Seventeen-year-old Levi Jennings has mixed feelings about whether his peers would be up to making the most of a lower voting age, but he believes the opportunity would be worthwhile.
The Bethlehem College student from Tauranga is intent on a career in the primary sector, probably starting off as a farmer. He said he believes lowering the voting age could be a positive if voters put some thought into how they spend their vote, but he’s uncertain that will be the case.
“A lot of people just get influenced by their mates, or who they see in media who they may like the look or sound of,” Jennings said.
“On the other hand, by the time I was 17 I had paid $7000 in tax since I started working. There are policies that influence how I do my work that I would like to have a say in.”
But he also acknowledged he is probably not a typical 17-year-old in his thinking.
“Not a lot my age group are getting up in the morning, looking at the weather report, reading SunLive and Farmers Weekly, who are switched on to policies and what they mean.”
He said policies on health and safety, time off and taxation would all prompt him to want to have a say at the polling booth if the voting age was lowered.
Having studied agriculture at Bethlehem College, he is now off to Massey University to study agribusiness next year, buoyed by a $5000 Massey scholarship.
His longer term plans include building an agribusiness enterprise comprising farms, orchards and contracting businesses.
Across the Kaimai range, St Paul’s Collegiate agribusiness student Henry Crawford shares some of Jennings’ concerns about lowering the voting age.
The 17-year-old year 12 student from Auckland – who will be eligible to vote in the next election under the current age limit – spends holidays working on a relative’s farm at Te Akau, western Waikato.
“I am not sure that 16-year-olds are mature enough or have enough understanding of how the world works,” Crawford said. He would have voted under a lowered age limit, but “I suspect most would probably not take very much interest”.
The key motivators would be linked to his career plans to go farming.
“Big motivators right now are tax-related things, like the ute tax.”
His fellow school mate, 17-year-old Logan Spencer, a year 13 student, said he would definitely be keen to vote if he was given the opportunity. His decision to do so would be heavily influenced by his area of study, and career choice to be a farmer.
“I have been able to compare between National and Labour and their impacts on farming. We farm in the King Country and have seen the effect of pine forestry there,” Spencer said.
He sees this as the single largest policy related issue that would prompt him to vote.
However, he is conscious there could be a risk, namely that 16- and 17-year-old voters are more likely to be influenced by how their parents vote.
Cheyenne Wilson, the first chair of the Food and Fibre Youth Network, said the challenges rural youth face are worlds apart from those of urban youngsters, and the opportunity to vote and have an influence on things like driving licence conditions make it a worthwhile conversation to have.
“I think our young people are mature enough to make an informed decision on these things,” Wilson said.
She said there was always a risk the younger voters would be influenced by their parents’ views, regardless of where they live.
“But there are decisions being made out there today that will affect their farming careers.
“It is for this reason the [Council for the Food and Fibre Youth Network] submitted on He Waka Eke Noa, because otherwise rural youth did not have a voice on it.”