(Image: Ezra Whittaker-Powley)

From free fruit trees to cheaper tampons: What kids would do if they were PM

The judges have spoken: These are the best ideas for changing Aotearoa for the better, courtesy of some of our brightest young minds. Policy.nz’s Chris McIntyre introduces the winners.

Since Policy.nz launched in August, barely a day has passed without the parties announcing new policies. By our count, the parties have announced nearly 2,000 policies .

But the politicians aren’t the only ones with ideas. After putting out a call for submissions for the Policy idea competition, our inbox was flooded with ideas from students across the country about what they would do if they were prime minister. Today, we announce the winners as chosen by our panel of judges – featuring basketballer Steven Adams, former MP Professor Marilyn Waring, science educator Michelle ‘Nanogirl’ Dickenson, journalist Mihingarangi Forbes and Allbirds founder Tim Brown.

We challenged students to come up with creative ideas to address problems important to their communities, looking beyond what is currently proposed by the parties. Entrants were asked to consider the consequences of the idea, both positive and negative.

We had hundreds of amazing entries from around the country, from 10 to 18 year olds, from Northland to Southland.

Some suggested big infrastructure – building an environmentally friendly monorail between Invercargill and Picton, for instance. Others suggested funding their proposals through truly, um, innovative means – by selling Rēkohu/Wharekauri (the Chatham Islands), for instance (we think its residents might have something to say about that!).

Some ideas pushed the envelope far, far beyond anything currently proposed by the parties: one bold student suggested nationalising 20% of every company to avoid Covid stimulus debt, while another suggested a tax of 15% for people buying their third homes – arguably a bolder idea for addressing the housing crisis than any announced by the parties this election.

We heard ideas that, if implemented, could cleave the nation in two: making Auckland the capital city, or capping the voting age at 65, for example. (We may just agree with one of those ideas). Other ideas honed in on how we can make New Zealand a more equitable place for young people, such as creating gamer lounges around the country with high-RAM computers for kids who can’t afford gaming PCs. We love it.

Ultimately our judges had a tough choice on their hands. We thank all our entrants for their time and creativity, and encourage them to continue advocating for the ideas they believe in, even if they can’t vote just yet. We also thank Allbirds, Karma Cola and Unity Books for supplying us with prizes for our finalists, and Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and StudySpy for support for Policy for Schools.

And we congratulate our winners, provided without further ado along with judges’ comments, with full entries published below and at policy.nz/competition. The future of democracy in New Zealand looks bright!

Individual winner: Provide a fruit tree to every child starting school

Lily Cowen, Year 7, Northcross Intermediate

Judges were nearly unanimous in their praise for Lily’s idea to provide a fruit tree to every child on their first day of school, as a way to provide healthy food to kids, teach communities about nutrition and the environment, and reduce emissions. “Teaching youth about how to nurture is a great life lesson,” said Steven Adams, while Mihi Forbes described Lily’s idea as “simple, achievable, and clever”. Tim Brown, Marilyn Waring, and Michelle Dickinson all praised the policy’s impact on the environment, on nutrition, and on science education.

Group winner: Require large food operators to be present within certain districts

Kopi Laakaai Suasua and Vivian Alapae Satui, Year 10, Sir Edmund Hillary College

Kopi and Vivian’s idea speaks directly to challenges faced in Ōtara and communities around New Zealand without ready access to healthy food. Tim Brown highlighted that the policy directly tackles the dangers of “food deserts”: areas where the absence of healthy food providers limits options for (often poorer) families. The judges liked that the idea would have real impact, quickly: “meaningful, doable, immediate impact. Bottom up, local, and creative,” said Professor Marilyn Waring, while Mihi Forbes praised the focus on supporting families to eat healthier. “Very important for developing kids. Tu meke,” said Steven Adams.

First runner up: Stop taxation on menstrual products

Grace Straker, Sylvie Crowe, and Ruby Barton-Vivian, Year 9, Marlborough Girls College

Professor Marilyn Waring described Grace, Syvlie and Ruby’s policy as an “idea where implementation is overdue. Doable easily at point of sale, and won’t break the GST bank.” Judges liked the clarity of the idea: there is no confusion about what is and what is not a menstrual product, and the policy helps to correct a gendered imbalance in a very precise way.

Second runner up: Create a marine reserve around Port Waikato to protect Maui dolphins

Destin Spinka, Rui-Han Ong, Ruka Kambe, Christen Wong, Year 7, Northcross Intermediate

Maui dolphins are critically endangered, and “we need every idea to protect them,” said Professor Marilyn Waring. Judges liked the practicality of the protections, the clear link to impact, and the innovative presentation of the idea in Destin, Rui-Han, Ruka, and Christen’s video.

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Individual winner: Lily Cowen, Year 7, Northcross Intermediate

If I were prime minister, I would make a policy that when you start school you get given a fruit tree that you can plant. There will be classes on how to plant it to support the family to get the fruit tree growing really well.

Why is this important? Some kids go to school really hungry because they don’t have enough food at home. Instead of just giving them one apple, over their years at school they can get lots of apples even over the school holidays. This also helps educate kids how to grow food for themselves and how important fresh healthy food is.

One negative is that they won’t get fruit straight away. Families might not know how to plant or care for a tree, or have the right equipment. To solve this, we’ll teach kids how to look after their tree.

Every year zero and year one class will have spades that the families can borrow for planting their tree. For people who live in apartments or deep in the city, I will create community garden spaces for each suburb for kids to plant their trees.

Trees help us clean up our atmosphere from carbon dioxide, making air fresh and clean for all of our people. This is a creative solution to help the hungry, help the environment and help our community learn about good nutrition.

Group winner: Kopi Laakaai Suasua and Vivian Alapae Satui, Year 10, Sir Edmund Hillary College.

We live in Ōtara where KFC, McDonalds, Wendys, Subway, Pizza Hut and the $1 scoop of chips are everywhere. The constant manogi and sight of deep fried meaai mean that a fresh apple or a salad are like an Ōtara mirage. Add the cans of V and the $1.50 bottle of cola and a healthy feed is hard to find.

We have no large supermarket in Ōtara. Having one would provide families with the opportunity to buy healthy food at an affordable price. Our community is eating itself into an early grave.

We would introduce regulations that require a large food operator to be present within certain districts. Districts could be defined based on local government areas, such as the area of the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Board. The government could help subsidise supermarkets to lower their prices to make the healthy food more affordable.

I know some kids in my area who want to eat healthier. Healthy eating is a habit and to get us off the pies, chop suey and fizzies we need help.

When people eat unhealthily their food doesn’t provide them with the adequate energy they need to sustain themselves throughout the day. Unhealthy eating leads to health problems such as obesity and diabetes and the government then has to heavily subsidise the associated health-related costs. By eating healthy, we will save the health service in obesity- and diabetes-related costs.

Business owners who own fast food stores will lose money, and there will be fewer after school jobs at fast food restaurants. But there will be more job opportunities at supermarkets, lower food bills for families, and people will have choice.

First runners up: Grace Straker, Sylvie Crowe, and Ruby Barton-Vivian, Year 9, Marlborough Girls College

Second runners up: Destin Spinka, Rui-Han Ong, Ruka Kambe, Christen Wong, Year 7, Northcross Intermediate



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