The news that New Zealand’s Parliament will consider a proposal to lower the voting age to 16 has prompted talk about whether the same should happen in Australia.
This week, Independent MP Dr Monique Ryan announced she would push Parliament to do so, joining the Greens in support of the idea. Dr Ryan told TDA she thought it was “pretty clear that it’s a reasonable thing to do.”
In 2018, the Greens introduced a Bill to Parliament calling to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds on an optional basis (and retain compulsory voting from 18).
The idea was considered by a cross-party committee, which did not support the Greens’ Bill but did not specifically reject the general principle either.
The Labor Party said at the time its main concern was that the vote should be compulsory, not optional, but that “in principle, we agree… that 16 and 17-year-olds are as capable of participating in elections as older Australians.”
Advocates point out there are many other ‘adult’ activities 16 and 17-year-olds are able or required to do.
For example, 16-year-olds can work full time and pay tax, 17-year-olds can drive in some states, and the age of sexual consent is either 16 or 17 in every state and territory.
A small number of countries allow 16-year-olds to vote, including Cuba and Brazil.
Dr Monique Ryan says it is “simply not true” that 16-year-olds are less cognitively capable to vote than 18-year-olds. “Based on the medical and educational literature, it’s pretty clear,” she told TDA.
Dr Ryan says allowing people to vote for the first time while they are usually still at school could make them more politically engaged throughout their adult life.
“The period between 18 and 24 is a period of significant instability in young adults’ lives…  is probably a good time to give people a grounding in voting and being a responsible adult engaged in the adult system.”
She also argues 16 and 17-year-olds have a right to vote on matters that affect them.
“Many of the decisions we make obviously affect them… I’d be pretty frustrated if I was a politically-aware 17-year-old seeing the Government making decisions that I felt were directly against my best interest and I didn’t have a way of influencing that to any degree.”