Dr Pita Sharples has been described as ‘the nation’s kaumatua’, and it’s a fitting title for a man who has dedicated his life and career to Māori. He has been CEO of the Race Relations Office, a Professor of Education, and is now the co-leader of the Māori Party – to name just some of the many notable achievements to Pita’s name. He is the incumbent Minister of Māori Affairs and one of the two ministers leading the current constitutional review.
What do you think it means to be a New Zealander in the 21st century?
New Zealand is evolving fast, and all 21st-century New Zealanders, of whatever background and history, will help to shape our nation forever. I think if you live here, are committed to the future of this land, and want the best for all our people, that makes you a New Zealander. But understanding our history, and knowing the backgrounds and cultures of our diverse people, gives all of us a stronger sense of belonging and unity. This is how New Zealanders stand strong and proud in the world.
What do you think are the major issues facing youth today and in the next 20 years?
More and more people have no idea ‘how the other half lives’. The gap between rich and poor is so wide, New Zealanders are starting to live in different worlds. Economic, social and technological pressures are driving us apart. People live, study and work beside each other, and communicate wirelessly, without really knowing each other. We are losing survival skills like gardening and cooking, and social skills that help us to look after each other. As individuals, we gradually lose control over our destiny. For young people, getting qualified to work and contribute is becoming more and more important.
Why do you think youth should vote?
I think young people should vote for MPs and parties that will help them create a better future. Voting is one way to make changes; it’s also very important to support community groups and charities that do good work, and not leave all the decisions to politicians. So really, the most important thing is to listen to advice, think about issues that are important to you, make up your own mind about what you want – and then to vote carefully.
Why do you think it is important for youth to engage with the referendum?
The referendum may be more important than the election, because the results will last longer. I support MMP because, under the old system, we had governments with much less support winning more seats than the opposition, and then doing whatever they wanted in Parliament. The public had no control until the next election. Young people will not remember the Springbok Tour of 1981, or a Labour government promoting Rogernomics in 1984, but those disasters could not happen again under MMP, thank goodness.