Why should you give a damn?

Paula Bennett, Former Deputy Prime Minister

15 July 2023

Having once won an election by just 9 votes, Paula Bennett has a clear message for voters. Watch as she unpacks why your vote matters and shares how to decipher the PR spin from political party policies.

Are you a spectator or a participant? Do you get involved? Do you give a damn?

I never wanted to merely be an observer of other people doing things. I wanted to get involved. I had the Kiwi attitude of “give it a go”. I was no good at sports, so I wasn’t going to be any good at participating in team sports. I found my participation in my former career in politics. I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and criticise other people. I wanted to get in there and try and make a difference.

This year we need everyone to get involved. It is election year. At the last election around 82% of eligible people voted. We can do better than that.

Too often, I hear from people who don’t vote or don’t give any thought into their vote. 

We have one of the best democracies in the world. I know, far from perfect, but there are still countries that are undemocratic. Your vote is equal to mine. When it comes to casting our vote we are all equal. 

I hear people say that they don’t think their one vote will count. Well, it does. I once won my seat by 9 votes. Literally, 9 people decided whether it was me or Carmel Sepuloni who would be their local MP. Their vote counted.

I hope that I have convinced you to vote. Now you have to think about how you will vote. 

There is so much PR spin on everything that a government or potential government does that it is hard to know what to listen to and what to believe. Often more thought goes into what to call a policy announcement than the actual policy itself – Three Waters, or Ten Waters would be a great example of that.

So what’s important to you? Is it education? Health? Infrastructure or the cost of living? Do you worry about crime spiralling out of control?  For me, it is all of that and more. It’s about having a New Zealand where people have opportunities to get ahead. Where we are optimistic about the future and I get really passionate about the Kiwi sense of fairness. 

More and more, we are becoming a divided country. Whether it is the haves and have-nots. Those that attend school regularly and those that don’t. A health system that now actively encourages people to get private healthcare because the public system can’t cope. That’s not fair. Might not be fair to those that have to pay privately, but more importantly, it is not fair on those who can’t.

We used to have a country where through determination and hard work, you could get ahead. Education was a great leveller, the welfare system was mainly there for people to temporarily use until they found their feet again. Getting much-needed surgery wasn’t a luxury but a right. We believed in each other and celebrated others getting ahead. 

I want my leaders to pull us together, to give us that sense of Kiwi pride. I want them to get the basics right and deliver to us the kind of New Zealand we had and can have an improved version of now.

You are going to have a lot thrown at you over the next few months. The keyboard warriors will be out in force. Those with their own agendas will try and influence your vote. Now, you are going to have to do some research yourself. Don’t rely on the media, as they predominantly work on soundbites. Look at what the political parties are offering. Read and compare their policies. Go to a public meeting. Listen to the debates.

Give a damn because your vote counts.

I’m Paula Bennett, Former Deputy Prime Minister, for The Common Room.


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Alex Penk: Has politics become all tip and no iceberg?

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