The young guns of local government
They’re young, they’re passionate and they’re a strong voice for their communities: local government’s growing cohort of young councillors is proving age is just a number.
“I think the biggest hurdle for young people entering into politics is the ability to show that age is simply just a number,” says Sunshine Coast Councillor Christian Dickson, who was elected in 2006 at just 19.
“All you really need is to show how passionate and interested you are and to be the voice of those within your community.
“Over the years, I’ve learnt that trust is something that must be earned through hard work and the delivery of outcomes.
“Thankfully I was able to deliver on several outcomes during my early years as a councillor, which has secured a high level of mutual trust from my local community.”
Cr Kelly Vea Vea was elected to Isaac Regional Council just after her 30th birthday, and says building trust has also been a big part of the role for her.
“In the early days I did wear a bit of ‘old dog versus young pup’ in the council chambers,” Cr Vea Vea says.
“I’ve had people assume that coming into the role at a younger age means I harbor grand ambitions, and that can cause distrust.
“At some formal events and ceremonies, I’ve had people think I’m with the communications team, or a school teacher with the students.”
Councillor Lachlan Brennan was elected at 21 and says more young people need to have faith in their abilities.
“When I put my hand up to run in the election I was surprised by the support that I had – I found that the older population were my greatest champions,” Cr Brennan says.
“I was told on numerous occasions that it’s important that we have a young person representing the future.
“People in my own age group were the hardest to convince to vote, they weren’t willing to enrol to vote or didn’t think that I could do the job because they believed that they couldn’t do it because of youth.”
Something Councillors Dickson, Vea Vea and Brennan all agree on is that diversity equals a stronger local government.
“Like anything in life, balance is something that plays an important role in achieving fairness and equity across the board,” Cr Dickson says.
“Having a mixture of ages and demographics enables councils and councillors to be in touch with the people they represent from our youth, to families and senior citizens.”
“I’m pretty lucky to be at the council table with people from diverse backgrounds, skillsets, experience, politics and age,” Cr Vea Vea adds.
“It’s important for us to draw from that when we are dealing with such a broad spectrum of council issues and projects.
“There is mutual respect for the fact we have all ended up at the same table by travelling very different paths. It’s definitely one of our strengths as a collective,” she says.
Cr Brennan says diversity is about representing everyone in the community.
“I believe it’s very important as different ages and demographics bring a different perspective to the council and reflects the population of the local community,” he says.
“The experience of the mature and the enthusiasm of youth is a powerful combination.”
It’s vital we see a younger generation represented in the local government sector – so what advice do these young councillors have for youth wanting to stand up as a voice for their communities?
“If you love your community and want to ensure that the next generation has an even better place to grow up in, then take the leap and run for council,” Cr Brennan says.
“If you fail at the first attempt it doesn’t matter, you are young and you have a whole life time in front of you to try again.”
Cr Vea Vea adds, “You just need to be analytical, committed, community and people-minded. Open and willing to listen, learn and step outside your comfort zone. Right out.”