Greens MP Stephen Bates proposed that Parliament lower the voting age from 18 to 16, making voting compulsory for 16 and 17-year-olds but with no penalty for failing to vote. However, the proposal is not expected to be supported by the Government or the Opposition.
The Greens previously proposed lowering the voting age to 16 in 2018, but with optional voting for 16- and 17-year-olds. The proposal itself was rejected by a cross-party committee, but the committee didn’t rule out the general principle. Notably, the Labor members on the committee agreed “16 and 17-year-olds are as capable of participating in elections as older Australians,” but argued any proposal to extend the vote should make it compulsory.
The Greens have today introduced a Bill to Parliament to bring in ‘compulsory’ voting for 16 and 17- year-olds but with an exemption from being fined for not voting. The Greens’ Bill also includes a separate proposal to allow anyone to enrol to vote or update their electoral details on election day. The cut-off for changes to enrolment is currently shortly after an election is called.
Greens MP and Youth Spokesperson Stephen Bates said “record numbers of young people [are] suffering with serious mental health issues because they feel frustrated and hopeless about the most pressing issues facing our nation… It’s their future at stake, and they deserve the right to hold their government accountable”. Tabitha Stephenson-Jones, an organiser of the ‘Make It 16 Australia’ campaign, said young people were “engaged, enthusiastic and ready to make a difference, the only issue is – politicians are afraid.”
Despite previously expressing openness to the idea, Labor is not expected to support the proposal. A spokesperson for Special Minister of State Don Farrell (who covers electoral matters) told TDA it was “not something the Government is proposing” and there were “more pressing and urgent” priorities. The Opposition is also not expected to support it, with shadow spokesperson for electoral matters Jane Hume saying this morning she could “safely say that it’s certainly not one of our priorities”.