A typical crowd at a ratepayers meeting in Auckland. Photo: Hayden Donnell

The case for ending the generational monopoly over local government

There is an increasing class division in Auckland, defined by access to the democratic system. Where does this leave our young people in the future, asks Shehara Farik?  

This is a condensed version of an extremely long story about democracy. I want to show how the history of democracy has defined the crisis we are experiencing now in Auckland, where young people are excluded from decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.

A few hundred years ago, people said the problem with democracy is that it gives power to the wrong people. The ‘wrong people’ were the poor, the less-educated and the young. So barriers were put in place to ensure that they were not given this opportunity. Then came representative democracy and the process of elections, complete with multiple barriers to access for young people. Again, it built a system designed to exclude groups like the young. 

This is still happening today in our democratic system. Young people have been deliberately left out of electoral politics in Auckland. There are 21 local boards within Auckland, where the median age of representatives sits between 40 to 60 years of age, with the exception of some brilliant young people who have forced their way into this space and continue to fight for representation. 

It is not clear why people believe we are unqualified to make decisions about the future of a city we will occupy. Do people think young people lack the experience? Is it simply more difficult to pave a path through electoral politics if you are young? But the thought, even hundreds of years ago, was that politics is for and always will favour older candidates. 

Young people don’t have the option to design and decide what they want, when the cards are held by the same people time and time again. For example, some local boards within central Auckland have had the same members represent the area for over ten years with no change. While the voting age remains at 18, young people will always be out-numbered in our democratic system. 

You can carry on voting without having any particular abilities or talents, as it should be. Why are young people be deemed unworthy of a voice because of their age? They lose again. Again, they are not represented. 

If you look across all 21 local boards, how many 20-somethings are there? We are expected to care about the future, the environment and our unborn children, but how are we to keep doing this when we are denied an equitable voice in that future? 

In a twisted way, young people in Auckland live in a society where politics suggests they lack sufficient experience to access power, while simultaneously being expected to look after the future. We must constantly worry about what our city and world will look like in 2050 because we are the ones who will live in it, yet many of those making decisions which will define that world will be dead by the time it arrives. 

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It is our obligation as the people who will inherit this city to define that future. Young people need a louder voice at the table.

I don’t write this to cause chaos but to simply ask you to consider your role within this dilemma, your role within the development of Auckland and what it means for the people around you. 

Your vote and participation in this process determines what the future looks like for everyone in this city. I implore young people to step into political spheres confidently as if we have a right to be there, and for those who are older than us to encourage the participation the generation that will inherit the city you’ve built. 


In the first in a new event series looking at the future of Auckland, The Spinoff and Auckland Council hosted In My Backyard: The City of Mt Albert, examining the role of the suburb in the city’s development.

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