Inquiry to look at lowering the voting age in Australia

The state’s youth representative organisation says lowering the voting age to 16 years would allow for more youth engagement with political policies.

Youth Network of Tasmania chief executive Tania Hunt said young people should be engaged in civic life and have their voices heard on matters that affected their lives.

“Federal policy debates and decisions relating to issues including penalty rates, income support, climate change, job security and employment have significant consequences for young people now and for future generations,” she said.

She disputed notions there was a lack of maturity and political knowledge, and an apathy or disinterest in politics, among young people.

Ms Hunt pointed to research from Austria that showed when the voting age was lowered to 16 years in the country’s 2007 election, the participation rate for voters aged 16 and 17 years was higher than those ages 18 to 20 years.

A bill before parliament has proposed opening up voluntary voting for 16 to 17 year olds.

A joint standing committee will investigate the matter and report to parliament in October.

Ms Hunt said there was no longer a Youth Minister in government, a specific public office for youth, or a government-funded national body to represent youth issues.

She said youth aged between 16 to 18 years could live independently, undertake full-time work, and pay income tax.

“YNOT believes that if a young person has the right to make decisions in relation to these activities, and is legally responsible for their actions, they should be empowered to have their say and take part in our democracy through enrolling and voting in elections,” Ms Hunt said.

Young Liberals national president Josh Manuatu said while the group championed the political involvement of young people, it was against the proposal.

“We submit that this bill is a ill-designed and poorly masked attempt by the Australian Greens to increase their vote share in Australia," he said.

Mr Manuatu rejected the notion young people were not given a voice in parliament as they could advocate for policy in youth sectors of political parties.

A 2012 paper from Australian National University's Professor Ian McAllister concluded there was no evidence a lower voting age would increase political participation.

“Indeed, the evidence points in the opposite direction,” he wrote.

Constitutional expert George Williams believed voluntary voting for 16 to 18 years olds should only occur in federal elections, referendums and plebiscites. 

He said disengagement with politics was not limited to young people.

“Australians of all ages typically have low levels of knowledge about government and can express disinterest about politics,” he said.

“In my experience, 16 and 17 year olds tend to be more passionate about the future of our nation.”