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There’s a new Act on the New Zealand Parliament website. It’s called the Pacific Youth Parliament (Our Movement) Act 2017. In the explanatory note it states: ‘This Act aims to enhance Pacific People’s development in Aotearoa, and the total welfare of all of New Zealand. This addresses key issues that Pacific Peoples face, and recommends initiatives that will allow progress for Pacific people not only to survive, but to fully participate in every aspect of this country.’

Well, it’s not a real Act. It is the result of four days of training and deliberation by participants in a Christchurch Pasifika Youth Parliament held in Christchurch in late April.

The Youth Parliament was organised by PYLAT (Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation). PYLAT’s purpose is ‘to see a world well informed and influenced by Pacific young people. That means educating decision-makers, businesses and schools, helping make their processes inclusive. And assisting Pacific young people to participate in democracy.’

The journey started in 2010, when the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and the Canterbury Branch of P.A.S.F.I.K.A Women decided that they wanted to grow Pacific youth leaders in Christchurch and help them to learn about democratic government and how to influence decisions. So in 2010 they convened the first Pacific Youth Parliament (PYP) in the city. The PYP process replicates the real Parliament as closely as possible, with a governing party, an opposition, lobbyists and law making processes while making it as youth friendly as possible, and inclusive of Pacific values, culture and humour.

There were 45 participants at the first PYP and the idea was to hold one every three years in the run-up to an election. Then the Christchurch earthquakes hit and PYLAT found themselves in a city without venues, so they decided to run a number of separate smaller events around the city. They called these iSpeak. Now with the city getting back onto its feet, the second PYP has been held, this time attracting 100 young people. The event was advertised for young people between 16-24 years, but the youngest participant was 13. Eighty-five percent were from Christchurch and 70 percent were young women. 

Josiah Tualamali’i is the Chairperson of PYLAT. He is New Zealand born with a Palagi mother and a Samoan father. As a 14 year old he had attended the first PYP in 2010:

“It was the most transformational time in my life. I got to learn about being Samoan and connect with others who felt the same as me. For second and following generations being comfortable with your identity can be one of major challenges. You can feel detached from your Pacific ancestral background. You may have never been there, but it is part of your identity. I found in embracing my Samoan identity it has strengthened my wellbeing and helped me better understand my purpose in life.”

One of the great values in the youth parliament, Josiah and others could see, was how the young Youth MP’s and older ones developed mentoring relationships, building confidence and leadership.

Writing the Act

Josiah Tualamali’iThey started with a training day a couple of weeks before the youth parliament. Then, when they were finally gathered together for their retreat at St Bede’s College, their four days of work began.

On the first day speakers came and presented information on topics just as the justice system, climate change, and the New Zealand constitution. The next day was all about lobbying and taking government and opposition viewpoints. The Government Party then had to draft a bill which was brought back to parliament. On day 3 they had the debate and question time. And on day 4 there was a second reading of the bill - working together across party lines to build consensus.

Josiah Tualamali’i took on the role of Speaker of the House. The real Parliament in Wellington sent down two staff members from the Office of the Clerk and they helped to run the sittings. They were also incredibly helpful, Josiah says, especially in providing information to those drafting the bill and with Points of Order and Speaker’s Rulings.

The final bill was voted on at the formal closing dinner in a ‘third reading’ in front of over 200 people - friends, family, and local and Pasifika politicians. It was passed unanimously and sent to political parties as a guiding document on the Pasifika youth opinions.

The big message, says Josiah, is that the Pacific Youth MP’s want an inclusive society. They strongly supported equity for women. They want everyone to have that kiwi ideal, a fair go. And they understood that young people, such as themselves, do have a role in future proofing New Zealand society by challenging the statistics and participating in society creating change.

Follow-up

PYLAT plans to hold more iSpeak debates in the lead up to the election, have decision-makers meet with their community - and of course 

make sure that everyone who is eligible is enrolled to vote. They also plan to make summaries of the key policies of each of the political parties. In a 2014 inquiry which PYLAT participated it was found that many young people failed to vote because there was too much information and it was hard for young people to weigh up choices. So PYLAT will be putting much easier to assimilate information up on their Facebook page and ask others to upload material as well. (Their Facebook page currently has over 900 likes and they had between 30,000-5,000 people viewing the youth parliament while it was happening. Many shared their thoughts online.)

PYLAT

Dialogue with MPs is an important part of the process. “We write to ministers, we’ve sent MPs a copy of the Act,” says Josiah. 

“We want them to respond to the Pacific Youth MP’s, to start a conversation. I genuinely believe that all MPs want society to be more inclusive but the more effort they put into engaging with young people, the better it is for youth participation. We don’t like getting lame responses. We would like them to be a bit more courageous, to consider what has been said, even if they disagree and articulate that.”

It remains to be seen whether any political party takes up the challenge in terms of developing policy that truly reflects the Pacific Youth Parliament (Our Movement) Act 2017, but two things are for sure. One is that there will be 100 fully informed young Pasifika people participating in the general election later this year and because family were involved and social media is so well integrated into their approach, maybe thousands of their friends and family members too. And the second outcome is that there is a large group of emerging Pasifika leaders in Christchurch.

A word about Josiah. He is currently studying for a Bachelor Degree at Canterbury University - it is in Political Science and History. Last year he won the Prime Minister’s youth Leadership Award, and as a result he will be going to Geneva this year to a World Health Organisation conference.

You can see the Act at parliament.nz/en/get-involved/features/pacific-youth-parliament-empowers-pasifika-youth-to-claim-their-voice/.