Lizzie Marvelly: It's your move, oldies

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We desperately need more young people voting. Photo / Mark Mitchell

By Lizzie Marvelly

I was brought up to respect my elders.

Indeed, without my elders - my whānau, teachers, mentors and role models - I wouldn't be where I am today.

Over the past few years, however, I've noticed that some older people seem to take our respect for granted.

And it's (respectfully) doing my head in.

In an election year, it's almost guaranteed that young people will be dragged through the mud for one reason or another.

We'll be smeared as the unworthy recipients of a "bribe" that won the election (years after the fact); the useless, lazy cohort that couldn't be bothered voting; the self-centred, me-me-me generation that could easily own houses if we simply stopped eating smashed avocados and watching Sky TV; or the idealistic, radical children who should listen to people who know better.

There are a number of similarly unflattering accusations that we could fling at our elders, but we're generally either silenced in absentia or too polite to offer a harsh dose of reality.

I've had it up to my eyeballs.

For example, recently, political commentator Bryce Edwards (44) stepped up to the plate to give his opinion on youth representation in politics on TVNZ's Breakfast.

"I just don't know if we want a Parliament just full of 20 and 30-year-olds," he said, ignoring the fact that Parliament is far from full of 20 and 30-year-olds.

"It's a good thing to have diversity," Edwards remarked, without a trace of irony. "It would be a mistake if we just have the young people coming in."

Immediately after the 2014 election, according to pollster David Farrar, there were 23 MPs in their 20s and 30s, with only two 20-somethings in the entire Parliament.

A significant number of those 23 have now entered their 40s, and only one (Todd Barclay) is still in his 20s.

How having 23 MPs under 40 in a Parliament of 121 - a Parliament with a median age of 50 - would make it "full" of young people, I'll never know.

The proclamation becomes even more ridiculous when you consider only approximately 62 per cent of voters under the age of 30 voted in the 2014 election, compared to more than 80 per cent of those aged over 50.

Or when you consider that though 18-29 year olds made up approximately 22 per cent of the voting cohort in 2014, only 2 per cent of MPs in the 2014 Parliament were in the same age range.

Or when you take into account that 72 per cent of MPs had entered Parliament after 2007.

So not only is Parliament not full of 20 and 30-somethings - nor overstayers - young people are actually drastically under-represented.

Edwards' remarks were made in response to the Green Party's policy of seeking out talented, young (and often female) candidates to take part in this year's election.

The juxtaposition between the two views - one peddling "diversity" by arguing to have more politicians joining Parliament in their 50s and above and consequently adding to the over-representation of older demographics, and the other actually making an effort to make Parliament more representative of the population - is galling.

Even when youth is a priority for a party, there are no guarantees they will make the cut.

Chloe Swarbrick was the latest casualty of a vote for the Auckland Central candidacy.

Continued below.

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The situation does very little to make young people feel enthused about politics.

It's time for us kids to start kicking down the doors.

Frankly, as much as Edwards doesn't know if he wants a Parliament "full" of young people, I don't know if I want a Parliament full of old people.

And I'd be justified in my concern.

Immediately after the 2014 election there were 98 MPs aged over 40.

A breakdown that makes it somewhat more likely that if our Parliament is full of anything, it's older people.

And before someone attacks me for using the word "old", let me point out the double standard.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a young person be underestimated, judged or described as naïve, immature, little, wee, precocious, self-absorbed, unrealistic, childish, juvenile, ignorant, idealistic or any number of other charming epithets, I'd be a filthy rich young upstart.

But if we even say the word "old", we're disrespectful monsters.

Another thing I "just don't know if I want" is to hear yet another 40+ year old commentator offering their opinion on youth representation in this country.

Here's a revolutionary idea: Why don't you ask a young person?

You know, someone who is actually affected by the lack of representation of people their own age.

Someone who doesn't take the opportunity to cry "IDENTITY POLITICS!" any time someone who doesn't look, think or act like them opens their mouth to express a view they don't like.

Someone who would significantly bring down the average age on many of the panels that we'll see with increasing regularity during this election year.

Not only are a large number of our politicians and political commentators on the older side, many of them are incredibly out of touch and ineffectual.

The examples are too numerous to recount, but to provide just a couple: we started sending pxts in 2002, yet it took our politicians until 2015 to update the law on harmful digital communications.

We knew about global warming in the 1980s but it took politicians around the globe until 2016 to take appropriate, comprehensive action to try to save our planet.

If this kind of performance is the hallmark of maturity in governance, it's time for us kids to start kicking down the doors.

Perhaps if we had a few more people in Parliament who would actually live long enough to experience the results of their actions (or lack thereof) we'd all be better off.

We desperately need more young people voting, or we'll see our voter turnout continue to decrease and the health of our democracy will suffer.

But for young people to vote, they need to feel like a welcome and valued part of the electorate.

Your move, oldies.

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