Get out and vote was the overriding message from the three politicians who visited ACG Senior College this week as part of a student-driven political forum to encourage engagement with politics in the lead up to the September election.
Education Minister Nikki Kaye, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Jacinda Ardern and Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick spoke to students at the pre-university college in central Auckland about issues affecting youth and the education landscape in New Zealand.
Ms Kaye talked about her journey into politics, saying she was inspired by the way politics was able to change of the course of the nation. She said she carried values instilled in her by her parents – hard work, courage, integrity and treating people well – into her role as Education Minister.
Students asked the politicians about their views on urban schools, teaching to tests, student debt and, topically, New Zealand’s high rate of youth suicide highlighted in a recent UNICEF report.
They also asked about the challenges of being young women working in politics – Chlöe Swarbrick ran for Auckland mayor at the age of 22, while Jacinda Ardern became a member of the Labour Party at age 17.
ACG Senior College Principal Tracey Dykstra said the student-led forum showed that students wanted to use their vote in an informed, discerning way.
“It was great to see them doing research in anticipation of the speakers coming so they could question them on specifics and have statistics to support their questions,” she said. “They used the opportunity to ask questions about things they’re really passionate about.”
At the end of the day, the unanimous message was the importance for young people to vote – regardless of party preference. Ardern highlighted that 125,000 young people in the 18-24 age group registered to vote didn’t show up last time – a number that could have a huge impact en masse.
“This forum was about encouraging students to think critically and constructively about politics and the issues that affect youth in our city,” said Head Student Leader Lara Cable. “All three of these politicians are testament to the fact that young people can make a difference.”