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Surprising discoveries and critical friends at a Parliament Breakfast

rodbaxterRod Baxter

Director of Impact | Prince’s Trust New Zealand

When I first received the invite for this event, I had this preconceived vision of a fancy lavish breakfast with mountains of gourmet cuisine. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, the breakfast was described as “light”, which is evidently a euphemism for “insufficient”. It’s actually all my fault however, as I was too busy talking to interesting people and missed the vegetarian option. I enjoyed three slices of fruit.

It turns out I was never there for the kai; something more powerful was happening.

Jane Zintl, Ara Taiohi’s CEO, opened in a grounded and balanced way, simultaneously acknowledging a sobering reality for young people with appropriate humour. Jane celebrated our Ministry of Youth Development and connected an undervaluing of this Ministry is an undervaluing of young people. Jane also introduced the Minister for Youth as a “youth worker” and I wished he was wearing the jandals and Warriors shirt referred to.

There’s something very profound in this interaction. It’s the first time in a long time that the youth sector and Government have demonstrated this type of relationship. I heard it once described as a “critical friendship” in a dual sense; it’s critical the sector and government have a partnership and we critique each other in a friendly way.

The Hon. Peeni Henare was similarly and refreshingly grounded in his aspirations for diverse young people. The Minister personally named taiohi in the room and seemed genuinely interested to hear their voices. The forthcoming panel certainly provided space for this.

Esme Oliver started the panel with spoken word. Esme is a young youth work student who shared two raw, honest and processed experiences: first with a foster brother struggling with mental health and secondly one of the most comprehensive bicultural analyses I’ve heard in a while. Praxis are clearly doing a fine job training the incoming generation of youth workers.

Laura O’Connell-Rapira summarised Action Station’s ‘Nga Hauora’ research into youth wellbeing and concluded with a timely challenge about student protests about climate change as demonstrable active citizenship.

Finally, Simon Mareko from the Ministry of Youth Development integrated his extensive youth work experience with his new adventure as a public servant by personalising the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa (launched in 2002) with relevance for our contemporary challenges and with more humour and interactivity.

Collectively, there was a sense of unity connecting the Minister’s desire for up-to-date thinking, Esme’s experiences, Laura’s research, Jane’s sector perspective and Simon’s formal announcement about the YDSA review. And that was the most pleasant surprise: unity. There was an overwhelming humility during dialogue between MPs and the community, together searching for the best ways to serve Aotearoa’s young people.

Personally, I grew up in Wellington and Government has always felt accessible. I notice now that there are added barriers and a greater distance for young people who want to have a say. During the weekend of Te Matatini, I strolled past the Beehive with my cousins and their kids. Reon’s Year 9 and Brooklyn is Year 8. They asked me where Jacinda works and “can we go in for a visit?” At this breakfast, I’ve realised the answer is yes. And we’ll all be better off for it if more young people do.

Although they need to get in quick to the kai, so they get more than three slices of fruit! No taxpayers dollars are wasted! Which is another pleasant surprise.

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our websitehttp://comvoices.org.nz/