Pondering the vote: Dickson College students, (left to right) Lara Roche, Andrew Palm, Filip Pantic, Laurence Thomas and Joseph Buckmaster. Photo: Jay Cronan
In Indonesia and East Timor 17-year-olds can cast a ballot - but Australian teenagers should be made to wait, an Australian National University academic says.
Professor Ian McAllister said his study, The Politics of Lowering the Voting Age in Australia: Evaluating the Evidence, released on Thursday, found allowing 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to vote would not make youth more politically engaged or create a fairer democratic system.
The study prompted the Greens to compare the disenfranchisement of 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds with laws denying women the vote, and to call on the federal children's commissioner to discuss with young people the value of lowering the voting age.
Professor McAllister used data from the Australian Election Study survey to evaluate some of the top arguments for giving 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds the vote.
He said Australians did not generally gain the right to marry and drive until they were 18 years old, so a similar rule on voting age was equitable.
He said there was no evidence young people would become more engaged with the political process if the voting age was lowered, and more access to tertiary education had not changed levels of political interest among young people.
''You'd expect young people to be more interested in politics, but in fact they're not,'' he said.
But Greens democracy spokeswoman Senator Lee Rhiannon said 16-year-olds could pay tax, leave home, work and join the defence forces, and should have the right to express their views at the ballot box.
''Once upon a time, dare I say people like the professor would have said women don't deserve the right to vote … life has moved on and I think we need to be always strengthening our democracy,'' she said.
At Dickson College, year 12 student Joseph Buckmaster, 17, said he would have liked to vote in last year's ACT election, because he had opinions on which party he wanted and did not want to form government.
But he said many of his peers were less politically engaged.
''I've got friends who've turned 18, and they don't want to vote in the federal election; they don't really care that much about the election at all,'' he said.
His classmate Lara Roche, also 17, said while she would like to be able to vote, it was probably better to leave the legal voting age at 18.
''I think the majority of 16 and 17-year-olds probably aren't engaged enough to make accurate decisions about their beliefs in voting,'' she said.
Filip Pantic, 17, said if 16-year-olds were allowed to participate many would submit donkey votes.