The year 2022 is looking pretty exciting for Horowhenua College student Alyssa Smaling, after she was chosen as the Ōtaki electorate Youth MP for the 10th New Zealand Youth Parliament.
Happening every three years, Youth Parliament gives rangatahi a unique opportunity to get a first-hand look at how democracy works in New Zealand.
According to the Office of the Clerk, Youth Parliament has five objectives:
- replicate the Parliamentary process
- involve as many young people as possible (before and after the event)
- maximise the educational opportunities of the event
- enhance Parliamentary public relations
- make known the views expressed to appropriate policy agencies.
120 young people, aged 16 to 18, represent sitting MPs at the two-day Youth Parliament event being held in July, as part of a six-month tenure beginning in March.
Another 20 youth, aged 16 to 24, get the opportunity to be part of the Youth Press Gallery, reporting on the activities of the Youth MPs during 2022, as well as having the chance to learn from some of the country's best political journalists.
The 2022 Youth Parliament will also include, for the first time, a Youth Clerk of the House who will be learning from the Clerk of the New Zealand House of Representatives and witnessing the inner workings of Parliament.
Terisa Ngobi, Labour MP for Ōtaki, said Smaling was one of five outstanding rangatahi shortlisted for the Youth MP role.
"I recognised Alyssa as being a mana wahine and wanted to give her an opportunity to be part of bringing a youth perspective to Parliament that she might not otherwise get."
Ngobi said it was also important that those young people who were representative of their generation had an understanding of the workings of politics to ensure their voices were heard.
Smaling was born and bred in Levin, whakapapa's to Ngāti Maniapoto in the Waikato, and is passionate about her culture and history, as well as giving back to her community.
As a student of Horowhenua College, Smaling said they were encouraged from Year 9 to get involved with community action, and this year she was part of a team raising awareness about domestic violence in Levin as well as funds for the local Women's Refuge.
"What makes me most excited about this opportunity is that I'll be able to ... advocate for other rangatahi so that our voices can be heard as a whole," said Smaling.
The six-month tenure as Youth MP allows those involved to build a relationship with their local MP and receive training, information and resources to prepare them for their roles.
Ngobi is excited to bring Smaling into her team and is looking forward to supporting her youth representative in a space that hasn't always been welcoming to Māori and Pasifika.
"It's important to find a balance [in Parliament] ... to protect our waiora and hauora [and] still be making positive change for everyone."