To be eligible to vote in Australia you currently have to be 18 years old, but that could be set to change as the issue of lowering the threshold to 16 is set to be discussed in Canberra on Wednesday.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will meet today to discuss the bill, which was introduced by Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John in June and proposes lowering “the minimum (non-compulsory) voting age in Australian federal elections and referenda from 18 to 16 years”.
Ahead of that committee meeting though, a debate took place on Channel Seven’s breakfast show Sunrise as veteran broadcaster Alan Jones went head to head with Macquarie Radio’s Justin Smith on the issue, as presenter Sam Armytage asked for their views on the topic.
“This is ridiculous,” Jones began. “These young people have got enough on their plate. I noticed many of the people surveyed said ‘Look it’s all too much, we’re trying to pass exams and learn and all the rest of it. We don’t want to worry about who should be voted for and who shouldn’t be voted for’.
“The biggest argument that this electoral committee should be on about is whether a, voting should be compulsory for anybody. And b, whether we should have a preferential voting system whereby someone like Kerryn Phelps gets 29 per cent of the vote and Dave Sharma gets 43 and he comes second and she comes first.
“There are other more important things to discuss.”
Smith then chimed in on the issue, adding that his own teenage daughters are “incredibly engaged” when it comes to current affairs. He said: “I’ve got a couple of daughters around that age and one thing that does stun me is how incredibly engaged they actually are. Now whether they should be voting or not is probably another thing, but they’re informed, they’re engaged, they want to know things.
“They suck up information a lot better than many other people who are permitted to vote in this country.”
However, he then questioned the “self interest” of the political party that proposed the bill, the Greens, adding: “There is one thing in this world you can rely on and that is self interest. The Greens will do very well out of 16- and 17-year-old voting. It is the only reason – the only reason – that they are actually putting this up. So I’d be very wary for that reason alone.”
Sunrise viewers were divided on the issue, with many suggesting that if the voting age was lowered, then the age of consent for drinking alcohol, along with the age that criminals can be tried as an adult could also be lowered. One said: “You would need to change the age for a lot of things if you do this, can’t be considered an adult at 16 to vote but an adult at 18 to drink? Must be one age for everything.”
While another wrote: “When 16-year-old criminal is to be trial as minor then they clearly r not fit to vote. We seem to have a law for one and a law for another. Start putting teenage criminals on trial as an adult then we can discuss whether to lower the voting age [sic].”
However, others agreed that 16-year-olds should be given a say in electing their government representatives, with one 16-year-old saying: “As a 16-year-old – yes. However, I don’t think it should be compulsory. As someone who is really into politics its pains me that I don’t have a voice.”
Another said: “Why the hell not? If they are old enough to work and pay tax, they are old enough to have a say in the future of our country.”