Darren Hughes - an example of a Labour MP ...a young MP
Darren Hughes, at 24 in 2002 when first elected New Zealand’s youngest MP (and fourth youngest ever), says it is important to find ways to inform young people about democratic processes. “That’s why I have been so passionate about promoting Youth Parliament.”
Darren Hughes chaired the 2004 fourth Youth Parliament multi-party committee, which is made up of all parties. He is Labour MP for Otaki and chaired the Labour Youth Council. By the end of his first term in Parliament he had become Labour's Junior Whip.
Darren Hughes favours a proactive approach to teaching the rights and roles of citizenship. Citizenship includes practical things like dealing with the law and its basis, including the Bill of Rights, Magna Carta and the Treaty of Waitangi. People need background knowledge so they can see the principles on which government and representative democracy is based.
He says New Zealand should develop trials and best practice of citizenship education in schools that are prepared to do it, and professional development to help teachers make it interesting.
Youth Parliament is “a two way street – the participants learn, and the hosts learn.” From the young person’s point of view Youth Parliament makes Parliament – and therefore democracy – relevant and real. But also, for those few days, 120 Youth Parliamentarians put youth policy right at the central focus. “Parliament, the government, and the establishment in Wellington are challenged about the issues young people want to talk about,” he says.
Darren Hughes was at the first Youth Parliament in 1994 and was the first youth MP to become the real thing. The fourth Youth Parliament, late in 2004, was a show piece of the 150th anniversary of the forming of the New Zealand Parliament. The 2004 Youth Parliament included youth press gallery members, who wrote for their hometown newspapers.
Darren Hughes really enjoyed being a backbench MP during his firstv term.
“ It is good to start off your political career working on the backbenches, and playing your role in your party” he said.
“Obviously your influence is limited. You are not in the executive. You don’t chair a select committee as a first-term MP. But you carve out a role for yourself. There are caucus committees where I have a policy interest, and share briefings with Ministers, and debate policy ideas. Also through the wider caucus when wider issues are being considered, as an electorate MP, I am able to give views, including how people in heartland New Zealand might respond to an issue. I bring that directly to the caucus,” he said early in his first term.