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Greens look into lowering voting age despite study results

Pondering the vote: Dickson College students, (left to right) Lara Roche,  Andrew Palm,  Filip Pantic, Laurence Thomas ...

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.


  • There is no age at which an informed vote is guaranteed so it is fair to choose an age at which an informed view is possible. Certainly 16 year olds are capable of reading enough to make decisions as well as most of us do.
    Also, my 16 year old daughter pays tax so "no taxation without representation" is an appropriate guideline there.
    And if your are old enough to die for your country, or to kill for it, how can casting a mere vote be beyond you?
    (This is a pretty dodgy piece of journalism- were you reporting on the Greens policy or this particular study? and in either case why were both of the expert witnesses upstaged by anecdotes?)

    penny vos
    Date and time
    April 05, 2013, 5:11PM
    • Not much info here on the study, but from what is written if the main concern is political engagement, surely it's worth mentioning that this is a chicken and egg problem? Surely some significant portion of young folk will not be politically engaged before they are given any say and while they are disenfranchised. Further, surely they won't be politically engaged until they feel a sense of interest and empowerment that they should receive at school, through possibly mandatory politics courses, in which you'd learn how our electoral system works, the history of the major players and perhaps engage in some debates. There is nothing about that which is intrinsically unappealing and if a (mandatory) course over two years were dedicated to it in school a whole generation of people who feel engaged politically may emerge.

      Catch 22: no-one in power has any interest in this as young people by their nature will lean predominantly left, and kick the status quo. What part of being a teenager is not about challenging the status quo? To quote Georges Clemenceau: My son is 22 years old. If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then.

      And the left will of course similarly, always support the youth vote.

      In precisely the same way the powers that be opposed the suffragettes, because women voting could only cost them power. So too, they will never mandate politics courses until parents demand it.

      Date and time
      April 05, 2013, 5:45PM
      • Greens would win far more votes because school kids have environmentalism drummed into them at school. Then they vote for the greens the first time they vote because lets face it Labor and Liberals don't care at all about the environment. They want to give miners free reign to do whatever they want to make their budgets look good. After they see (the new voters) how badly the greens do after their first vote they give up and vote for one of the lack luster big parties from then on. The problem with the greens (don't get me wrong I actually do like a lot of their policy) is that some of their policy is too radical like the carbon tax, or their views are too liberal eg boat people stance. I protest probably more than anyone on CSG Mining and I'm all in favour for the environment. I must admit I did prefer the Greens when Bob was in charge! I do think Greens Senator Larissa Waters does a fantastic job too! As for donkey votes - you get them when there are donkeys in charge I'm afraid. Some people would prefer to go fishing than waste a weekend at the polling booths. It should not be compulsory. Particularly when the nation just follows the crowd on their votes for the same nonsense time and time again! If they are paying taxes though I suppose it would only be fairer if sixteen year old's were able to vote!

        Date and time
        April 06, 2013, 2:37PM
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