This is the second of our Bants with Baby Back Benches interviews. Through this series we want our readers to get to know the youth leaders of our political parties, ready for our eventual youth leaders debate, and the upcoming election.
This edition is with Jay McLaren-Harris the chairperson of Young New Zealand First.
By Paul Simperingham
First question, how did you get into the business you’re in? What drew you to New Zealand First?
I grew up in Dargaville, and when the Northland by-election happened and Winston won the election, that was kind of my first taste of politics. As a young person from a small town like Dargaville, we never saw politics as a possibility for a young Maori boy from Dargaville. But then once we learned about Winston that’s when my taste for politics started to tingle, then ever since I’ve just been involved in the background, until last year, when things started to pick up.
What drew me into New Zealand First, I think was how people perceive New Zealand First as being a very racist, very older generation party. I went to one of the rallies and I saw the total opposite. I saw diversity, I saw young people, I saw everybody was active and energized. So it wasn’t what the punters were saying. And that’s really what drew me.
Look… I’ll prove you wrong with facts and fiction. So what drew me to New Zealand First, was not only Winston. I mean, who doesn’t love Winston Peters? But it was also the fact that this is a party based on common sense values, based on common-sense policies, based on common sense principles.
Why should a young person or a student at the coming 2020 election consider NZ First for their tick?
Well, let me stop you right there. You said, young person and students. Those two things don’t go together. Young New Zealand First has definitely pushed that when we talk about young people it’s not just university students that go out to political events. It’s also the farmer, the roofer, the apprentice, the supermarket operator, you know, these young people matter as well.
But I think it says it all in our slogan ‘back your future’. When we invest $3 billion into our region’s this isn’t just investing in farmers and investing in infrastructure. What it’s doing is it’s investing into a further generation or farmers, a further generation of infrastructure workers. So if you want a party that supports actually, instead of a young person having to leave the region, to go to university to learn about infrastructure, how about we invest in infrastructure in a small town, so that young person doesn’t have to leave.
We have other policies around immigration. You know, I think young New Zealanders are now fed up with how immigration has been an absolute joke in previous years from both sides. Not just from National and not just from Labour, but from both of them. New Zealand First is campaigning on the immigration portfolio because we need to get our shit together. I think young people are aware of these things.
With New Zealand First, we’ve got a mixture of young people at our convention, so we had a lot of people from the regions, and the advice and the feedback was, we need more investment into the regions. We need to make sure our roads are maintained and that our infrastructure is supported. We need to make sure that our education is supported. I went to my old Intermediate School a few months ago, it still had the same principal, he said to me, “Jay, I need help.” It’s so hard when the education sector forgets that our region’s are not just numbers on a sheet or names on a piece of paper. These are lives and human beings. I saw how tired that principle was, and I know how hard-working that principal is. So when our young people go and vote this election on September 19, back your future, back provincial growth fund, back immigration and make sure that New Zealand First gets that portfolio, back the ability to bring in change around our education sector in our education system. Ensure that we support all New Zealanders going forward in life.
As young people, we need to back our future, so that 10 years down the track we live in a society that is flourishing and that is sustainable. That actually has the infrastructure to support a growing economy, but also a growing society. So if you want, an insurance policy and an insurance vote come September 19th, party vote New Zealand First. We’ll ensure that the stupid left ideas don’t get through, but also the far-right stupid ideas don’t get through.
Related to that, is that also part of why Young New Zealand First isn’t located on campus? As one of the few youth wings that don’t have a presence on campus.
We made a decision earlier on in the year that part of our strategy was that if we were truly young New Zealand First, and that we put New Zealanders first, then we had to break away from the rhetoric of thinking that you have to be a skinny white kid from university to join a youth wing. That’s absolutely not true, and it’s absolutely wrong. The views of other young people matter just as much as the ones that attend university.
We needed to ensure that youth wings, especially young NZ first, weren’t dominated by university students. That we need to have a balance and that we’ve restructured to ensure that we provide regional representation, not Auckland central representation and a whole bunch of uni kids. Don’t get me wrong. Uni kids are fantastic and bravo to them for doing what they do, but actually there’s so many other young people out there whose voices do matter and aren’t necessarily heard by youth political wings, and hence why we’re working around the clock to ensure that we get youth interest up.
A question more specific to New Zealand First, it’s often referred to as a party that appeals more to older people. Why do you think that is? What do you think people misunderstand about your party?
Oh, look, New Zealand First is one of the most diverse parties I’ve ever seen. At our recent convention, there were so many young people like I said. I’m super proud of the team that were represented at convention this year given the circumstances of COVID. New Zealand First is not a party of great power, we are a party of New Zealanders that are just here to put New Zealand and New Zealanders first. Yes, we do have members that are much more senior than a lot of us, but that’s fine. Because they’re New Zealanders too, but we also have a massive mixture of other New Zealanders, be that middle class, be that lower class, be that youth, be that middle age. They represent New Zealand for us in New Zealand. So I absolutely disregard the idea that New Zealand First is a grey power party. We are not. We are a party of New Zealanders that are doing some fantastic work when it comes to our country.
That’s all I really have for you, is there anything else you’d particularly like to highlight or speak on?
I will say, you know, the deputy prime minister really supports young people. I spent the weekend with him, just campaigning and visiting markets and whatnot, and he’s one of the most genuine people you will ever meet. He will listen to young people, that’s the most heartwarming thing. You know, I bumped into a bunch of visitors and think they were from South Africa, and I was saying to them in Which country do you see the Deputy Prime Minister walking around a Saturday and Sunday market, talking to a whole bunch of young people? They said, “Oh, I don’t know. Never Not in Africa”. I think we live in such an amazing and lucky country that people like the Deputy Prime Minister, have the ability to connect with young people.
Young New Zealand First, as I said, we’re fired up, we’re excited and we’re ready to go. Come September 19, let’s vote New Zealand First.
New Zealand First if given the chance would certainly implement many policies meant to benefit students. The question is… Will you vote for them come September 16 2020?
Come see Jay debate the other youth leaders at Baby Back Benches event! While it has been delayed due to lockdown, to keep up on updates event info can be found here
This interview has been edited for length and clarity