Green Party co-leader James Shaw and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern both took to Victoria University of Wellington’s Kelburn campus on Tuesday to rustle up student votes, Marc Daalder reports

James Shaw graduated from Victoria University of Wellington. Jacinda Ardern dropped out.

Nonetheless, they both found themselves back in the main building of the Kelburn campus, hoping to get out the young vote as early turnout surges past the record set in 2017.

Shaw described himself as a “warm-up act” for the Prime Minister, whose expected appearance began drawing a crowd to the Hub more than an hour before her actual arrival. He took advantage of the growing audience of politically-engaged youth to make his own, mathematical pitch to would-be Ardern voters.

“Have you voted yet?” he asked student after student. The breakdown, in the end, was about 60 percent yes, 40 percent not yet. For those who hadn’t, Shaw rolled out the red-green carpet.

“A vote for the Green Party is a vote for a Jacinda Ardern-led government. And of course there is a risk that the Greens won’t make it over the 5 percent threshold and there is the possibility of a National-led government if that does happen,” he said.

“One of the things people need to know about MMP is that you add the green votes to the red votes and that’s how we form a majority.”

Ardern laughed that comment off later in the day, telling reporters, “The simplest answer of course is that voting for Labour is how you bring me in as the Labour leader. That is why, of course, we are campaigning for two ticks for our party.”

James Shaw makes his pitch at Victoria University. Photo: Marc Daalder

As Shaw worked his way through the crowd, he found what was likely to be one of the more receptive audiences of his campaign experience.

“Two ticks green!” one student shouted from across the room. Numerous others lines up for selfies and one muttered to a friend afterwards, “I can’t believe I chatted with James Shaw but didn’t get him on TikTok.”

It was Ardern, however, who stole the show. Her arrival in the crowded up (standing room only) was met with a roar of applause and cheering. She made her pitch to the young crowd by touting the Government’s fees free policy and action on climate change. She did allow that more action beyond even what Labour has promised is needed on the climate, however, in a departure from her usual campaign speech.

Ardern also highlighted Ibrahim Omer, a refugee from Eritrea who worked as a cleaner at the university before becoming a student. He’s now on the Labour Party list in the very winnable 42nd position, after working for several years as an organiser with E Tū.

After her speech, the Prime Minister spoke to reporters and fielded questions about Labour’s decision not to roll out fees-free subsidies for the second and third years at university. She said the economic situation meant the money had instead been diverted towards subsidising apprenticeships and vocational training. However, she wasn’t concerned that would hurt her with student voters.

“I think it’s wrong to assume that young people are only interested in issues that directly affect them at any given time. That has never been the case, from the exchanges I’ve had with, be it with children or young people,” Ardern said.

“They care as much about things like child poverty and climate change as they do about issues like university fees. On those issues, my pitch is that I want to keep going. None of them will be resolved in three years, but they can see our intent and what we wish to do.”

Jacinda Ardern addresses the students. Photo: Marc Daalder

Ardern indicated she was optimistic about youth turnout.

“The couple of campuses we’ve done now, the turnout has been really good. I think that actually speaks to a really engaged population. Not just our young people. I do definitely get a sense this election that turnout is solid, advance voting is solid and I’m hoping we’ll see good numbers overall for this election, which bodes well for New Zealand and our democracy.”

Shaw said more effort to get out the vote was needed – and that this would be the Green Party’s strategy for the remaining days of the election.

“That’s why we’re here, is actually to make sure that people know that they can vote and that they need to vote,” he said.

“We know that the Greens vote depends massively on turnout and also that the cannabis referendum will be won or lost on turnout. So we’re really just trying to encourage people to make sure that they actually do know that they can go vote and that they can get down to the student union building and vote now.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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