1. Introduction

On 18 June 2018, the Australian Greens introduced amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984. The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering Voting Age and Increasing Voter Participation) Bill 2018 proposes to:
lower the voting age from age 18 to 16;
lower the age that individuals can be added to the electoral roll from age 16 to 14; and
allow eligible electors to enrol to vote or update their address at a polling centre on election day.
Under the proposal, voting would be voluntary for 16 to 17 year olds and remain compulsory for those 18 and over.
Introducing the Bill, Senator Steele-John said that the rationale of the Bill is to:
recognise that 16-17 year olds are able to work full time and pay taxes and yet not vote on the policies that affect them;
recognise that young people are disengaged from politics and should be recognised as a constituency in order to foster civic participation; and
update electoral laws to allow people to enrol on election day.1
It is not just Australia which is debating the expansion of the franchise. As outlined in Chapter 2, the voting age debate has been prominent in the United Kingdom in recent years. The UK Parliament has kept a watching brief on the issue and this Committee is pleased to have had an opportunity to assess it in the Australian context.
While there are differing views within the community, and within the Committee, about lowing the voting age to 16, it is healthy to debate our democracy and the extent of our franchise. The Committee welcomes any opportunity for vigorous debate and discussion.
The Committee was pleased to see a large number of submissions from young people, and was particularly pleased to note that a number of teachers used the Bill and Committee inquiry process as a teaching tool.

Conduct of inquiry

On 25 June 2018, on motion of Senator Farrell, the Senate referred the Bill to the Committee for inquiry and report.
The Committee received 97 submissions and spoke to 60 witnesses at public hearings held in Melbourne, Canberra, and Brisbane and Perth.

  • 1
    Sen. Deb., 18 June 2018, 71.

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