7 Apr 2017

Former PMs support compulsory voting in NZ

From Morning Report, 8:24 am on 7 April 2017

Three former Prime Ministers, Jim Bolger, Mike Moore and Sir Geoffrey Palmer want New Zealand to follow Australia's lead and introduce compulsory voting.

Ex-Prime Ministers Jim Bolger, Mike Moore and Geoffrey Palmer

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Jim Bolger hasn't always been convinced by compulsory voting.

But falling turnout around the world has given the former National prime minister cause for thought

"Why do a sizeable proportion think it's not worth while? I'm wondering whether, in fact, it's not a requirement of citizenship that you vote. You can deface your vote if you like, but you have, at least, come up and said "I don't like any of them'".

The policy's also found favour across the aisle with former Labour prime ministers, Mike Moore and Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

Sir Geoffrey says democracy in the Western world is in crisis.

"Hardly anyone votes. Are they turned off by it? Do they think it doesn't matter? If you are going to live in a democracy which is supposed to be conducted by the people for the people then the people should have some duties. They should participate and they should vote."

Bill English & Jacinda Adern don't think voting should be compulsory.

Bill English & Jacinda Adern don't think voting should be compulsory. Photo: RNZ

But the country's current leader, Bill English, isn't swayed by his predecessors' pleas.

"New Zealand's never had compulsory voting. Part of the job of politicians is to persuade people it's worth voting. Get out and vote!"

Labour last year suggested it was worth considering making voting compulsory in local body elections.

But its deputy leader, Jacinda Ardern, is now pouring cold water on the idea.

"It certainly doesn't make people feel more engaged or fix issues around whether or not they understand some of those differences and what political parties are offering."

Australia's had compulsory voting for almost a century. But, in New Zealand, it's compulsory to register to vote - but voting itself is optional.

Jennifer Curtin

Jennifer Curtin Photo: Supplied

Jennifer Curtin, an Associate Professor in Politics and International Relations at Auckland University, told Morning Report she supports compulsory voting.

"It gets parties to focus more on policies rather than selling some kind of platitude or message because they realise they're not just talking to their own base."

Last election, 77 per cent of the 3 million people (3,140,417) enrolled cast a ballot.

That compares to 91 per cent in Australia last year - where non-voters face a 20 dollar fine.

The former Prime Ministers shared their views with RNZ as part of the 9th Floor, a series of interviews with all the living Prime Ministers before John Key.