Youth MP Lily Dorrance not discouraged despite 'heartbreaking' experience

The Youth MP whose speech was interrupted by the Deputy House Speaker says while the experience was "heartbreaking", she hasn't been discouraged.

Christchurch student Lily Dorrance, 17, was delivering a speech in Parliament this week about mental health and suicide, when she was interrupted by Deputy House Speaker Anne Tolley, and told to stop reading from her notes.

Dorrance said it was a "tough topic to talk about", telling Newshub she felt like she was "put on the spot" and that Tolley's reaction "threw" her off.

"It was heartbreaking for her to then tell me my speech wasn't coming from my heart when it was so personal."

The Parliamentary Speakers' rulings state where possible, members should not read speeches. It says no member, other than the Speaker, may interrupt a member who is speaking.

Dorrance, representing National MP David Carter, told Newshub the Youth MPs were given separate Standing Orders from what the usual Members of Parliament must abide by.

"We had our own Standing Order book and it never mentioned anything about not being able to use notes. Our rules were a lot more lenient than the real MPs' Standing Orders, and we were also told to write a speech and we can read from it."

Dorrance has the support of the Prime Minister. Speaking in Melbourne, Jacinda Ardern said while the Speakers' rule exists, "it's not a rule I would've expected to carry over to a Youth Parliament".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pictured with Youth MP Lily Dorrance.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pictured with Youth MP Lily Dorrance. Photo credit: Supplied

"This was an incredibly big moment for these young people who'd prepared for a long period of time to say exactly what they wanted to say on issues that matter to them, and so I think it's absolutely to be expected that they might choose to read their speeches."

The Prime Minister said she felt it was "unfortunate" and hoped Lily was "doing okay".

Dorrance had been speaking about mental health and the "consequences of taking a precious life". She said New Zealand's mental health system is at a "crisis point".

"I am particularly alert to this issue because it was only a few months ago that I lost a friend - a classmate - to suicide."

As her speech went on to highlight the need for greater access to mental health services, Tolley, a senior National Party MP, told her, "Put your notes away and tell us what you think we need".

Deputy Speaker Anne Tolley has apologised for upsetting Lily Dorrance.
Deputy Speaker Anne Tolley has apologised for upsetting Lily Dorrance. Photo credit: Parliament TV

A fellow Youth MP tried to come to Dorrance's defence, but Tolley stood by her ruling. She said she was trying to get the 17-year-old to stop reading her notes and "tell us what you think".

Tolley has apologised over the ordeal. She told Newshub she was "sorry" if she upset anyone and said she had delivered apologies in person.

"I was trying to get them to speak 'from' their notes rather than just 'read' them in the general debate, which as you know, is a robust debate in Parliament," she said.

"I feel terrible that it upset a couple, but we heard many outstanding and passionate speeches and I certainly admire them all for that."

Dorrance said despite the affliction, she would "definitely recommend" Youth MP to others. But she has no plans to go into politics.

"I'm actually studying to be a midwife so I'm not going into politics; I just wanted my voice and the voice of youth to be heard in my speech."

Youth Parliament is held once in each term of Parliament across two days.

This year, Green MP Chloe Swarbrick's Youth MP, Luke Wijohn, moved for the Youth Parliament to declare a "climate emergency".


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