Ben Hill is a reporter for The New Zealand Herald

20-year-old would-be politician pushes to legalise marijuana

Olivia Montgomery is campaigning to be elected in the city's largest ward, Howick, in the upcoming local body elections.
Olivia Montgomery is campaigning to be elected in the city's largest ward, Howick, in the upcoming local body elections.

A fresh-faced 20-year-old is stepping up to challenge the "pale, stale and male" status quo in Auckland politics.

She is also keen to push for the legalisation of marijuana and address transport issues in East Auckland.

Olivia Montgomery is campaigning to be elected in the city's largest ward, Howick, in the upcoming local body elections.

She points to this year's presidential race in the United States as sparking a fire in traditionally apathetic young people.

"Now everyone seems to have a political opinion on everything, and with the elections in the US everyone has decided to be really interested.

"The younger people are now like 'Oh wait, this is what the system is about and this is how it works', and a lot of people don't like it and want to change it.

"To take it to that next step is to actually run for office. I'm not a person who likes to whinge about things, if I see a problem I want to find a solution. We have an election here too that we should be focusing on."

She has just returned from a six-month stay in the US, after living in Ashland, Oregon. It was there she realised the benefits of serving the interests of the wider community.

"I just saw so many initiatives that I would love to see brought back to my hometown. Everyone was so welcoming and loving and that really brought everyone together.

I want to give a fresh perspective on the way things are run because at the moment it's pretty pale, stale and male.
Olivia Montgomery

"Even something like a community garden can help so much, it's a great way of helping people out and making a difference."

Far from being a political stunt, the retail manager and former student is adamant about her determination to be elected.

"A lot of people see me and think I'm just doing it as a political statement, but I'm running as a serious candidate and I really want to win.

"I want to give a fresh perspective on the way things are run because at the moment it's pretty pale, stale and male.

"I think younger people are missing out, but that feeling of apathy is definitely changing. Given the shape of the world at the moment people are definitely more interested in politics.

She's hot on addressing transport in East Auckland. She is also keen to use a political platform to push for the legalisation of marijuana.

"I would really love to get more people on buses and improve that service. A lot of students live in Howick, they study at Auckland University and they're spending one-and-a-half hours getting into town every day, it needs to be better than that.

"The cannabis debate is one we love to dismiss in New Zealand, unfortunately there is a lot of social stigma around the subject here which is very disheartening.

"It's been proven in all countries that have legalised so far, the number of users has gone down in those places because the stigma has been removed.

"It goes the same as sex, we know teenagers are doing it so why not educate them on how to do it safely and consensually so they don't run into trouble.

The cannabis debate is one we love to dismiss in New Zealand, unfortunately there is a lot of social stigma around the subject here which is very disheartening.
Olivia Montgomery

"Having also spent time in Oregon where cannabis is legal for anybody over 21 I have seen the effects on not only the community but the economy and industries that have been created. It's a gold mine of innovation, research and technologies over there right now."

She plans to use social media during her campaign, as well as inviting potential constituents round to her house for a chat.

"I just want people to know I'm no different to them, and I want to have a discussion."

Montgomery sees a spot on the Howick Local Board as the first step in what she hopes will be a long political career.

"Hopefully I'll eventually become an MP, the council is one of my more short-term goals and then it's hopefully just up from there."

National MP Jami-Lee Ross, another East Auckland politician who was elected onto the Manukau City Council as an 18-year-old, said it's "encouraging" to see someone so young getting involved in local body politics.

"It's good to have youth voices in the mix, but she's taking on a tough challenge. Howick is a fairly conservative area but it's good for the younger generation to have someone putting themselves forward."

Montgomery is not the only twenty-something looking to defy convention and gain representation within the council.

Shail Kaushal, 22, is running for a spot on the Puketapapa Local Board. He campaigned for the same position in 2013 as a 19-year-old, but was unsuccessful.

- NZ Herald

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