The average 16-year-old Australian drives a car, chooses their medical treatment, has a part-time job and pays taxes, so why can’t they vote?
The debate about lowering the voting age in Australia was reignited this week when Greens senator Jordon Steele-John announced his intention to introduce a bill to Federal Parliament to change the voting age to 16.
At just 23 years of age, Steele-John is championing the push to allow 16-year-olds to vote non-compulsorily.
“It will ensure that young people are able to involve themselves in the democratic process and that the issues that affect us as young people and shape our world are part of the Australian political frame,” he said.
Currently, Australians can enrol to vote at the age of 16 but cannot legally vote until they turn 18. In the Corio electorate alone 346 16 and 17-year-olds were enrolled to vote in December 2017.
Politicians have a history of pushing for a reduction in the voting age to no avail; back in 2015 Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten called for a reduction in Australia’s voting age and this sentiment was echoed by former Labor senator Sam Dastyari in early 2016.
The argument that 16 and 17-year-olds are not mature enough to form their own opinions fails to consider multitude of ways in which young people contribute to society.
At 16 people can leave school, become a parent, enlist in the defence forces and even get married but in Australia’s ‘democratic’ political system these people must wait two years without a political say until they reach 18 and can finally vote.
While some people believe that 16-year-olds will simply vote as their parents or teachers recommend, it is worth considering that allowing these teenagers a vote will prompt them to follow politics at a younger age. Hence, by the time they turn 18, they will have an informed political opinion.
If 16-year-olds had the right to vote they would become entrenched in electoral system and be more likely to take an interest in politics as they would be able to vote for their beliefs.
More than 1.42 million 15-to-19-year-old people enrolled to vote in Australia in December 2017, yet this age bracket has little political representation in Federal and State Parliament.
The fact that 17-year-olds can hold a pilot’s license and be responsible for an aircraft indicates the extent of young people’s capacity to hold enormous responsibility. It is baffling that a young pilot or even a driver that has other people’s lives in their hands can’t vote.
The recent student protests in America after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people prove that 16-year-olds certainly have political opinions. It is not acceptable that the only means for young people to represent their political views is via protest, rather than a legal vote. The shooting epitomises how legislation directly impacts young people who must live through school shootings, yet have no say on voting for a political party that will enact tougher gun legislation.
In 2015, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said “17,000 Australians under 18 paid more than $41 million in income tax in 2012-13”, however although these people are contributing to the country’s economic wellbeing, they are denied the right to vote on issues that directly affect them.
The Australian Electoral Commission’s national youth enrolment rate target is a mere 80 per cent. This is puzzling as the rate of youth enrolment was 81.3% in March 2016 and has since risen to 87.8% in December last year, so why isn’t the AEC aiming for more young people to enrol?
Even prisoners serving a jail sentence of less than three years are eligible to vote in Australia while tax-paying 16-year-olds cannot.
Australia wouldn’t be the first country to allow 16-year-olds to vote – the voting age has successfully been lowered to 16 in several countries including Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Scotland allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to vote and politicians in Wales, New Zealand and the United States are calling for the voting age to be lowered.
Australia’s outdated system of voting has seen no change in voting age since 1973 when it was changed from 21 to 18. Politicians must keep up with the times and recognise that 16-year-old Australians participate in society so greatly that they should have the privilege to vote.