District Council meetings are not known to attract a great amount of attention from teenagers, yet tomorrow’s council meeting is drawing the attention of more than a dedicated few.
The ability for young people to contribute to local decision making will be debated at tomorrow’s Gisborne District Council meeting, following a recommendation that the council move to appoint a youth council.
This report recommends that council agree to appoint Tairawhiti Youth Voice (TYV) to be the youth council. TYV is an established group of young people with 23 signed members that operates throughout the Tairawhiti region with three local councils in Gisborne, Tolaga Bay and Ruatoria.
The group was originally set up to function as a youth council, but so far has had no formal recognition. “Our number one motivation isn’t skating, or running events, or even getting young people jobs”, says TYV member Vaughan Smith. “It’s about working with other young people, listening to their views and making decisions that consider the needs of all people, not just those who can vote”.
Despite the fact that approximately 46 councils around New Zealand have youth councils attached, the GDC has lagged behind in supporting one in Tairawhiti. At 39%, the Gisborne region has one of the highest proportions of people aged under the age of 25.
The proposal does not give any voting ability to the youth council, but rather is to establish them officially as a consultative body, that can be used by GDC in a formal way to provide a youth perspective on any issues that come before council.
Tairawhiti Youth Voice member, Andy Crowe, understands the unique challenges for young people to participate, “We’re not aware of the processes, we’re not aware of how to make our voices heard. We’re used to adults telling us what to do instead of dreaming up ways to make a difference. Young people need to be fairly represented, and what better way to recognise the voice of young people, than through young people”.
Crowe, who also works as a supervisor at the Alfred Cox Skate Park, has seen youth participation work in practice. “Last year, at the skate park, when we asked young people what they thought of the set-up they were really keen to give input into things that they were a part of”, says Crowe. “They were able to figure out amongst themselves ways of resolving differences and deciding on the best solution and finding the resources to make it happen”.
The staff report to Council suggests costs of establishing a youth council will be minimal, as formalising the current relationship with TYV will be far more affordable than starting a Youth Council from scratch. The ongoing costs of supporting a youth council will not be directly related to this decision, but will impact somewhat on the body’s effectiveness. TYV could also reduce some off the consultation costs that are currently born by council staff.
“This recommendation is the result of petitions and submissions over many years on the issue and it has been made possible following the establishment and development of Tairawhiti Youth Voice over the past 18 months and further submissions to the 10 Year Plan this year” said Manu Caddie who first proposed such a structure to Council in 1998. “It recognises the Council’s need for a more enduring solution to the issue of youth participation in local decision-making and it is pleasing to see the positive shift in Councillor’s opinions on the issue over the past few years.”
The decision is expected to receive strong debate, particularly from Councillors who prefer a more streamlined governance model. TYV member Vaughan Smith, for one, is unsure of the reaction that council will have. “We’ve been working really hard to establish ourselves as a group that finds out what young people want. What we’re about to find out, is does the Council want to listen?”
The report is expected to be discussed by the full council on Thursday morning at around 10:15. The meeting is open to the public and is held at the Gisborne District Council on Fitzherbert St.