National opposes lowering the voting age

The National Party is rejecting calls from youth to lower the voting age to 16.

A new campaign, Make it 16, has been launched in the wake of this year's Youth Parliament, which saw teenagers take over the House for two days. 

"Make it 16 is a non-partisan, youth-led campaign advocating for more people's voices to count in our democracy," said spokesperson Oli Morphew, 14. 

"People who are 16 can work full-time, consent to sex, drive a car, and own guns," said 17-year-old Molly Doyle, who stood in for James Shaw last week. "They should also be able to vote."

Even the youth MP for pensioner-friendly Winston Peters, 17-year-old Ethan Nemeroff, is keen.

"Young people need a greater voice because the long-term issues facing New Zealand are most going to affect us."

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft is in their corner, saying the school climate protests in May showed many teenagers are quite capable of understanding complex issues and having their say. 

In some ways, they may even be ahead of their adults - the Youth Parliament passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency. RNZ reported the motion, from Chloe Swarbrick's Youth MP Luke Wijohn, was met with a "swift, rousing chorus of ayes and scattered noes". Swarbrick's own motion in the real Parliament, which she tried to pass "without motion and without debate" in May, was shut down by National.

National's also keen to shut down moves to lower the age to 16. 

"Eighteen is widely considered to be the age of adulthood in New Zealand," List MP and youth spokesperson Nicola Willis told Newshub.

"You can't marry at 16, you can't buy alcohol at 16, you can't serve in the army at 16 and I don't think you should be able to vote then either."

Since last year, 16- and 17-year-olds have only been able to marry with the permission of the Family Court. 

"Parliament recognised that actually, people were potentially vulnerable to parental coercion at 16, and I think those are the sorts of concerns that many of us hold about 16-year-olds voting as well."

Sixteen-year-olds can vote in a number of countries, including Cuba, Brazil, Scotland, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Austria and Nicaragua. The country with the oldest voting age is the United Arab Emirates - 25. 

Willis said while she respects the Children's Commissioner's view, there are several ways teenagers can participate in the democratic process without being given the vote.

"That includes presenting to select committees, bringing petitions forward... it includes lobbying and petitioning their local MPs and Members of Parliament, it includes the right to protest. So I'd argue that youth should and do have a voice, but a vote isn't necessary."

Nicola Willis.
Nicola Willis. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Polls ahead of the 2017 election suggested two-thirds of Kiwi voters aged 18-34 were planning to vote for Labour and only 14 percent National, while older voters skew conservative. Newsroom polling found if the election was restricted to under-55s, Labour and the Greens would win in a landslide - but the reverse is true for those 55 and over.

But Willis rejected Newshub's suggestion this might be why National would oppose lowering the age.

"Absolutely not," said Willis. "I think there's a wonderful right of passage. You turn 18 and you're an adult, you're recognised as such by society and you have that right to vote." 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this month said lowering the age wasn't on the Government's agenda, but didn't say whether she was for or against it. 

Youth Affairs Minister Peeni Henare didn't immediately respond to Newshub's request for comment.