With the general election just two weeks away, reporter Anne-Marie Mcdonald speaks with some of Whanganui's youngest and oldest voters.

Frankie Wilcox has voted in a general election 25 times. The 94-year-old still remembers the first time she voted.

"We lived on a farm at Paparangi, and we were so far from any polling booth that someone used to come and collect our votes."

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Graeme Lawless, 86, remembers lively election days at the tiny Otago settlement of Macraes Moonlight, where he was the principal at the local school. "Election day was a big day in the community. The election was held in the community hall and it was a real social event. I ran the polling booth there for a while, and there were a couple of occasions when I had to round up everyone up from the pub to go and vote."

(Top Row Left to Right) Graeme Lawless, Ray Murdoch, Bruce Gollan. (Bottom Row Left to right) Frankie Wilcox, Julia Murphy.
(Top Row Left to Right) Graeme Lawless, Ray Murdoch, Bruce Gollan. (Bottom Row Left to right) Frankie Wilcox, Julia Murphy.

Graeme and Frankie live at Jane Winstone retirement village, and they, with fellow residents Julia Murphy, 86, Bruce Gollan, 85, and Ray Murdoch, 88, sat down recently to chat with the Wanganui Chronicle about voting.

It's obvious from the start that all five are cynical about politics and politicians.

"As long as I've been voting the politicians have been saying the same things," Graeme says. "The same things come up every election - education, hospitals, housing - but we don't seem to have made any improvement. Things don't change very much at all."

Julia agrees. She believes politicians "just burble".

"I haven't seen much creative policy from politicians over the years. I don't think they think much about what is good for the country - they all just want the top job."

For most of their lives, they voted under the old first-past-the-post electoral system, in which voters only had one vote (compared to MMP's two votes).

"I don't like MMP," Bruce says. "I don't like the party lists. If you want to be a politician, you should have to put yourself up for election."

Frankie is the only one who expresses any positive sentiment towards politicians.

 Frankie Wilcox Photograph by Lewis Gardner.
Frankie Wilcox Photograph by Lewis Gardner.

"I'm quite happy with things as they are now. I think the country is going along pretty well."

Yet they all agree that voting is an important civic duty. Bruce says he'd like to see more people vote, especially young people.

"You have to decide whether you want the government to spend money, or tighten things up. And if they do spend money, what do you want them to spend it on?"

For Ray, the most important issue this election is how New Zealand's water assets will be managed.

"I'm not a greenie, but I'd like to see a government that would pass a law saying that absolutely no water for bottling purposes will be exported from New Zealand.

"You can export all the wine and beer and whatever you like, but not water. It's too important."

Of the five, Frankie is the only one who has consistently voted for the same party - the rest have all changed their voting allegiance at some point.

"I like to think that I vote with the good of the country in mind," Ray says. "I've never thought, 'oh, that party is going to give me an extra $100 a week, so I'll vote for them'."

There are mixed opinions from the group when asked about Winston Peters' superannuation overpayment. It was recently revealed that the New Zealand First leader - known for his championing of elderly people's causes - had been overpaid the pension. He was paid at the single person's rate, when he has a partner. It's not yet known how the overpayment happened.

"If my pension was being overpaid, I probably wouldn't know," Ray says.

"But Winston is making the most out of it that he can," Bruce adds.

The five enjoy talking politics with their friends, although the subject of "who do you vote for?" is definitely taboo.

"For our generation, voting is a very private thing," Julia says. "To this day, I don't know who my parents voted for. They kept it quiet because they believed they shouldn't influence who I voted for."

Graeme says he has become more cynical about politics as he has aged.

"As I get older, I'm wanting to see the fine print more. A party makes a promise: now tell me how you are going to achieve that, and how long is it going to take?"

* * * *
Caius Wrigglesworth, 19, Penny Lilburn, 18, McKenzie Tunua, 18, and Jack Southee, 18, will be voting for the first time at this election. Caius is a draughtsman, while Penny goes to Wanganui Collegiate, and Jack and McKenzie are students at Whanganui High School.

All four have enrolled to vote, and they intend to vote - but they haven't yet decided who to vote for.

So, as young people preparing to vote for the first time, what's important to them this election?

The environment and conservation stand out as major issues.

"I know there are a lot of other important issues like the economy and housing," Caius says. "But for me, at least, I feel like we're not paying much attention to conservation. We still have that idea in our heads that New Zealand is such a green country; but in reality, we're letting it go."

McKenzie Tunua.
McKenzie Tunua.

McKenzie agrees that conversation and environment are important, but likes aspects of both major parties' policies in this area.

Jack is also concerned about the environment. He's also interested in policies that have long-term benefits rather than short-term gain.

"I'm talking about things like climate change, and actually implementing things that will address that; also incarceration and rehabilitating people back into society. Obviously our current prison system isn't working because people are still committing crimes.

"There's been a lot of talk in this election about Labour raising taxes. But I think with a lot of the big issues, like roading, housing, the environment, there is an expectation that government will pay for these things because we all reap the benefits of them."

Home for Penny is a farm near Hunterville, so she is concerned about Labour's proposed tax on the use of water for commercial purposes.

"For people who use irrigation it could cost up to half of their annual income. I think Labour do have some good policies around the environment and conservation, but because of the water tax policy I couldn't see myself voting for Labour."

All four agree that voting is important.

"Whether you vote or not, everyone is affected by what the government does," Caius says. "So you might as well vote."

"I'm only 18 now, but by the time the next election comes around I'll be 21, and that's when government policies will really start to affect me," Penny says.

"I think older generations vote for what benefits them in the short-term," McKenzie says. "But people of our generation will be living with decisions made by the government for much longer."

Jack says while voting is important, many young people think their vote doesn't count.

"It's easy to think that you're just one vote, and that's really insignificant and won't change a thing. But the way I see it is that you can't complain about what the government is doing unless you vote."

But they admit a lot of their friends have no interest in politics.

"In my group of friends, there's two others who are interested," Penny says. "The rest are enrolled, but they're not interested, and they won't vote."

Jack Southee.
Jack Southee.

Caius thinks a lot of young people are apathetic because of the medium through which politics is presented.

"People of my age aren't going to watch the debates on television, or listen to the radio. They might see something on Facebook, but they're not going to click on the link to read it."

All four believe more needs to be done through schools to teach young people about politics and voting.

"I've really learned nothing at school," McKenzie says. "Everything I know about politics has come through my own research, or talking to people."

Jack believes politics should be a compulsory subject at school.

"Schools do implement compulsory subjects, so it could it done. I think it's what needs to happen. If it was an optional subject, only those who are already interested will take it."

All four are enthusiastic about Labour's plan to introduce civics and driver's licence classes in school.

"I really think this all needs to start at school. We need to look at how we are educating the next generation," Jack says.