Gen Z has entered Parliament

Green MP Tamatha Paul, National MP Tom Rutherford, and Te Pāti Māori MP Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke make up the first wave of Generation Z representatives in Parliament. Photo: Supplied..

Generation Z is in the House. Or at least, they will be soon.

October’s election saw the first wave of Gen Z representatives elected to Parliament, with three candidates aged 26 years or younger.

This is a generation which grew up with the internet, but may still have memories of its earliest days, unlike the up-coming Generation Alpha.

It’s an age group which has expressed significant changes in thinking on issues such as the environment, race relations and gender. And it’s a generation which has challenged traditional ways of working, living, and thinking about social issues.

The first three Gen Z MPs have been elected through winning electorates for the Green, National and Māori parties.

They are: Wellington Central MP Tamatha Paul, Bay of Plenty MP Tom Rutherford, and Hauraki-Waikato MP Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke.

Tamatha and Tom are Gen Z elders, both born in 1997, while Hana-Rawhiiti was born after the turn of the millennium and is 21 years old.

Although these three politicians are the first elected Gen Z representatives in Parliament, Gen Zers have filled roles in political offices and taken important positions in political debate for a number of years.

Infometrics chief executive Brad Olsen, for instance, is a regular visitor to the halls of power, one of the most high profile economics commentators in New Zealand, and is a Gen Zer.

Brad Olsen is the chief executive and principal economist of Infometrics. He is also a member of Generation Z. Photo: Monique Ford/Stuff

Brad, who was also born in 1997, says he expects some things to change now Gen Z is entering positions of power in Parliament.

“I expect that parliamentary debates will become a little bit more fun and a little bit more direct,” he says

“Some of the phrases that us Zoomers are known for, we try and cut through the more dense and dull to add a bit of spice to life.”

But Brad stresses zingers aren’t the only thing Gen Z could bring to Parliament.

“I certainly don't want to make it sound like we're good for a soundbite, and that's it,” says Brad.

But he does believe that having more straight-talking and relatable MPs will be important for boosting public confidence in, and engagement with, Parliament.

“We’ve got a growing younger population, with a different worldview, with different experiences, with different wants and needs and requirements and asks,” he says.

“So having people there who have that experience, who come from a different generation ensures that when it is the people's house, the House of Representatives, that it is representative.”

While the result of three Gen Z representatives split across three parties shows that the generation’s political opinions spread across party lines, Brad says he did expect to see some commonalities – especially related to housing.

“We talk a lot about the housing market, but I think we will increasingly hear about the rental market and what Zoomers are facing there.”

Green MP Tamatha Paul will enter Parliament as the MP for Wellington Central. Photo: Monique Ford/The Post.

Tamatha, who quit being a city councillor to represent Wellington city in Parliament, says there are a number of issues around human rights and climate change, which younger generations want to stand up for.

“The big thing is climate change. Because at the end of the day, we will live the longest to see the most devastating impacts of climate change,” says Tamatha.

She also expects to see younger representatives pushing for greater recognition of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“In 17 years, it’s going to be 200 years since Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed... These are things that we're going to stand up for, because we envisage a future that is informed by Te Tiriti.”

Until speaking to Stuff, Tamatha hadn’t realised she is amongst the first wave of Gen Z MPs. She asked about Chlöe Swarbrick, who entered Parliament in 2017 at the age of 23.

“Oh is Chlöe a millenial,” says Tamatha.

Swarbrick is a millennial. Born in 1994, that’s three years before the Gen Z boundary, making her a “young millennial”.

“Yeah, right, so I’m a really old Gen Z,” says Tamatha.

She says she doesn’t feel much pressure from being a younger MP.

 “But I definitely feel more pressure being a young Māori woman, than I do being just a Gen Z. The year you’re born doesn’t necessarily prescribe a whole lot, although it does give a unique perspective on the issues of your time.”

Tom Rutherford (left) beside National leader Christopher Luxon in Tauranga during the campaign. Photo: Ricky Wilson/Stuff.

Tom Rutherford, who’s entering Parliament with National, says his age isn’t that unusual. He points to Simeon Brown, another National MP who had started at 26 years old.

He says he’d felt supported joining National, and will ensure younger perspectives are heard in the Government’s caucus room.

“The National Party is a broad church. We are looking to be the political party that is representative of all New Zealanders, and that is both in the diversity sense of ethnicity, diversity of thought and background. And in my case, diversity of age,” says Tom.

He says there were some issues, mainly housing and climate change, where he thought Gen Z as a whole had a different perspective than older generations.

“I've been looking for the last couple of years to purchase my first home. I know the struggle of what it's like for a lot of people to get together an initial deposit.

“So when we have those discussions in caucus and at a national level, that's where I’m going to be able to provide some input from my first-hand personal experience as a 26-year-old.”

Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke, right, is the youngest MP for 170 years. Photo: Robert Kitchin/Stuff.

At 21-years-old, Te Pāti Māori MP Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke is the youngest parliamentarian New Zealand has seen since 1853.

Hana-Rawhiti says her arrival is the start of the “kōhanga reo generation” taking positions of power.

This new generation, with unapologetic rangatahi “proud to be Māori” and more outspoken, are ready to challenge traditional power, she says.

 “I have one job: and that is to tell our story,” Hana-Rawhiti said during the Re News youth voters debate.

“I represent the voices, I represent 65 per cent of Māori who are under the age of 35.”

She says respect for Te Tiriti o Waitangi, te reo and tikanga, and rangatahi Māori perspectives on issues such as the cost of living and housing will be her key kaupapa as an MP – and are the main issue impacting her generation.

Glenn McConnell and Anna Whyte/Stuff

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