By EMMA WEST.
It’s clear to see why Deputy Labour Leader Hon Annette King chose Peter McKenzie, 17, to represent herself and her electorate at this year’s Youth Parliament. Not only a Youth MP, Peter holds the position of Head Boy at Scots College and is a celebrated debater and actor.
Peter hails from Wellington, the city he has called home his whole life. On my first encounter with him, which was at a cafe in town, his warm and engaging personality shone through. An interesting discussion, which started at brownies and finished at feminism, ensued.
We also talked a lot about Youth Parliament, which is an initiative funded and overseen by the Ministry of Youth Development. It runs triennially and is made up of 121 of New Zealand’s promising political leaders. Each Youth MP has the opportunity to work with the Member of Parliament they are representing throughout the duration of their term, learning first hand what it’s like to be a politician. They’ll also be spending two days in July at Parliament in select committees and debating legislation in the parliamentary chamber.
Peter’s MP, Annette King, notes the groups significance, saying, “It’s important to give young people a real taste of parliamentary political life, meet other interested young people, and to have a unique experience.”
Applications for Youth Parliament opened in mid-August last year and successful applicants were announced by the Minister of Youth, Nikki Kaye, in November. Kaye emphasised the sheer talent each young person produced in his/her respective submissions.
“I’m really passionate about issues that are relevant to the youth in the electorate – such as civic education – and I thought the best that way that I could improve that and help contribute to that change would be running for Youth Parliament,” Peter says of his decision to apply.
When I asked where his passion for politics stems, from Peter drew on experiences at youth-focused forums such as UN Youth, which he encourages peers to involve themselves in. Such events aim to get youth engaged and thinking analytically about international political and social issues. However, Peter really wishes this interest could have been birthed in the classroom.
“It doesn’t make any sense that the most important topic for the rest of our lives is totally unaddressed in school, but the seemingly less important Pythagoras’ theorem is, which is why I’m so invested in civics education,” he explained.
Passionate about improving the way youth understand the way government functions and what it means to be an active participant in our democracy, Peter has decided to dedicate most of his term as a Youth MP to investigating and addressing the issue.
He has already begun working with other Youth MPs in the greater Wellington region. They are organising forums and workshops which he hopes will energise the youth base and get them engaging with the political process.
Peter has hopes he will one day be working as a diplomat, but for now is more than content with his role as a Youth MP. He hopes to help bridge a gap between government and youth.
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