Jacinda Ardern is not afraid to put her body on the line for a cause – literally. This year she slept rough for a night in the Auckland CBD as part of the LIFEWISE Big Sleepout, which raised over $105,000 to help address inner-city homelessness. Jacinda is a Labour Party List MP and the party spokesperson for youth affairs and employment.
What do you think it means to be a New Zealander in the 21st century?
In the past, I think we might have been inclined to describe what it is to be Kiwi with characteristics that were a bit more entrenched in where we have come from, rather than where we are going. I think that has changed. We are entrepreneurial, proud, independent, diverse and have a green reputation that we as a nation need to start living up to. None of these characteristics can be taken for granted, they need to be nurtured and defended.
What do you think are the major issues facing youth today and in the next 20 years?
If I were to sum it all up, I would give it the very grand title of ‘the loss of their future’. We’re at a bit of a crossroads. Politicians today are making big decisions that will affect young people for decades to come. We need to invest in our young people and ensure we are making decisions that won’t leave them carrying the can a few decades down the track because we were short-sighted: investing in issues like making sure we are genuinely protecting our environment and addressing climate change (and not by subsidising heavy polluters); making sure we’re able to pay for their retirement, and holding onto our assets rather than selling them off. But there’s also the issue of what kind of future we’re offering in terms of opportunities. My sister left New Zealand over five years ago and hasn’t come back. She is a scientist, and the job she had in New Zealand no longer exists. This is just one area where we know we can excel. We need to moving closer to a high-tech, high-wage, green economy – not away from it.
Why do you think youth should vote?
Young people represent the group who are the least likely to vote and yet they are the ones who have the most at stake. We are making decisions on behalf of young people that determine the kind of country they will be living in 10, 20 and 30 years down the track. It’s so important that a youth voice comes through strongly in our democracy, and one of the opportunities to do this is by voting.
Why do you think it is important for youth to engage with the referendum?
I think the measure of a decent electoral system is based on two things: does it ensure every vote counts and is fairly represented in Parliament, and will it help ensure that our Parliament looks like New Zealand? MMP does that. In Labour, we have six MPs who were under the age of 35 at the last election, and four of them would not have got there without MMP. It has helped to give younger people a place and a voice in Parliament.