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Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering Voting Age and Improving Democratic Participation) Bill 2018

Speeches in Parliament
Jordon Steele-John 21 Jun 2018

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering Voting Age and Improving Democratic Participation) Bill 2018

JSJ – Second Reading Speech

For far too long, politics has failed to properly represent young people or the issues they care about.

There are many within this place, and beyond, who think young people don’t care about our world or haven’t earned the right to participate in our society, from a perceived lack of life experience or maturity.

And, there are those who do not, or cannot, look to the future and for that reason, see young people as a threat. In fact, many in this place see the disengagement of my generation from politics as politically convenient, even ideal.

Young people need some political capital.  Young people need some leverage. There are almost 600,000 of us who are, by-and-large, deemed to be adults by our society yet we cannot participate in the decisions being made about our future.

16 and 17 year olds can work full time, pay taxes and contribute to superannuation.

They can own and drive a car, contributing through taxes and stamp duty to the maintenance of our roads and transport infrastructure.

They can legally have sex and make medical decisions about their bodies.

They can sign a rental tenancy agreement and live independently.

They can join any of our political parties – except for yours Pauline!

And, in many states can be treated as adults by our justice system.

But they can’t vote.

The rise of digital media means my generation are plugged into the 24 hour news cycle and taking part in activism. They care deeply about issues and they care deeply about the future. They don’t see politics as representative of them, but this is our problem as legislators, not theirs.

In the last few years there’s been a surge of young people making their voices heard about the issues that matter to them; Marriage Equality and #JusticeForElijah are key examples in Australia, and from a global perspective we’ve seen young people taking a lead role in movements such as #MeToo, #MarchForOurLives and #BlackLivesMatter.

My generation will have to live with the consequences of the decisions made in this place for the longest time. The fact that I am the youngest person in this place by close to a decade, and the only person under the age of 30, speaks volumes about the lack of real representation for my generation.

It’s time we recognised 16 and 17 year olds should have the right to vote because of the enormous contribution they give to our society.

Now this is not only a matter of importance for my generation, but for everyone in this place who has children and grandchildren and is concerned about the world they will inherit from us.

Your children and grandchildren will live with the consequences of the decisions we make in this place for the longest time. That is a terrifying fact!

It’s true, in Australia, that young people aged 18-25 are more disengaged from politics than other demographics.  But, they are not alone on feeling disenfranchised, particularly by this government!

Imagine if your life and your future was being shaped by others and you had no say?

Young people care deeply about issues and they care deeply about their future, it is politics that is letting them down.

It’s not hard to understand why when you consider that the average age of politicians in this place is over 51. When you consider that there are only three of us under the age of 35, yet that same age bracket – under 35s – represents more than 40 per cent of the population.

This is not genuine representation! It’s little wonder young people feel ignored by politics.

Yet the old parties – The Liberal Party, the National Party and Shorten’s Labor Party – spend most of their time squabbling over who can give the biggest tax cut, trying to buy votes at the next election, instead of implementing policies for our future!

What this bill seeks to do is lower the voting age to 16 in Australia, whilst leaving the age of compulsory voting at 18. This will serve as a grace period for young people, allowing them to familiarise themselves with our electoral process without fear of being penalised.

It will facilitate greater civics education and allow teachers to bring process – not party politics – into the classroom in a tangible way.

It will foster a culture of civic participation amongst young people, leaving them in good stead for the rest of their lives as we know that voting is a habit. We want them to form this habit early so that it stays with them.

Here’s an example. In Scotland, during the independence referendum in 2014, a decision was made to allow 16 and 17 year olds to participate for the first time.

Almost 80% of that age group turned out to vote, and that cohort now continue to turn out at much higher rates than their predecessors, who weren’t given that early opportunity.

In Austria, the 16 – 18 year old demographic has a higher level of participation than the 18 – 25 year old demographic, proving this kind of reform works.

And finally what this bill seeks to do is update our archaic electoral practices that say you are not allowed to participate on Election Day if you have not updated your details on the electoral roll. It’s 2018, and we should have enough flexibility in our system to allow people to do so at a polling place, on polling day.

It’s time to lower the voting age to 16 in Australia and show young people that we hear them, we care about their opinions and we are working for their future.






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