Extending the right to vote in Australia

As young people become more politically involved, there has been a renewed push to lower the voting age in Australia.

Associate Professor Mark Chou is the author of several books on this topic, including Young People, Citizenship and Political Participation.

Associate Professor Chou said there was a broad push to extend voting rights to younger Australians – something borne out by recent research.

“There is a diverse range of people talking about the need to increase the inclusivity of representation in our parliament and those we hear from at election time,” he said.

“A range of research shows that giving 16-year-olds the vote means they are more likely to enrol to vote and participate in politics than people who vote for the first time at 18 years old.

A dozen countries including Scotland, Germany, Norway, Argentina and Brazil have already enfranchised 16-year-olds. Austria was the first European country to give 16-year-olds the right to vote back in 2007.

“It’s a great opportunity to link election campaigns and voting to the civics education young people receive,” Associate Professor Chou said.

“It also gives schools the chance to help socialise young people into the act of voting and participating in politics at election time.”

Associate Professor Chou said extending the vote to younger people had the potential to change the political landscape.

“On the whole, younger people tend to be more politically progressive and favour centre-left and left political parties and movements.

“If we were to extend the right to vote to 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds at the upcoming election, I think we would be seeing an extremely different debate unfold in Australian politics.

“This campaign would be defined by debates about climate change, affordable housing, education and a range of important social issues.”

The franchise was last expanded in Australia in 1973, when then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam lowered the voting age from 21 years old to 18 years old.

A Senate inquiry in 2018 looked at lowering the voting age and received more than 100 submissions.

“I was part of that inquiry and privy to a lot of the discussions and it was really revealing how passionate younger Australians were about having the right to vote,” Associate Professor Chou said.

“It is one of the quirks of modern life that 16-year-olds can join the army, drive and pay taxes, but aren’t allowed to vote.”


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