Overseas voting in the general election opens today. Could those in Australia decide the winner?
One million New Zealanders currently live overseas, representing 20% of New Zealand’s resident population and eligible voters. Almost 70% of our offshore citizens reside in Australia, which could mean up to half a million votes in the New Zealand election.
But only 1-in-10 overseas New Zealanders vote, representing a mere 2% of overall votes cast. Yet, if every eligible New Zealander in Australia turned out, they’d be eight times the size of most electorates; and there’d be a West Island voter for every two South Islanders. So, it’s not a stretch to say that they have sway in what is set to be a very interesting election.
Every Kiwi Vote Counts (who brought you Meddle In The New Zealand Election in 2020) is once again encouraging overseas voter participation, this time with a brash Australian character, Darryl Brown, proclaiming, “This Election We’re Letting Australia Decide“.
All eyes will be on overseas New Zealanders this election. The Greens released an Overseas New Zealanders Policy – a first for New Zealand. National is actively chasing overseas votes. And the Labour-led government advocated to restore reciprocal rights for New Zealanders in Australia earlier this year.
Many keenly followed the flow of New Zealanders during the pandemic: Were they rushing home, in an unprecedented brain gain? And are they rushing off again post-pandemic, in a brain drain? But the fact is, Kiwi have always explored the world; we’ve always sought to come home in times of strife; we’ll always want to go out in the world to expand our businesses, our lives and use our talent; and many of us will come home. [Kea’s expat surveys have consistently shown a third of overseas New Zealanders intend to return to New Zealand to live, half within two years.]
The value is not just economic: though those of us returning bring back skills and ambition to innovate and grow New Zealand, and those of us at large create a global network of connections, knowledge and investment to support New Zealand. We also represent diverse and useful global perspectives, and a long-term vision for the New Zealand we want to return to. The kind of long-term thinking you’d like to see represented in our government.
As well-meaning as it may have been to rally New Zealanders during Covid, the Team of Five Million semantically excluded the million New Zealanders living offshore. And the border closure literally excluded them. New Zealand was not alone in having to make tough decisions during the pandemic (Australia’s borders were closed for two years and citizens were banned from leaving the country without permission), but the execution of New Zealand’s MIQ lottery system was a breach of trust and rights.
Recognising the disruption to travel with the pandemic, the government has extended overseas eligibility for this election from three years to six years for New Zealand citizens, and from 12 months to four years for permanent residents. The Independent Electoral Review has recommended this be extended permanently for citizens, meaning New Zealand citizens would be able to vote in every election until they die, no matter where in the world they’ve lived or for how long.
If any good might come of the pandemic, it is that we understand that to be part of the constituency, we need to participate in New Zealand’s democracy. We don’t have a voice if we don’t have a vote.
Every Kiwi Vote Counts’ endgame is not just voter turnout. We’d like to see a minister and/or ministry for overseas New Zealanders, such as Ireland has. Ultimately, we’d like to see political representation in parliament for overseas New Zealanders, as 17 other countries do, including France, Portugal and Peru. Imagine a global MP that represents you. These are paths that are possible with participation.
This election it’s never been easier to participate. You can enrol and vote online right up to the election, on October 14. You have “double the opportunity” to participate, with the extended eligibility rules in 2023. Don’t feel close enough to the issues? Policy.nz has done an extraordinary job of comparing parties, candidates and policies against the things you care about to help you decide.
Overseas voting isn’t just an opportunity for Australian New Zealanders. This is an opportunity for all New Zealanders, regardless of where you live. When you vote, you decide.