It is a controversial idea, and no Australian jurisdiction is doing it yet, but a new poll has found more Australians than not support the ACT being given the right to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to enrol to vote on a voluntary basis.
The question posed by progressive think tank the Australia Institute was not about giving under-18s the right to vote, but rather whether an act of the Australian Parliament should be repealed to give the ACT the right to legislate over voluntary youth voting. States are not limited by federal legislation.
The result for late teens comes as the issue of youth representation in Australian politics is set to be debated at a virtual town hall event on Sunday.
Overall, almost half, 45 per cent, of the 1004 people polled by the Australia Institute supported the idea, with 31 per cent opposing it.
"Despite the controversy of whether or not to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, there's clear support across the country for giving the ACT its democratic rights," The Australia Institute's executive director Ben Oquist told The Canberra Times.
"This sends a message to all politicians in the Federal Parliament, that they should vote to give Canberra its democracy, 16- and 17-year-olds voting is controversial, but it's not controversial to allow the ACT its democratic rights."
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The idea is backed by the federal member for Canberra, Alicia Payne.
"My personal view is that that is something we should definitely be exploring and we will discuss it at the town hall," Ms Payne told The Canberra Times.
"I think young people have responsibilities for a lot of things. They can drive, they can pay tax, and if they can vote, that would mean that they have more of a stake in the democratic process and I think that it also would help to get more young people into parliament, if they started voting earlier."
A significant amount of people in the poll, 24 per cent, reported being unsure or did not know enough about the issue.
Younger respondents were more likely to support the idea of allowing people under 18 to enrol to vote. Just over half of those aged 18 to 49 support the ACT having the right while 37 per cent of people aged 50 to 59 support the idea, with 35 per cent opposing it. Of people aged 60 or older, 28 per cent support the idea, with 47 per cent opposing it.
"It's controversial. Not everybody supports it, but in principle there is majority support for at least, allowing the ACT the right to legislate in this area," Mr Oquist said.
"There is an issue of democracy at stake in that ACT residents should have the same rights as New South Wales residents and having their MPs allowed to debate and legislate the issue and clearly representatives in Canberra are denied the right to legislate in this area and that's wrong, wrong, wrong for democracy."
44 per cent of Coalition voters support the ACT having the right to allow voluntary youth voting, while 48 percent of Labor voters, 57 per cent of Greens voters and 43 per cent of One Nation voters support the move for the ACT.
The Member for Canberra is inviting all Canberrans, particularly younger people, to thrash out ideas for increasing youth participation, even if politics is on the nose with many.
"There is a crisis in trust in democracy and politicians at the moment, and I see it every day as a member of parliament," she said.
"I really feel that as politicians, we have a role in fixing that doing whatever we can to make sure people know we are here to listen to them and to work hard on their behalf to advocate, the things that are important to them and important to Australia's future in the Parliament."
Ms Payne's town hall event is in collaboration with the University of Canberra's Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, Ohio State University and the Australian National University.
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