A Greens push to lower the ACT's voting age could succeed as Labor has indicated a willingness to consider the bill which would make voting compulsory for 16- and 17-year-olds.
But the ACT Electoral Commission is still adamantly opposed to lowering the territory's voting age, arguing there are overwhelming costs and disadvantages which would outweigh any benefits.
Both the ACT government and Labor have expressed the view that there should be consideration of lowering the compulsory voting age to 16.
The Greens proposed bill to lower the voting age is before a Legislative Assembly committee inquiry and the first hearings were held on Thursday afternoon.
The bill from crossbenchers Johnathan Davis and Andrew Braddock would make it compulsory for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in ACT elections but it would not apply to federal elections.
The bill would also reduce the fine for not voting from $20 to $10.
Early last year it appeared any bill to lower the voting age would be doomed as Labor and the Greens had different positions as to whether voting should be voluntary or compulsory for the age group.
But the Greens have shifted its policy and the bill has proposed compulsory voting. Any bill which would lower the age to 16 on a voluntary basis would need a two-thirds majority in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Mr Davis addressed the hearing on Thursday to talk up the bill. He was pressed on the shift by the Greens by the committee chair Jeremy Hanson.
"We had a really organic conversation amongst our membership about the policy challenge between mandatory and voluntary," Mr Davis said.
"There was a pretty compelling case put to me at least about the institutional and cultural value of the mandatory vote in Australia and how that reinforces the strength of our democracy.
"I think it's wonderful demonstration of a political party and people in this place, being prepared to concede that we might not have had it right at one point."
But the ACT Electoral Commission has expressed concerns about administrative burdens, inconsistencies with other jurisdictions and the imposition of fining people under 18.
ACT electoral commissioner Damian Cantwell told the hearing that the commission did not have funding for the additional staff needed for necessary school and community programs. He said the extra workload would also create stress for commission staff.
"To establish a separate electoral roll for 16- and 17-year-olds would require some additional costs and administration effort," Mr Cantwell said.
Mr Cantwell said it would put strain on the electoral commission if a large number of 16- and 17-year-olds sought to appeal their fine for voting. He also expressed concern that this would be a criminal offence.
"I want to make it clear, a failure to enrol and vote by a 16- or 17-year-old will be a criminal offence which may result in criminal court proceedings heard in the ACT Children's Court and the imposition of a fine, conviction or other sentence if found guilty," he said.
"Whilst recognising the intent behind the bill and the benefit it would offer to some in this age group... that needs to be balanced against we believe the significant negative issues that mandatory enrollment in voting would bring."
Last year the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety recommended the voting age should remain 18.
MORE A.C.T. POLITICS NEWS:
But the ACT government did not accept this recommendation in its response which was highlighted in its submission to the inquiry, written by Special Minister of State Chris Steel.
"The government is committed to increasing voter participation in the territory, and to increasing the engagement of young people in our democratic processes," Mr Steel's submission said.
"While the government appreciated the committee's consideration of the option to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to enrol and vote on a voluntary basis, the government believes there is merit in further exploring lowering the voting age within the context of compulsory voting."
ACT Labor secretary Ash van Dijk said the party believed consideration should be given to lowering age but recognised the potential criminal penalties for people under 18.
"Our policy is that we support compulsory voting above all else... but that consideration should be given to 16- to 17-year-olds to vote, noting that's not a determined position on that," he said.
A submission from Canberra Liberals divisional director Kieran Douglas slammed the bill as a "cheap vote grabbing exercise from the Greens".
"This bill is a poorly masked attempt by the Greens to increase their vote in ACT elections," Mr Douglas said in the submission.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.