David Clark | Issue 20

David Clark | Issue 20


Australians deem it important enough to make it an offence if you don’t vote. Across the ditch you get levied with a fine if you fail to cast a vote. I’ve often thought a reward to recognise the time and effort taken might be better—maybe a $50 tax-credit? Even without these measures, New Zealand has a voter participation rate the envy of many larger democracies. Voting is habit-forming. Studies show those who start early, vote more often.

But voter turnout for the under 30 age group is lower than turnout in older groups. This mirrors trends overseas. We know, for example, that Brexit would never have happened if age groups had turned out in equal proportions in the UK. 

Brexit and the Trump phenomenon are being seen by many political observers as a response to a general disaffection with mainstream politics. It is possible that our proportional electoral system (MMP) contributes to New Zealand’s higher level of engagement and lower level of cynicism. Parliament is likely to be more representative when there are a variety of parties with wide-ranging views in the mix.

Having proper representation is important because Governments have a huge impact on our everyday lives.

The impact of central government is wider than many realise. Your representatives in Wellington decide how much tax you will pay, whether and where highways are built (and maintained), and whether hospitals, schools and Universities are adequately funded. Decisions made in parliament about the structure of the economy have a big effect on whether housing is affordable and whether you’re likely to find a job in the area you’re interested in. Central Governments decide when a country goes to war, who can consume what substances, and whether climate change is tackled. They even decide who has the right to marry.

Local Governments are responsible for some of the things most elemental to modern living: water, including wastewater, rubbish collection and pest control. They also set the ‘tone’ of the town you live in. Imagine Dunedin without the stadium, Moana Pool, the Museum, the revamped warehouse precinct or the Chinese Gardens. Local Government in Dunedin also grants the University a vast rates exemption so it can deliver more to students for less. 

Decisions made by Governments have an effect on generations to come. I hope you will take up the challenge and be a voter in the coming council elections. Future students will thank you.

This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2016.
Posted 12:58pm Sunday 21st August 2016 by David Clark.