A modified status quo or change. We all know Winston chose change. In doing so, he not only brought New Zealand's youngest Prime Minister in 100 years to power in the form of Jacinda Ardern, he was also tapping into a sense that the baton is being handed over to a new generation of leaders; that we are all changing at the station.

Prime Minister Ardern joins Emmanuel Macron in France, Justin Trudeau in Canada, most recently 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz in Austria and Luigi di Maio in Italy, in a new cohort of politicians who are, in Ardern's phrase, "youth-adjacent" - able to tap into the zeitgeist, yet provide deft political maneuvering when required.

In the 52nd New Zealand Parliament, it is not just Ardern who fits this profile. The likes of Chlöe Swarbrick, Golriz Ghahraman, Kiritapu Allan and Hamish Walker join Chris Bishop in the under 35s, and MPs aged 18-40 now make up an amazing 22 per cent of Parliament, up 3 per cent from last election.

United Future's new leader, Damian Light, also brings a youthful perspective: at 33, he is 30 years younger than previous leader, Peter Dunne.


With a younger working age population (15-39) of around 33 per cent, our Parliament is starting to look more like a representative democracy. While the much-anticipated "youthquake" didn't come to pass we did get a 6.5 per cent lift in youth turnout and are truly at the cusp of a long overdue generational change.

It's troubling then that local government is far off the pace. As the teaching and housing crises in Auckland illustrate, it's the localised problems that impact our lives the most on a daily basis. The decisions made at local government level really do matter.

We have 78 councils in New Zealand, with about 1600 elected members. To match the proportion of working-age New Zealanders we should have about 500 councillors under 40. So, how many are there?

In yet another example of a black hole of civic data, it's impossible to tell but it would be safe to assume we barely scratch 5 per cent of that figure. Therein lies just one of the problems - we don't even consider it important enough to know.

The latest research undertaken in 2007 showed the largest cohort has consistently been 51 to 59-year-olds, with the second largest 65-plus. Under 40s never cracked that 5 per cent threshold. In the decade since, there doesn't appear to have been a breakdown of age in the statistics in any systematic way.

Individual leaders - Efeso Collins and Richard Hills in Auckland, Lan Pham in Christchurch and Mayor Justin Lester in Wellington - are exceptions when they should be the norm.

Why do we need young people? Experience is important, and there is certain wisdom that can only be gained with age. Equally there are innate perspectives and an unjaded enthusiasm that can only come from youth. We are deep in a transition to a generation that expects full transparency and instantly available information yet on this issue as an example, there is none.

Government is the word we use to describe our institutions, but boards and councils are not just about governance. They are about vision, creativity, freshness of opinion. In a public entity like a council, they are also about how they engage with citizens where a youthful perspective on the total transformation with social and digital media is acutely missing.

Many things are changing in society at a rapid pace and whether we like it or not, age is often a factor in being able to "get" those changes more instinctively or to come at them from different angles. Fresh energy and ideas - which young people often bring to the table in spades - will always be in high demand, whatever the challenges.

If our local governments don't start changing their demographics to match the present and future makeup of our society, we will lag behind the curve on many fronts. We will end up with stale solutions without the breakthroughs we will need as we head towards the halfway mark of the 21st century. Our towns and cities will get left at the station.

What Can Be Done? Without younger candidates, we cannot have next generation representation. We will never get the line up of candidates if it isn't an attractive enough opportunity for the next generation to consider. What we need is a movement to inspire, activate and enlist a new generation of leaders across New Zealand to run for positions in public service - whether it's for the community district health board or for mayor.

Who's up for the challenge?

* Derek Handley is a New Zealand social entrepreneur who lives in New York.