Blog | Bants with the Baby Back Benches: Felix of Young ACT

This is the fourth 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 Felix Poole, the President of Young ACT NZ

If you’d instead like to listen to our complete conversation click here

By Paul Simperingham

PCC

So first of all, how did you get involved with Young ACT?

Felix  

I got involved all the way back in 2017. There wasn’t really a Young ACT or an ACT on campus at that point. So, in my second year, I decided that I’d start ACT on campus. It was just me and seven other people in a room I think, and we just kind of started and it went from there. We talked first at clubs expo and just started building up the group and supporting the party, volunteering that kind of thing.

PCC

Had you always been an ACT supporter?

Felix  

Um, no, actually when I was around 16 or 15 I used to be quite an avid Green supporter and I think that throughout high school, you know, I got a little bit smarter and became an ACT supporter. 

But I was always political growing up, I don’t know if you know him but, a lot of people seem to know my brother Jasper, and he’s very political. So we have all sorts of debates at the dinner table of our family, and so that’s how politics began for me. Then personally it grew into something that went beyond the dinner table and became part of my life.

PCC

What was it that actually drew you to ACT? What was it that changed at 16 or 17?

Felix  

I think I always liked the idea of freedom and free-market economics. I generally supported socially liberal ideas. Once I developed those opinions I kind of just, looked at the parties and said, what party represents me and what I believe in, and the ACT Party was that party.

PCC

So what is the actual relationship between Young ACT and the main party? What is the role of Young ACT?

Felix  

ACT doesn’t have any control over Young ACT, we’re like an independent organization that is operated by a bunch of very enthusiastic people. But you know, we do coordinate with them, we do ask for advice, and then they do help us with some things. They will, of course, allow us to use their branding to a certain extent.

This different kind of relationship means that, for example, we can do things that the party doesn’t agree with, for example, we had a policy to legalize drugs. So we pushed that quite hard on campus and it was quite successful. We made the news because we told reporters that we were going to give out free nangs at university, so the news got fired up and made a story about us and sent reporters to clubs expos. We weren’t going to give out nangs at university, but the fact reporters came there and reported on our policy was great. 

In general, the role of the youth wing is to make sure that young people’s voices are heard within the party. Political parties play a very important role, they pick Prime Ministers, they pick what issues make it to the forefront of elections, they pick which policies get support, and all these things that parties do affect our country greatly. So youth wings are about making sure young people’s voices are heard in those circles because they absolutely need to be.

PCC

So if you were to talk to a student on campus or just a young person in general, what would be your selling points? What would you tell them to get their vote in the 2020 election?

Felix  

If you want a right-wing government, but you also support quite social liberal policies the ACT party is for you. We’re kind of like National except, we don’t care if you smoke pot, we support euthanasia, Seymour is pro-choice, that sort of thing. So if you want to make sure your vote goes reliably to socially progressive issues while supporting right-wing government then ACT is the party for you, and a lot of people are sympathetic to that position. So that’s how I sell ACT to young people.

PCC

So if ACT makes it into government post-2020 general election–

Felix  

There’s a very low chance of that happening, unfortunately. 

PCC

well if it were to happen, post 2020 election what kind of New Zealand would a university student see? What kind of change would they experience in their day to day life? 

Felix  

The biggest thing would be RMA (Resource Management Act) reform, which would be a change in the supply of housing and the change in the way our cities and infrastructure are built. The biggest thing that young people care about is housing and it’s very easy to say, we’ll just build more houses or regulate it so that your rent doesn’t go up. But the reality is that those things have other effects that make student housing worse. Rent controls, make the quality of student housing worse, and they don’t fix the supply aspect so the prices remain high.

RMA reform is about an increase in infrastructure, an increase in the density of housing around Auckland, the increase in the number of houses being built on the edges of Auckland. That way making it so landlords have to compete for students and for people to rent their properties, so rent goes down. I think most political parties agree with RMA reform. Very few have the political will to do it, but ACT has it as a number one priority. If we go into coalition or any agreement with any party, it would be a number one priority. 

Other things that students might see is an end to fees-free, and low taxes, or at least all taxes remaining the same. One thing that students probably don’t think about is the cost that debt is going to have on their future lives because we’re going to take out billions of dollars in debt. Probably $140 billion in debt and that debt is going to have to be paid back by us. I think that an ACT Government would make it a high priority to reduce that debt. If we come out of university, and they’re still stacking on the debt, then we’re going to be paying interest on that for years. We’re going to be paying the superannuation fees for generations that already have heaps of property and money accumulated over the decades.

PCC

So youth turnout to vote is typically lower than older people, and it’s generally trending down. First of all, why do you think this is and secondly, what do you think we should do about it?

Felix  

It’s hard to say why it is. I think it’s probably something to do with young people feeling like they aren’t adequately represented by people in politics, that their vote won’t make a difference that their interests aren’t aligned with people who lead the country. I think broadly, that take on politics is actually very much true because the people in our parliament they all buy their own property, and they are very rich and wealthy, their lives aren’t in any way comparable to the lives of students. So, I think students, are somewhat correct in assuming that they don’t have their best interests at heart. I hope to see that change. I think the only way to get young people involved in politics is to have more young people in politics, and in positions of power and authority to make sure young people’s interests and young people’s concerns are heard.

Which I think is a bit of a chicken before the egg scenario because if you have more young people in Parliament, the more young people get involved in politics. But like, which one of those things comes first, the young people getting involved in the politics of the young MPs? I think, the ACT party has been quite successful in this area, we have a couple of young candidates, and we have one of the youngest, party leaders in Parliament. We have Brooke, who’s our number two who’s also very young. I think the ACT party is quite forward-thinking in that regard, putting young people in positions of power and authority within the party.

PCC

In May of this year, Young ACT was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal and I believe there’s an investigation going on now. If you were talking to a prospective member of Young ACT on campus, and they were worried about joining the organization, what would you have to say to them?

Felix  

This an investigation going on right now and I can’t say anything about it until the investigation is finished. But Young ACT will move forward, we take these things seriously, and we have taken these things seriously.

PCC

Will we be seeing you in Parliament anytime soon? Is that an ambition?

Felix  

No, I don’t think so. I want to, you know, finish my degree and have a couple of years in the private sector stuff before I do anything.

The ACT party 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 Felix 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

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