Expanded civics and citizenship education is urgently needed to turn around the low voter turnout in New Zealand, the Green Party said today.
The Electoral Commission has estimated voter turnout for the 2014 election at 77.04 percent of those enrolled to vote. This does not include those who were not even enrolled, despite being eligible, with enrolment figures for this election at 91.7 percent of the voting age population, down from 93.4 percent at the last election.
"It's not ok when around one million New Zealanders don't vote," said Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei.
"Although it's too early to tell, history tells us that the group with the lowest turnout is likely to be young people.
"We must do more to get our young people engaged and excited about their right to vote. Research is clear that your first voting experience influences your voting behaviour for the rest of your life. If you don't vote in your first election, then you're less likely to vote later in life.
"A big part of addressing political disengagement is about making elections more accessible. Empowering our people with the knowledge they need to take the step to vote is a vital part of that.
"Civics and citizenship education will help to engage our young people in politics, society, and what is going on.
"The National Government had many opportunities over the last three years to take action to progress civics and citizenship education in our schools, yet little was done.
"The Electoral Commission, the select committee review into the 2011 General Election, and the public Constitutional Conversation sent very clear messages to the Government that urgent action was needed to ensure civics and citizenship education was a formal part of the New Zealand curriculum.
"The Electoral Commission, in its report into the last election, identified civics education as needing more attention as a first step to turn around the trend of declining voter participation.
"The unanimous recommendation from the select committee looking at the 2011 General Election, after the lowest turnout in over 100 years, was a request to the Electoral Commission to work with the Ministry of Education to incorporate ongoing comprehensive civics education into the New Zealand school curriculum.
"The clear recommendation to the Government from the public via the Constitutional Conversation was that we need a national strategy for civics and citizenship education in schools and in the community, and that the Government must take responsibility for the implementation of the strategy.
"Despite these clear recommendations, we've seen no policies implemented to address this issue by the National Government.
"We shouldn't have to wait for the outcome of the review into the 2014 election to tell us what we already know - that we need to expand civics education. We must act now.
"This is an urgent issue. We must ensure that it is addressed in time to increase voter turnout at the next election," said Mrs Turei.