New Zealand's youngest local councillors inspiring change

Source: 1News

Three years ago Sophie Handford, Rohan O’Neill-Stevens and Fisher Wang were elected as local government councillors with aspirations of creating change.

All three were teenagers at the time.

Three years on the energy and optimism remain, all three hope their youth is an asset, reminding us why people enter politics in the first place.

Handford, first grabbed headlines as the founder of School Strike 4 Climate, leading protests down Wellington's streets, microphone in hand. A spirit that she brought with her during her term on the Kapiti Coast District Council.

"It’s how I talk, around the council table, I am the same person, as I am at home, ranting to my parents about the issues our community is facing."

But the response from her older colleagues she says isn't one of rolling eyes or condescension, but rather, inspiration.

"Some of them, their eyes spark, and they’re like, 'okay maybe there is something else possible for Local Government.'"

Part of the reason, she says, youth involvement is so vital for local politics.

"I see part of my role in being round that table, being to help keep the fire of the others around me alive, because they got in there, too, with hopes and aspirations to achieve something with their seats."

After three years on the Nelson City Council, O’Neill-Stevens already has fans.

Walking through the busy city streets, video captures the 22-year-old stopped by two lovely local ardent supporters.

"We’ve been to his meetings. We’re huge supporters," one says.

Moments like this, says O’Neill-Stevens, is why he loves Local Government, and why this year he's running for the top job as the city mayor.

"You can see the changes you’re making come into effect. And you’re on the ground talking to the people who are impacted by things."

At 19 years old, Wang knew Rotorua was in trouble.

"Me and a lot of my peers got to a certain age, finishing high school, and everyone was talking about how they wanted to leave Rotorua."

Fisher explains how he realised that if he wanted to halt the exodus, he had to stay and add his voice to the Rotorua Lakes Council.

"I decided, I’ll make this decision now. To stand. And to help contribute, and make Rotorua be that place where young people want to stay here."

It hasn't been an easy road - he's faced racial abuse both throughout his campaign and during the pandemic, but he'd tell you it was worth it. In 2020 his vote sealed a unanimous decision to move the Rotorua Climate Action Plan to public consultation.

"Young people want to move back here, and, you know, build their futures build their lives here."