When some of the country’s emerging leaders met in Wellington recently, Franklin Local Board member Logan Soole and Auckland Council North Shore ward representative Richard Hills were there.
“It was amazing to meet so many young people and understand there’s a shared vision to want to change things, do things better for our communities and Aotearoa, and to act on issues such as climate change,” Soole says.
At 19, he became the youngest person ever elected to Franklin’s board, and the youngest of Auckland Council’s 170 elected members.
He’s now New Zealand’s fourth-youngest elected member, behind Nelson’s Rohan O’Niell-Stevens, and Rotorua and Kapiti district councillors Fisher Wang and Sophie Handford.
Former Kaipātiki Local Board member Hills, 34, chairs the Environment and Climate Change Committee as a second-term councillor
“I’m proud to be part of the 12 per cent of elected members nationwide under 40. We made up only six per cent last term so it’s fantastic to see so many new members coming through.
“Being a young member is a strength. I’ve never felt age was a barrier. It’s always good to widen representation to ensure our decisions consider everyone regardless of age or background, especially when our decisions can take decades to implement.”
Never too young to get involved
Soole was involved in community issues at school, promoting charities and bringing youth mental health advocate Mike King to Pukekohe High School, where he was head boy.
He decided against university, preferring the workforce. “You can work just as hard and be just as successful, it's about how much work you put in.”
That’s a view he’s taken into local government. “You can’t sit back and complain. You have to get involved, accept that you can be a part of making change, and get on with it.”
He says he’s been re-energised by being among others getting involved at a younger age but while it’s exciting to hear new voices, like Hills, he acknowledges the importance of experience.
“It’s about balance. There’s no substitute for experience or the benefits of a fresh perspective, especially in local government, where decisions have a direct effect on people.”
The Local Government NZ Young Elected Members Hui brought him face to face with other younger representatives working in a field many see as the domain of an older generation.
“My board colleagues have never made me feel my perspective is less valuable because of my age, only different, and something needed at the table.”
Hills was 30 when first elected to Auckland’s governing body in 2016. Re-elected last year, he says age is no barrier to being open to others.
“When I got involved it seemed like politicians weren't interested in a young voice and that seemed wrong to me. I decided the best way to get things done was to work constructively with colleagues, put forward good ideas and find common ground."
As the Environment and Climate Change Committee chair, he shepherded through the city’s climate plan, Te Tāruke ā Tāwhiri, and is now negotiating to get a suite of climate action projects into the long-term plan.
Programme opens world of local government to young people
Meanwhile Soole’s latest project is as mentor for his board in the Tuia programme, which offers young Māori a chance to be involved in local government.
“If you’re going to advocate for young people to be involved, you have to help them do so. I’d encourage anyone who meets the criteria and has an interest in leadership to apply.
“Those I shared korero with in Wellington didn’t agree on everything just because they were young, but we did share a drive to build better communities and be part of making change happen.”
Anyone interested in applying for the Tuia programme, also running in the Manurewa and Papakura board areas, can find more information here.