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Young people win a seat

10By Geoff Vause

[email protected]

Rebecca Vergunst is among the youngest councillors in the country emerging from this year’s local government elections.

At 22, Ms Vergunst wants to strengthen the voice for groups in Carterton district and wider Wairarapa who are currently barely represented at the council table.

Renters, young families, young people, Maori – Mrs Vergunst put herself forward to help build council links across the community.

She takes her place in John Booth’s council with the full support of the mayor – Mr Booth called her on the eve of the election close-off and said he was backing her.

No stranger to council dealings, Ms Vergunst has made annual plan submissions and also regularly updates the council as a youth group advocate.

“I have a fair understanding of how it works,” she said.

Holding down jobs with Rangitahi to Rangitira (R2R) youth group and as financial manager at Ponatahi Christian School where she also went to school, Ms Vergunst experienced the struggle for young people to find work first-hand after returning from teaching in China in 2013.

She couldn’t get a single job interview.

“I remember the last election, looking at the voting booklet, and thinking there was no-one who represented where I was at – a new graduate, trying to find a job in my hometown,” she told the Times-Age when she put her name forward as a candidate last year.

“I want to provide that youth perspective.”

She said it was one of her goals to connect more with schools and encourage civics education teaching how government works at all levels, and through this help stimulate more interest and a stronger voter turnout.

“I also want to see local services and amenities kept to a high standard, things like parks and reserves, and events are a great resource too, we stage great events so I want to see that carried on.

“The things that make Carterton a great place to live and raise your kids.

“My other goal is to make the council way more accessible to the average person off the street, make it easy to engage with and go out to them rather than waiting for them to come to us.

“At the moment I’m not aware of any social media the council uses and the website is not the most fantastic either, just little things like that, even being able to make annual plan submissions and post on a Facebook page – using those mediums, simple marketing practices in the way businesses do.”

Ms Vergunst said she could see no major benefits for Carterton in any council mergers, but she was open to “any rational argument that showed it would be great for us”.

“Then I would support it,” she said.

The mother of one-year-old Malia with husband Josh Vergunst said she does not have further political aspirations at this stage.

“I’m not thinking that far ahead yet. I’m happy in my small pond, and I also have a family to look after.”

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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