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Caeden Tipler makes their own history with Make It 16

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While Caeden Tipler​ was sitting a history exam at Auckland’s Selwyn College, they​ were making history of their own.

It was only when the 17-year-old left the exam and turned on their phone that it all fell into place.

“I was flooded with notifications,” they said this week.

“It was all very exciting. But I definitely think there are moments like that where it’s kind of crazy, where I’m feeling like I’m almost living two parallel lives of trying to balance exams and NCEA with what I’m doing outside of school.”

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That outside-of-school stuff involves the group Make it 16, which succeeded in persuading the Supreme Court to declare that the current voting age of 18 is unjustified discrimination, on the basis of age, under the Bill of Rights Act.

Make it 16 co-director Caeden Tipler outside the Wellington Supreme Court after the ruling that a voting age of 18 was unjustified discrimination.

KEVIN STENT/Stuff

Make it 16 co-director Caeden Tipler outside the Wellington Supreme Court after the ruling that a voting age of 18 was unjustified discrimination.

There is still an uphill battle ahead. Only Parliament can change the voting age and that comes with a huge proviso – a change in the voting age will require 75% of MPs to support it and National and ACT have already spoken out against it.

But, regardless of age and whatever lies ahead, the Supreme Court ruling was a huge win, even if co-director Tipler probably won’t be able to vote in a general election for some time yet.

That is, unless the Government pushes through a legislation change before the 2023 election – the exact date is yet to be announced – or runs the election after Tipler turns 18 in October.

While a change in the general election voting age may be a mountain, a change for local body elections is merely a steep hill, as it needs only a majority vote. Already, Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau has voiced her support, as have numerous other councillors and candidates.

Make It 16 campaigners Caeden Tipler and Anika Green leave the Wellington Supreme Court after this week’s ruling.

KEVIN STENT/Stuff

Make It 16 campaigners Caeden Tipler and Anika Green leave the Wellington Supreme Court after this week’s ruling.

“It sounded interesting”

Tipler’s journey to this point started in Auckland, where they were born and still live. But from the ages of 6 to 11, they lived in Singapore for four years, then Amsterdam for a year.

“Singapore was obviously an amazing place to live. And I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have lived there.

“But I think we’re lucky in New Zealand to have a government that defends our human rights in the way they do. Obviously we still have a long way to go to get where we need to be.

“That’s why I’m campaigning for making it 16 … I really do appreciate the value of democracy.”

It was participation in that democracy that was denied just a couple of months ago in the recent local body elections, which delivered Wayne Brown to the Auckland mayoralty.

Make It 16 campaigners outside the Supreme Court. From left, Anika Green, Ella Flavell, Caeden Tipler, Caitlin Taylor and Lily Lewis.

KEVIN STENT/Stuff

Make It 16 campaigners outside the Supreme Court. From left, Anika Green, Ella Flavell, Caeden Tipler, Caitlin Taylor and Lily Lewis.

“It was so frustrating that I couldn’t vote when I did have such an understanding of everything that was being discussed and I cared so much about local government policy.”

This week Tipler was on the steps of the Supreme Court in Wellington to front a media scrum in the wake of the judgment.

They were articulate, to-the-point, measured. They seemed, in short, to have the composure of one of those rare politicians for whom public speaking is natural talent, not a trained skill.

Soon, international media BBC and Al Jazeera were calling, as too were local media.

“Coming to get to know that this Supreme Court decision has significance on an international level is obviously massive,” Tipler says.

Breakfast

Youth MP Caeden Tipler says the majority of their peers signed an open letter calling for the voting age to be lowered. (First published July 21, 2022)

“We are part of a global movement of people trying to lower the voting age and we hope that the decision of our Supreme Court will have impacts in places like the US and Canada and England.”

Tipler was inspired in part by another notably young politician.

Chlöe Swarbrick was just 22 when she announced she was running for Auckland mayoral in 2016 and, while she didn’t win, by the next year she was a list MP and, in 2020, she became only the second Green to win an electorate seat in Parliament – Auckland Central, no less.

Friends of Tipler’s were involved in that 2020 campaign. “They invited me along to go door-knocking and I thought it sounded interesting.”

Chlöe Swarbrick was 22 in 2016 when she became the youngest Auckland mayoralty candidate by a long shot.

Alastair Lynn/Stuff

Chlöe Swarbrick was 22 in 2016 when she became the youngest Auckland mayoralty candidate by a long shot.

And it proved to be. Tipler became increasingly involved in what would become a historic campaign.

“I felt like by the end of the election, I think [I knew] just as much as the adults around me.

“When I had conversations with my friends about things we cared about, like climate change and the cannabis referendum at the time, I felt like my friends knew as much as adults around us.

“So I became pretty frustrated that I couldn’t vote.”

National's Judith Collins was challenged over the party leadership after a clash with Simon Bridges.

Ella Bates Hermans/Stuff

National’s Judith Collins was challenged over the party leadership after a clash with Simon Bridges.

“We’re not being taken seriously”

At 14, Tipler faced the reality that a vote in the general election wouldn’t fall until 2026.

“I felt like I had just as much of a stake in the future of the country … so I pretty much complained to everyone around me about it until someone suggested that I look into joining the Make It 16 campaign.”

Their dedication to the cause was further ignited when National leader Judith Collins was asked by Aorere College​ head girl Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Tapua’i​ what leaders would do for students dropping out of low-decile schools due to the economic pressures of Covid-19.

Collins responded: “Well, Fili, I understand actually, my husband is Samoan, so talofa, and he was actually taken out of school when he was 15.” The words “my husband is Samoan, so talofa” went on to become an internet meme.

But for Tipler the moment was not amusing: “We can’t vote and this was really the one time we were taken seriously – and it was turned into a meme.”

Caeden Tipler outside the Supreme Court in July.

MONIQUE FORD/Stuff

Caeden Tipler outside the Supreme Court in July.

“Anything can happen in the blink of an eye”

Father Shaun Tipler says the family can hear Caeden’s multiple media interviews through the walls at home.

“It is just the confidence, and the passion is such a driver of it,” he says.

To say he is proud is probably redundant. Possibly more relevant is that Caeden has converted him – “a middle-aged white guy” – and their grandparents to the cause.

“I like that it is arguing facts.”

There was little clue of what was coming when Caeden was growing up, except perhaps a heightened understanding – brought about by travel – of the unfairness in society.

Caeden Tipler and the Make It 16 group hope younger people will be able to go to the polling booths still.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff

Caeden Tipler and the Make It 16 group hope younger people will be able to go to the polling booths still.

But then, in the 2020 election, there was Caeden, 14, out door-knocking.

“Of course you are concerned,” Shaun says. “Anything can happen in the blink of an eye.”

There were safety precautions – Caeden was picked up and delivered from night meetings at Swarbrick’s Karangahape Rd offices. But against that was an important consideration: “Let them express themselves.”

Surely, any parents would be concerned about a teenager taking on constitutional change at the same time as NCEA exams?

“Initially, my mum was kind of hesitant about me doing media,” Tipler says. “I remember when I was 15. I went on the AM Show with Duncan Garner. My mum, she was so nervous because she had no idea what was going to happen, but it ended up going really well.

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau has been a staunch supporter of the Make it 16 campaign.

JUAN ZARAMA PERINI/Stuff

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau has been a staunch supporter of the Make it 16 campaign.

“I think since then, my parents have never doubted me and I really don’t take that for granted … the privilege I have to be doing this political campaigning is education in itself and it’s an extension of the education I’m getting in high school as well.”

While Tipler’s parents are among their biggest supporters, it is their 15-year-old brother, Tom, who is a leading inspiration. He was recently working on a year 10 class speech on lowering the voting age.

“Some of the points he came up with blew even me away. And I think that just shows we need to listen to current rangatahi on this issue, even if they don’t consider themselves political.”

Tipler was recently in an exam writing about the Constitution Act 1852, which gave the vote to males aged 21 or over who owned, leased or rented property. Now, 170 years on, Tipler stands on the latest chapter of history.

“Sixteen and 17-year-olds, we’re told we’re not smart enough to vote.

“We’re told we’re not mature enough to vote, and everything else.

“But 18-year-olds were told the same thing, 20-year-olds were told the same thing. Going back 200 years, women were told the same thing.

“And people who didn’t own land were told the same thing.”

Surprisingly, Tipler has no ambitions to become a politician. They are thinking of leaving school this year and have applied for a discretionary entrance into university next year. After seeing the changes the law can make, a career in law is looking pretty good.

“I don’t think this will be the last human rights law campaign that I’m a part of.”



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