Anna is a reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Low levels of youth engagement worries candidates in Western Bay of Plenty elections

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Western Bay of Plenty mayoral candidates say they are concerned about youth engagement and low voter turnout.

Candidate Gwenda Merriman was concerned with the "scarcity of interested young people".

"They don't appear to want to have their say."

Mrs Merriman intended to invite young people to council events and meetings, and to run some planning ideas past "them in their own environments".

Candidate Garry Webber said he thought local government did not know how to engage young people.

"Politicians are good at telling people this is what you need, instead of asking what do you want," he said.

"If you're trying to build a community that is inclusive, you need to know how to engage with these people on their level."

Candidate Kevin Tohiariki said he noticed younger people and Maori making up the majority of people he called "unengaged, uninterested, disconnected and ultimately disenfranchised".

"Council has a role to play and it should be in depth, and not just a campaign to try to stimulate voting just prior to elections."

"Unless someone with leadership skills and strategic-thinking capability gets involved, we will continue to see more of the same."

Candidate Mike Lally said young people were too busy working, paying mortgages and raising families to be interested in voting and being involved in local government.

"I was very much the same. Trying to get ahead is what we all did at that time," he said.

"If you don't vote you can't complain."

Candidate and councillor Don Thwaites said council had to become "more relevant" to their younger community members.

"I would like to see us at council work with our schools closer and explore ways we could enhance facilities and opportunities for youth.

"For those post school age, I would encourage a discussion of how council may well facilitate them with their aspirations of first home ownership and them becoming Western Bay of Plenty ratepayers and raise their future families in our area," he said.

Youth perspective

Western Bay of Plenty 2016 youth MP Grahame Woods said the council was already open to young people, but thought a lot of the electoral campaigns targeted the older demographic.

"We have our opinions, and we want to be heard," he said.

"If you have billboards along the side of the road, yeah that's great, but people of my generation aren't going to be focusing on that."

He thought the use of social media was an effective tool in spurring electoral interest in youth.

"And it's not hard," he said.

"When they do, they're getting results."

He thought direct engagement with youth across the region would be a better option that creating a youth council.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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