Rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Nau mai, haere mai ra ki Te Whare Kawana o Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings to you all, and welcome to Government House Wellington.
There seems to be a tradition for the Governor-General to meet with the Association of former MPs in the lead-up to a general election – in 2014, it was shortly before polling day.
This year, polling day is still some weeks away, but this reception is a good opportunity to celebrate the principles of parliamentary democracy, and to think about our individual roles in that democratic process.
As you are all too keenly aware, MPs, past and present, serve at the grace and favour of constituents in their electorates – or, post MMP – depending on party votes, as a list MP.
What does it mean for democracy if our pool of active voters is shrinking? Is this a matter of concern?
I suggest that it is.
Whatever our political persuasions, declining voter participation – especially amongst the young – means that they are not having a say in matters that will affect their future.
As the Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft noted during last week – which happened to be Democracy Week – 40 per cent of young New Zealanders did not vote at the last election – the highest percentage of any age group.
In the 2016 Global Youth Development index published by the Commonwealth Secretariat, New Zealand ranked 11th out of 183 countries – and 49th for political participation.
Why is this happening, and can this trend be halted, or even reversed?
It’s not just New Zealand that is grappling with this issue.
It’s clearly complex and requires effort – from schools, families, communities, and MPs themselves – to find out why young people don’t vote, find out what matters to them, and to make sure that they are being listened to.
I appreciate that the Association of Former MPs is attempting to do just that with its essay-writing competition.
Thank you for this initiative, and I, for one, found the winning essay provided insights and suggestions as to a way forward.
I take the point that the under 25s are probably much better informed than I was at their age, through access to on-line information, rapid delivery of news cycles, and social media. Low turnout cannot be attributed to being ill-informed.
Having said that, I believe there is a place for civics education, if for no other reason that our citizens can appreciate the precious rights they have under a parliamentary democracy.
As Barack Obama said, voting matters, and if someone doesn’t think so, they should read up on their history to see how much people had to fight to have those rights.
I am very pleased that we have a Visitors Centre here at Government House where tour groups, including school-children, learn something of the constitutional role of the Governor-General, and how it has evolved over time. It’s hard to imagine a time when Governors-General could insist on changes being made to a Bill, or forwarded legislation to England for assent.
I invite you to promote the Visitor Centre to people in your communities, along with tours of Parliament, the National Library, Archives New Zealand and Te Papa, our national institutions that together tell much about the story of our constitutional arrangements.
In the lead-up to the election, I will using my website and social media to convey my role in the process.
Acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, I will sign documents for the dissolution of Parliament and issue the writ to the Electoral Commission, requiring it to conduct the general election.
Following the election, I will summon Parliament to meet again, thereby ensuring that the country is not left without elected representatives.
Then there will be the appointment of a new government, following the election.
Forming a government is not part of my role – that is the prerogative of those who have been elected to the House of Representatives.
I do not participate in the negotiations that may be required to form a government.
Since the advent of MMP, the conventional role of Governors-General remains to ascertain where the confidence of the House lies – on the basis of the parties’ public statements – so that a government can be appointed.
As my predecessor Sir Jerry Mateparae noted, what is required is quantity and clarity: “the confidence of the House, expressed in clear and public statements”.
Whatever the outcome of this election, I hope that it will involve the broadest range of voters possible, who understand that by not voting, they would be depriving themselves of a say in their future.
I also hope that a genuine understanding and empathy for our young people, from all political parties, is reflected in an invigorated youth vote.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa