s. They believe in free speech so long as it’s their speech that is free.
This is not our liberal democracy the Youth Parliament is meant to champion. Storming out and having temper tantrums is not the Kiwi way. Having a contest of ideas is.
Right from day one, some Youth MPs made it clear that, if things weren't done their way, they’d act. One boasted during a break that, if anyone did anything he deemed “racist”, he would do a haka in the chamber.
Some wanted to annoy the Speaker in the hope of being ejected from the chamber.
Remember, this is from people who claim they’re mature enough to vote at 16. It makes it clear to me that they want the rights of an adult but none of the responsibilities, such as tolerance and respect for another’s opinion.
We heard plenty of speeches on mental health, racism, Māori self-determination, beneficiary debt write-offs, rape culture, CV skills, and of course, Make It 16. Another Youth MP, whose motion was refused by the Speaker, stormed out in a huff.
When it was my chance, I spoke on youth paediatric services, being someone with a lifelong chronic condition and having had a life-threatening disease.
I’ve got scars, but wanted to speak up for those who did not have this awesome opportunity. I wanted to raise the absolute need to end an age barrier in healthcare that denies those under 16 access to “adult specialists”, despite chronic conditions being no respecters of age.
Not every area can have a Starship, so we must deliver to all patients, wherever they are, the full expertise of doctors, irrespective of age. By not doing this, we are paying the price in social and other health costs. Never mind in prisons.
It's easy to look for problems, but another to advance solutions not slogans. This is why the voting age must remain at 18.
When it comes to healthcare, “Don’t Make It 16” is a campaign I’d back.