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Candidates cast ballots on voting age

Wairarapa MP and Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty has hosed down an accusation from NZ First’s Winston Peters – and a letter in Saturday’s Times-Age that echoed the idea – that the government aims to “force” through a law change before the general election that lowers the voting age for local body elections.

Last week legislation to lower the voting age for council elections to 16 was tabled in Parliament, prompting Peters to claim that Labour is attempting “to force this change through before the election without Kiwis’ knowledge”.

“This is the start of a Labour Party agenda to have all election voting ages lowered,” Peters claimed, before thundering that there should be a binding referendum on the issue, “not have it decided by temporarily empowered politicians who are arrogant enough to think they know better than you”.

But that’s simply not the case, according to McAnulty.

“The government is not intending the push the bill through with urgency,” he said, and while it is possible the first reading will be debated next week, the ultimate fate of the bill will be determined by the next Parliament.

Legislation to lower the voting age for local body elections is a response to the Supreme Court declaration last year that the voting age of 18 is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, McAnulty said.

“The government was required to respond, and this response was announced publicly in November 2022, and then reconfirmed by the Prime Minister in March of this year.”

That said, McAnulty does support lowering the local government voting age to 16, having previously stated that young people should get a say on “issues that are going to affect them moving forward” and that the best way to get “more diversity” and “participation from our young” in local government “is to let them vote”.

Wairarapa electorate Green Party candidate Celia Wade-Brown, meanwhile, is full-throated in her support of lowering the voting age for both local body and general elections.

“As the Supreme Court has already ruled, it’s discriminatory not to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote,” she said, adding that “Scotland, Argentina and Austria already do”.

“Here 16-year-olds can marry, pay tax, and obtain a firearms license but not have a say in who forms the next government, Wade Brown said, while noting that “civics education will be important for young people to understand policy differences and the responsibilities of local, regional, and central government”.

National candidate Mike Butterick, however, said his party will not be supporting this legislation.

“The current age of 18 works fine and we’re not convinced there is some sudden need to change this,” he said.

“At a time when crime is skyrocketing and people feel less safe in their own communities, it’s shocking to see Labour’s main priority in the justice portfolio is to lower the voting age.

“This is not a priority for National and our focus in justice is to introduce stronger sentences for convicted criminals, provide more support for victims of crime, crack down on serious repeat young offenders, and give our police more powers to tackle gangs.”

Act will also oppose the legislation, the party’s local candidate Simon Casey said.

“Act’s view is that there is nothing wrong with the current voting age of 18 and that there are far more important issues for the government to deal with,” he said.

“Lowering the voting age is a distraction from the issues Kiwis tell us matter, like tackling the cost-of-living crisis, cracking down on crime, and ending divisive race-based policies.”

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