Rangatahi around Aotearoa, including myself, were given the opportunity to represent an MP and their community in parliament over the course of three days in July. This was an awesome opportunity to give youth a voice to talk about the issues that matter most to us, where we heard our fellow members talk about topics they care about in the legislative and general debate.
Unfortunately outside of this event, the reality is that youth are not being adequately represented in Aotearoa’s democratic process. After hearing many speeches echo the same message that we need to lower the voting age to 16, I left parliament feeling confident that we need change in how young people are represented in politics.
So why 16 and not 15 or 17? Well most importantly, this would be consistent with article 21 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states ‘everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives’.
As well, at the age of 16, youth are expected to pay taxes, can consent to sex, apply for a firearms licence, drive, leave home and school – so how is it fair that we fulfil these other responsibilities without the basic human right to vote?
As the younger generations grow older and are left to deal with the consequences of climate change, the housing crisis, emerging geopolitical issues and mass immigration, it makes sense to have their voices heard now, to impact long term policy.
It is important to represent diversity of thought in our government to allow an equal and free flowing dialogue within our democracy – the voices of rangatahi who are LGBTQ+, Māori, Pasifika, or disabled are not currently being listened to with our current voting age.
It may seem like a big jump to shift from 18 down to 16, but we wouldn’t be the first country to make this change. Austria, Scotland, Brazil and Malta are among many countries who are listening to their youth and lowering the voting age. The evidence from these countries shows not only does this encourage long term voting habits, but also indicates that 16-17-year-olds have a greater voting turnout than 18-24-year-olds.
More than half of the 2022 youth MPs signed an open letter calling upon our government to lower the voting age, and I’m proud to say I’m one of them. Lowering the voting age is an issue that extends across party, demographic, class and even age.
So where to from here? There is an ongoing campaign, called Make it 16, including a petition which has gained over 6000 signatures. This group took its case to the Supreme Court in July. With local elections coming up around the country and the general election taking place next year, now is the perfect time to be putting pressure on local politicians to help represent youth in our democracy.
Willow represented Kaipara ki Mahurangi Labour List MP Marja Lubeck at last month’s Youth Parliament.