Scrapping of Voting Age Bill labelled 'discriminatory'

7:08 pm on 7 February 2024
Youth Parliament 2022. Wairarapa Youth MP Meg Hunter and local MP Kieran McAnulty.

Meg Hunter was a Youth MP in 2022. Photo: Supplied / LDR

A Wairarapa Youth advocate says the government's withdrawal of the Voting Age Bill is disrespectful and discriminatory.

The legislation would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in council elections from 2028, but Local Government Minister Simeon Brown recently confirmed the coalition government had dumped these plans.

He said the previous government proposed lowering the voting age to 16 "but could not provide the public with any convincing reason why".

"Their plans were without logic and we will not be progressing them," he said.

The previous government introduced the bill last year after the Supreme Court made a Declaration of Inconsistency that determined the voting age of 18 for both parliamentary and local elections was inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990, and the inconsistency had not yet been justified.

But Brown also said ratepayers and residents expected their local councils to be "sticking to core business of efficiently and effectively delivering local infrastructure and services".

"Worrying about how to implement a new voting age regime would be a costly distraction for councils who have enough issues to deal with right now."

Former Wairarapa Youth MP Meg Hunter, who submitted to the bill last year, said the decision to withdraw the Voting Age Bill "is just another example of the pattern of disrespect and discrimination against some of the least-protected groups in Aotearoa".

"The government knows that lowering the voting age increases voter turnout," she said.

"They also know that the Supreme Court has ruled not allowing 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights and they know that young people voting is dangerous, because for the government it's not about what's fair or in the public interest; a failing democracy keeps them in power."

In her submission to the bill last year, the former Kuranui College student said young people were "eager to be politically engaged and have their voices heard in matters that affect them".

She also said voting earlier in life "helps to entrench the habit of voting, leading to increased turnout in later years".

"It is also important to address the issue of age discrimination. At 16, individuals in New Zealand can already drive, consent to sex and medical procedures, leave school, work full-time, and even own firearms.

"They assume numerous responsibilities and make important life choices, but are denied the right to vote, which is a fundamental aspect of our democratic society.

"It is unjust to treat 16- and 17-year-olds differently from other adults in society when it comes to political participation."

Masterton mayor Gary Caffell has previously expressed support for lowering the voting age to 16 and South Wairarapa Mayor Martin Connelly has previously said the bill would have benefits.

Meanwhile, Carterton mayor Ron Mark has previously stressed the importance of focusing on increasing engagement and voter turnout with the current demographic.

When Carterton District Council gave its feedback to the Review into the Future for Local Government last year, it did not find favour with the suggestion of lowering the voting age to 16.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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