If's there's one thing that makes me switch off faster than a candle in a Wellington westerly, it's yet another hot take about which way Winston will go.

Indeed, the only responsible prediction is this: Winston is Winston. He'll go whichever way he damn well likes. Preferably with as much fanfare and as many savaged journalists trailing in his wake as possible.

For all the whinging about how a man whose party won 7.5 per cent of the vote holds 100 per cent of the power, there's a deeper conversation we should be having about the health of our democracy.

With the bigger picture in mind, Winston is the least of our worries.


Trends from the last few elections have shown a dwindling number of people voting in younger age groups, and they're not suddenly voting when they get older.

Voting is habitual behaviour, and if you don't get into the habit when you're young, it's statistically very unlikely that you'll hit 40 and suddenly develop a hankering to skip down to the ballot box.

While the breakdown of voter demographics in this election hasn't yet been released, it's unlikely that it will reveal any evidence of a significant and lasting reversal in our dismal youth voting statistics. As such, it's time to start thinking about future-proofing our democratic tradition.

As I'm no stranger to controversy, I'm just going to come out and say it. I think it's time that we talked about compulsory voting.

To me, voting is not simply a right, but a responsibility. If we enjoy the privilege of living in New Zealand, it is our responsibility as citizens to make sure that our nation is governed by the parties that truly represent the will of the people.

Only 78 per cent of eligible voters had a say this year. That's nearly a quarter of us who had no input into the team that will lead our country for the next three years. That's not good enough.

Voting is one of the few things that Australia does better than we do, and that really bugs me.

If you decide not to vote in Australia, you have to provide a good reason, or face a $20 fine or prosecution. As a result, 91 per cent of Australians had their say in the 2016 election.


Former Prime Ministers Jim Bolger, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Mike Moore have all supported the idea of New Zealand following Australia's lead and introducing compulsory voting, and indeed, more than 20 other countries around the world also have compulsory voting systems.

There are arguments against compulsory voting and perhaps the most compelling is the impact such a rule would have upon the Treaty-guaranteed right of Māori to assert tino rangatiratanga (absolute sovereignty).

While voting within a colonial system is not a perfect fit by any stretch of the imagination, imagine the impact Māori could have collectively if we became a significant and growing group of voters.

Equally, however, there's no reason why - if we followed the Australian model - a desire to assert tino rangatiratanga couldn't be officially recognised as a valid reason to justify a decision not to vote.

I'm not saying that I think people should be forced to cast a vote for the sake of it if they don't feel that they can support any of the parties or the candidates - voters should always have the option to "spoil" their votes.

I would imagine, however, that many would feel that if they had to go to the voting booth anyway, they may as well vote.

Another important step we should take to safeguard the future of our democratic society is one I've written about before. I'm a strong supporter of lowering the voting age to 16 and implementing civics education in our curriculum.

If young Kiwis formed the voting habit while still at school, we'd likely see our youth turnout statistics rise almost immediately.

Also, when faced with a whole new demographic of voters, politicians would finally have to take young people's concerns seriously.

I would theorise that the impact on environmental policy would be particularly profound, as politicians who will be dead when the worst ravages of climate change sweep the planet would be forced to do more than pay lip service to tokenistic environmental policy - or face the consequences on election day.

Whatever the methods, it's time that we created a culture in which voting was an expectation for all, rather than an exercise in self-selection. The voices of the missing 22 per cent are just as important as those of the people who showed up to the ballot box, and it should concern us all that they're not being heard.

And as for those who argue that compulsory voting might skew the vote one way or another (which is a illogical argument given it would essentially involve bemoaning a truer representation of our society than our currently older-skewed voting population), Australia's pendulum swinging political landscape suggests that the will of the people can go either way, no matter how many people vote.

Because that's what democracy is really about. The people. Ngā tāngata. Not Winston. Not just the 78 per cent who voted. All of us.