Waihi 17-year-old Joshua Mason never wanted to be a fireman or astronaut when he grew up. Instead, he always dreamed of being a politician. It’s a career choice that is met with bemusement by many.
“I definitely get some funny looks when I mention it. A lot of people my age don’t really understand how local government helps to create a brighter future for the younger generation. My career goal in general is to help people and I’ve always believed politics is where I can have the most impact,” he says.
Democracy more chilled out than expected
Studying computing through Vetel at Valley Education & Training, Joshua put his hand up for a spot in this year’s youth parliament, missing out by a one-vote whisker. Since then he’s been gaining local government work experience under the helpful eye of Councillor Anne Marie Spicer. A highlight for the teen was being given a seat around the table at a recent Council meeting.
“I expected things to be very strict and formal, but seeing democracy in action, I’ve discovered it’s a lot more chilled out and down to earth than I originally thought. There were some really good debates and discussions, and everyone was really supportive,” he said.
Social strategy gathers traction
Working with schools and young people to encourage better understanding of democracy is part of the Council’s new Social Strategy, which Councillor Spicer says aligns perfectly with helping Joshua learn the ropes of local government.
It’s a strategy that was never intended to sit on a shelf gathering dust.
“This strategy is a living, working reference document that is already looking quite dog-eared and battered from use, which is exactly how it should be. It’s fantastic to see it gathering traction,” she said.
This year, the Council is consciously moving away from being a go-to for social funding, particularly as there are other funding sources being under-utilised.
“In this strategy we make it very clear that we want to assist our communities to thrive through empowerment and support, rather than simply handing out funds from collected rates," she said.
“Our recently appointed social strategy coordinator will organise a variety of local workshops and educational programmes to support our community organisations to achieve their financial and organisational goals.”
Big dreams of becoming Prime Minister
Ultimately, Joshua has his eyes on the sky and big dreams of one day becoming Prime Minister. In the meantime, he’s happy to learn more about local politics and lend a youthful voice to the Social Strategy Working Party.
“For many young people it can be quite antagonising and a bit scary having politicians talk to you. I’d like to change that perception and help the Council engage with youth at a more down to earth level.”
Click here to read the council’s social strategy