No one can accuse Paula Bennett of having had everything handed to her on a silver platter. She believes ‘self-belief with a huge dose of hard work can make anything possible’. It is this mantra that has seen Paula go from being a single mum with no formal post-secondary school qualifications to a National Party MP and the Minister for Social Development, Employment and Youth Affairs.
What do you think it means to be a New Zealander in the 21st century?
I have an unshakeable belief that New Zealand is the best, most beautiful place in the whole world. It’s about being fiercely proud of everything our little country has to offer. We’re a courageous bunch and all have something to offer; we are the luckiest people in the world.
What do you think are the major issues facing youth today and in the next 20 years?
I know from speaking to young people that they worry about whether or not New Zealand has the opportunities for them. Will there be a job for them when they leave school? Will they know what opportunities are out there, how to manage career choices?
Supporting young people has been a major priority for us, particularly given the recent economic downturn. We’ve introduced a number of initiatives that reflect a major focus on youth unemployment, and we’re continuing our focus on this to make the most of the upward economic turn, through our youth guarantee, skills investment, and trades academies places.
I also believe that self-belief with a huge dose of hard work can make anything possible.
Young people want to have a voice and be heard. That’s one of the reasons the Ministry of Youth Development has just launched a space for this: www.myd.govt.nz/voicy, an online engagement tool to contribute directly to policymaking and the major issues that are changing the way we live – now and in the next 20 years.
Why do you think youth should vote?
As Minister of Youth Affairs I couldn’t be more passionate about getting young people having their say. I often say about my patch that ‘Westies don’t whine, we just get on with it,’ and that’s exactly what I believe when it comes to voting. It’s about challenging yourself to think about what’s important and to pursue your views. I don’t just think it’s important to vote – I say get out there, start debating what matters and make a difference. New Zealand is also a place where every vote is equal. Irrelevant of age (as long as you’re over 18), wealth, or where you live – your vote is equal to everyone else’s – so use it.
Why do you think it is important for youth to engage with the referendum?
This referendum is particularly important, as it singles out a significant issue and asks what people think. This referendum is about the way our electoral system works – it’s a chance to have your say on the voting system we use to elect our politicians.