Voting age: Prime Minister Chris Hipkins not ruling out referendum

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins isn't ruling out a referendum on whether the voting age should be brought down to 16.

The voting age is in the spotlight again after thousands of teenage activists last week marched in the School Strike 4 Climate. Among their demands was lowering the voting age.

Senior Labour MP Michael Wood addressed those demands on Friday, telling AM it was something the Government was considering "in the next little while".

Wood hinted at a referendum, saying such a significant change to the voting system would likely require the public's view.

Hipkins told AM on Tuesday it was too early to say whether the matter could go to a referendum.

It follows a Supreme Court declaration late last year the current voting age of 18 was inconsistent with the right in the New Zealand Bill of Rights to be free of discrimination on the basis of age. 

"Cabinet hasn't made decisions on that, at this point," Hipkins said of a potential referendum. "There is a process underway, at the moment.

"The court has ruled that the current law - the current voting age - has not been justified by Parliament. There's now a Parliamentary process that's underway where a Select Committee's looking at that," the Prime Minister told AM host Melissa Chan-Green.

Hipkins said the Parliament Select Committee also gave the public an opportunity to have their say.

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: AM

"That process hasn't reported back so we haven't made final decisions on the best way to approach that."

New Zealand's voting age was entrenched, meaning it would require a supermajority in the House to change it without a referendum. A supermajority would require the support of National - something the party has said it would not do.

"Technically, there are two ways that you could change it - one would be a supermajority in Parliament - so a 75 percent majority in Parliament. It's clear that's not available," Hipkins said.

"The other [way] would be a referendum. The Government hasn't made decisions on which of those two options, if either, we would pursue."