Bartlett's Blog

Andrew Bartlett has been active in politics for over 20 years, including as a Queensland Senator from 1997-2008. This blog started in 2004 and reflects his own views, independent of any political party or organisation.

Vote Early – should 16 year olds be able to vote?

There is a report in The Guardian that Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister in waiting, has backed the idea of reducing the voting age to 16. Many members of the Australian Democrats have advocated a move along these lines in the past, although usually with a caveat like it should only be voluntary, or perhaps only for local government elections.

It’s an idea I’m attracted to for Australia, although I don’t know whether it translates as well to a country like the UK where voting is voluntary for everyone. Gordon Brown’s other suggestions, such as looking at reform for their electoral system and a reduction in power for the executive, sound even better to me.

The Isle of Man has already decided to lower the voting age to 16, so it may soon give some idea of how well this idea works in practice.

Many contrasts are made between Peter Costello in Australia and Gordon Brown in the UK. Both are immensely frustrated Prime Ministers in waiting and both are trying to carve out a more distinct image of themselves while not overtly opposing what the incumbent PM is doing. At least Gordon Brown has the certainty that Tony Blair is stepping down before the next election, although it seems the precise date is still unknown to him or anyone else.

Being in this situation can lead to the risk of over-reaching in an effort to show their own unique and valuable set of ideas. Whilst I don’t agree with many of the views Gordon Brown is saying lately, he does at least appear to have a reasonable intellectual grasp of the issues he is talking about. I couldn’t say the same about Peter Costello sadly. My impression is that the more he opens his mouth in an attempt to showcase his own opinions and views, the more he shows how shallow, inconsistent and poorly thought through most of his views are.

However, maybe he’s just had a bad run lately, or maybe I’m just jaundiced or in a bad mood while I’m writing this. Either way, my view is certainly not going to make much difference about whether he gets to be PM or how people perceive he is performing.

ADDITION:
For people interested in what the situation is globally, this page details what countries have a voting age below 18, and what other places have been considering the issue.

Iran has a voting age of 15 (not that I’m sure that Iran is a good advertisement for democarcy in general). Brazil and Nicaragua have a voting age of 16, as do Germany and Austria for local elections. Our neighbours in East Timor and Indonesia have a voting age of 17.

My view is that there are valid arguments for and against, but I think it would be worth trialling voting for 16 or 17 year olds for local government elections. I tend to think making it voluntary would be better too.

Advertisement

65 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. pc police

    Why not drop it to five. That way there will be a match in the chronlogical age and the mental age of a Democrat supporter.

  2. Geoff

    No….!

  3. The suggestion to lower the voting age to 16 was part of a report which proposed the introduction of a capacity to require parliamentary action by petition, and other items Andrew mentions. The report appears to be a wish list from those feeling disaffected with the political process. Even so, 80% of UK citizens believe 16 is too young to vote and it is difficult to see how such a change would motivate 16 year olds to vote, especially in a voluntary voting society.

    Andrew, perhaps your attraction to English ideas around democracy should be tempered by the capacity of the London Assembly to ‘suspend’ its democratically elected leader for some throwaway comments made to a journalist. Bringing democracy ‘down’ to the people seems a selective pursuit over here!

  4. Mollie Waterman

    I think the idea should be considered. There are many many fine young Austrtalians – including some I know personally – who I believe have the knowledge and the wisdom to capably consider the options and cast their vote accordingly.

    Age does not necesarrily bring wisdom generally or an increased knowledge, interest in, or caring about the parliamentary process.

    I know 16 year olds (and younger for that matter) who take a great deal of interest in the process and have well informed opinions on many issues.

    I also know many older people of voting age and over who haven’t a clue about the process and hold some very ill-informed opinions.

    Dismissing ideas such as this out of hand is blinkered thinking.

  5. It cant hurt to leave it a few more years but I also feel mollie has raised some good points as well. The counter Argument for that would have to be if you look at England there have been many moves to change parliment for vetted reasons.Around fourteen years ago they also changed an act in parliment so muslims did not have to apply themselves to their law when it came to marraiges and divorces. That simply means if ordinary Brits marry two women at the one time they get charged but muslims dont. I suspect the lowering of the age to vote has some other agenda but I am not opposed to young voting as a family unit some way.

  6. Guy

    There are quite a few 16 year olds with more forthright and fervent political views than people much older than them.

    Lowering the voting age would also provide an excellent educational opportunity for teenagers to get more involved with the political process at an earlier age. At the moment a lot of kids finish their schooling before they gain the ability to vote, which impacts the ability of schools to teach kids about our democracy in a hands-on way.

  7. Lynette2

    I agree with Mollie. It would be good to see young people who want to be actively engaged given the opportunity to do so. I can’t imagine them flocking to polling booths in huge numbers, but perhaps the option would encourage more serious consideration of issues relevant to young people. By the young people themselves and by policy makers.

    Unfortunately Andrew, I can’t see it happening. According to various studies it wouldn’t make much difference to the Liberal and Labor numbers, but the Democrats would do quite well out of it.

  8. Ken

    Anderw I find it interestign that you rasie the issue, indicate you find it attractive and then make no effort to argue for or agianst the case, rather spend the large part of the blog outlining your views on Costello.

    Mollie, Lynette and Guy seem to argue that as soem young people are fervent, knowkedgeable and informed they deservfe to be able to vote. The corollary of that argument is of course that those who arent shouldn’t be able to vote.

    Fair enough – so in their perfect world obviouslty they get a vots but we shouldn’t be letting the dopes and nitwit adults or kids vote.

    We have forced adulthood onto children more and more in my view for most kids 16 is still a time of for growting maturity, concentrating on education and still being a kid. Thats thiere are some different is great, but 18 is just fine.

  9. I’d like to suggest that voting in Australia from ages 16 to 18 be voluntary, and compulsory there after.

    I know when I was 16 I really wanted to vote and wished I had the opportunity. I was 16 when Howard was elected and I remember feeling really frustrated at not being able to do anything about it despite being fairly politically engaged, unlike a lot of my peers.

  10. Chris

    If 16 year olds can vote, does that mean 16 years olds will be sent to adult prisons?

    What if Australia is under direct attack, should we be conscripting 16 year olds to defend our nation?

    A number of 17 year olds were accidentally sent to East Timor with their Army units and were quickly brought home. Funny, I didn’t hear any youth advocates demanding they be allowed to stay.

  11. I think before we allow younger people to vote we have to raise the standards in Education and make students have to take responsbility so that they are more aware and have a greater understanding.

    My concern is that whilst there are some students who are sensible and involved and who would vote for the right reasons, there are too many students who have not been provided with a focus and they have developed their own and they may very well vote for whatever party allows for them to drink younger, have sex younger, take drugs without the fear of consequences…etc., etc.

    Again I say that not all youngsters are like this but in the absense of a good high level education for all many are turning to this focus. WE should be concerned.

  12. Geoff

    Please…. if mollie’s referring to the youth in organisations like Resistance ot the Socialist Alliance, we could all do without their influence at an election.

  13. This is an issue of particular interest to me. I’m eighteen and a half and have been involved for the past three years with the Tasmanian Youth Parliament programme . I was involved in the running of the 2005 programme and will be inovlved in 2006.

    Towards the end of 2005 our youth motion document was tabled in Tasmanian Parliament – a first for us. Speaking to it members expressed great admiration for the work the young people had done in preparing it and mentioned the policies of the Young Libs, Young Labour and the Greens (ALP, LP and G are the three parties represented in the Tas lower house) which included voluntary voting for sixteen year olds.

    Seeing an upcoming election, some friends of mine and I thought we’d start with education, because it’s important. So we set up an organisation to run a mock election in schools which would allow sixteen and seventeen year olds to voluntarily vote in an environment very similar to a real election. We had electoral commission support, conditional on dep education support and received positive feedback from people within the department of education who we contacted. We even had endorsement from sitting members in each party.

    The snag in our plan – which was an education programme – was in the lack of funding. Everywhere we approached didn’t want to touch us. The minister for education in Tassie personally requested that we not get any money from the government. The resistance was palpable. I’m not even sure why. And this was just a MOCK election program, to educate people – all of whom will be voting in the next election – about the electroal process. To address the concerns that keep getting raised about poor youth enrollment figures. And to look seriously at precisely what the levels of engagement amongst young people would be.

    If you want to know more about the way we intended to run the project, there are a few details available at http://www.vote.net.au/

    To run the project in its best form we needed $20,000. To run SOMETHING statewide we need at least $8,000. We got absolutely nothing. We were applying out-of-season, it’s true, but nobody wanted to give us anything at all.

    I’ve worked in a lot of by-youth for-youth organisations and everywhere I turn I see engaged, interested people just below the voting age frustrated at their inability to have any impact. A discussion of the inadequacy of youth consultative services is one for another time but there is NO consultation with the “underaged” – a disenfranchised minority – on the vast majority of policy issues. They’re equally affected as other citizens. They’re equally passionate. But they don’t get a voice.

    It is my personal firm belief that people aged sixteen and seventeen years of age should have an option to vote in all elections. The interested and the passionate will turn out and have the say they want. The disinterested won’t take time out of their Saturday.

    I have rambled a little, and for that I apologise. But this is an area of great interest to me, as I’ve said. If you want further information, or to take up this discussion further, I’ll be monitoring here, or you can contact me through my website.

    -Michael Cordover

  14. MarkL

    I have five kids, 10 to 21. The idea of 16 year olds voting is simply preposterous. They are too immature. They are nerve endings all over at that age, and far too involved with physical and mental maturation, finding out about the opposite sex, and expanding their minds in all directions at once – these are their priorities and that is as it should be.

    They have enough problems inflicted by damned marketers trying to get in to their heads without political parties trying to do the same. Let them grow up a little first.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  15. Mollie Waterman

    I ws not referring to specific political parties Geoff. I was thinkg about the young people who participate in things such as the Youth Parliaments Michael refers to which I believe are held in every state and run by the YMCA. http://www.nyp.ymca.org.au/

    One of my children participated in it a couple of years ago and I was very very impressed. My son intends to participate this year and I am supportive of him doing so.

    Other things include the Discovering Democracy educational units
    http://www.curriculum.edu.au/ddunits/index.htm

    and Online youth parliament sites such as the Oxfam International Youth Parliament Forum
    http://www.iyp.oxfam.org/forumnew/faq.asp

    A lot of schools, now run processes such as student representative council elections with the guidance of the electoral commission so that those running and those voting can use the process as a learning mechanism.

    Many schools also take the opportunity when elections are on to run mock elections in the classroom to help teach the children and young people about the process.

    I take on board the points raised by Ken and Mark regading maturity and not forcing young ones into adulthood too soon. I agree childhood is precious and all to short.

    However I also believe that if a young person is interested in and knowledgeable about the process then they should have the option of having their voice heard.

  16. Steve Munn

    We do not consider 16 year olds mature enough to be sent into battle, or drive a car or get a credit card. I think giving 16 year olds the right to vote is crazy. Let kids be kids.

  17. ab

    Kids don’t get enough of a say in politics, they effectively have no representation which understands their concerns. If kids are old enough to be exploited by advertising, reproduce, work & pay taxes, they are definitely old enough to vote. How can you worry about their maturity and the depth of their understanding when there is clearly so little understanding amongst the current voting public.

  18. Geoff

    Well said Steve…

  19. melloncramps

    My feeling is that 18 is an appropriate minimum age for compulsory voting. I don’t really see the need to change it.

  20. Mollie, Kids already get into adulthood too soon. The wrong type of adulthood. Maybe if they were offered a different focus and direction like the choice to vote if they had completed certain units and maybe if they had support and encouragement it would benefit them and that would give kids something else to focus on and talk about other than girls/boys. It can be fun to get involved in what is happening in the community and in politics. It gets pretty boring for kids nowdays as they have no say and/or control about their Education and what they are taught so they end of talking about each other.

    Kids are really so much more capable, understanding and able than people give them credit for and/or that the education system gives them a chance to show. We are wasting valuable resources by not including our young people.

    Of course before any move to drop the age in voting, and it would have to be voluntary, you have to change the way our children are taught. Sure some schools are great and some kids are very in the know, but many are not and some teenagers are easily led down the wrong path and could be used and manipulated.

  21. red crab

    re post 13
    dear 18 AND a half michael.
    hears a tip at your age i was the same thought i knew a lot at 21 i new a lot more now at 50+ i now know i new nothing at 18 . 16 year old ppl and 99% of 18 year old ppl are to young to have an opinon based on their own experencs.s. to vote at 16 is a joke.

  22. william

    Kids under 18 pay taxes so they should have a say in how those taxes are spent with the right to vote if, they want to.

    Schools should be spending some time teaching students on how to get the most out of their vote. Has anyone ever been taught how to vote correctly at school?

    Governments make long term decisions (well ok, we wish they would make long term decisions) that affect teenagers lives. Actually maybe 16 and 17 yrs olds having the right to vote would encourage some longer term thinking in elections.

  23. red crab. Your post says more about yourself than anybody else.

    Young people are not to “young” to have an opinion based on thier own experiences. They are entitled to their opinions and they should be treated with respect.

    What most 16 year olds are too young for is to vote in an election that they know nothing about and about issues that they dont understand and that is not really taught to them by the Education System. You dont have to be 16 to suffer from that!

    Depriving students of Education doesn’t give anybody the right to put them down and discredit their opinions.

  24. Ken

    My 9 year old pays taxes each time she purchases paddlepop – should she vote?

    Schools are struggling to teach kids to read becasue of all the things we lump into the curriclulum that should be taught by parents – now another thing.

  25. Ken. You are right. Schools are spending too much time on things that should be taught at home. It is impossible for the teachers to cope with what is expected of them and it really isn’t fair. Its like things have been swapped around and the kids now go to school to get what they should be getting at home and come home to get what they should be getting at school. It’s all wrong and it makes it really hard for kids and grossly unfair for those that are disadvantaged.

    Wouldn’t it be better if they left school for learning reading, writing and arithmetic, history etc and learning about the usage and Administration of the system so that they become engaged and understand?

    The values stuff and the three R’s and the sex and drugs stuff and things like that should be left to the parents and the community to deal with and for the school to just help to enforce.

  26. Ken

    Yolanda – Your also right – this is of course a result of the 30 years of publicasisation (ie the opposite of privatisation) of values and bureaucratic intrusion into social behaviour. Its always ironic that the reformers in their youth become the controllers in their dotage.

  27. william

    ken,

    your child buys the paddlepop with money that is given to them.

    Once a teenager has a ‘real’ job and is a PAYE taxpayer, I believe they should be entitled to vote. Or not pay tax. I also think they should get super on any amount they earn, (rather than something like $450 has to be earnt in the month with one 32 hr week. don’t hold me to the exact figures). but thats a whole nother issue.

    While I agree there are many subjects that parents SHOULD be teaching their children, the sad reality is that far too many don’t.

    When you take preferential voting for instances, many people do not understand it themselves, so how can they communicate it to their kids? No one is ever really taught how to vote, you just ask questions and figure it out. Lets face it, the big parties want you to just mark their box so they can put your preferences where they want.

  28. Chris

    william -

    I’m 29, can I give up voting in return for not paying tax?

  29. Geoff

    What a crock!

    The payment of tax isn’t a reason to give someone the right to vote.

    Just about everyone in Australia including visitors pay tax in one form or another,

    Should they all have the right to vote?????
    Of course they bloody well shouldn’t. :roll:

  30. Geoff

    What about that rallying cry “no taxation without representation“? A war of independence got fought over that (as well as other things).

    (I had this idea that foreign tourists get to claim their GST back at the airport on the way out, but I’m not sure if that’s right?)

    Still, Geoff’s point is valid when it comes to permanent residents. They pay the same tax as everyone else, but aren’t eligible (unless they are British and were on the electoral roll before January 1984). It’s one right and responsibility which is only available for Australian citizens.

  31. Geoff

    hey…
    we are more democratic and more civilised…
    it’s part of our cultural baggage

  32. Consideration of lowering the vote to 16 usually comes from political predators in minority parties or opposition.
    Sure make it voluntary (so only the ones with no life vote) give them the education to make the ‘correct’ discissions. Politicize the high schools we could do with more mini Marilyn Shepherd’s.

  33. Aron Paul

    Great discussion. Personally, I would have voted for the Liberals and John Hewson when I was 16. Teenagers!

    Nonetheless I think it’s a great idea to lower to voting age, on a voluntary basis. If you are mature enough to have sex and pay tax, then you can vote, frankly. The educative effects would also be good – it would force schools to actually teach civics and politics to students! When I was 16 no one was teaching us how government worked, who our local member was, how laws get changed etc. I imagine a lot of us never found out later on either.

    Democracy cannot begin too early. Children are bombarded by consumer and market messages every day from an early age, and yet we insist on ‘protecting them’ from democracy for the sake of their innocence! The insanity!

  34. Sometimes, do you know what I think? I think that the system pushes our youth towards a wilder lifestyle instead of a more wholesome one so as to tarnish reputations.

    If your reputation can be ruined your fate can be controlled.

    They dont play fair.

    Possibility, maybe?

  35. Geoff

    I think you’ll find that children process things a little differently than adults on the whole Aron. Things they hold passionately one day can become of no importance the next. This is especially so in marketing etc, etc… if these are the sort of people you want voting fine… but I don’t. It’s bad enough that some adults get taken in by propaganda.

  36. Mollie Waterman

    The dismissive attitude towards young people by some commentators on this blog is sad – and shows a rather blinkered and limited view of the world.

    Personally I am constantly amazed and delighted by the many young people I know, including my own.

    I find their thirst for knowledge and their fresh insights and their willingness to look at an issue from all angles and consider all viewpoints refreshing. To suggest that they are more easily led and manipulated than the average adult is just not true.

    I am well aware there is much variety among young people – as there is in all of our community – and I acknowledge not all young people are wonderful in their behaviours.

    But to simply sweep them all away in such a condescending manner is to belittle the future of this country – because that is precisely what they are.

    Sixteen year old people are not children – they are young people full of potential, who should be entitled to have their say.

  37. You are so right Mollie. Then these people wonder why the youth of today lack respect!

    Its hard to show respect or learn about respect when adults constantly treat you with disdain.

    Respect is something that cannot be taught by a text book, its something that you learn by experience and example.

    You cant blame the kids, its the adults fault as adults set the example and children are a product of thier environment.

  38. Geoff

    16 year olds are indeed children.
    If you knew anything about cognitive development you’d know that.
    Personally I don’ think you should be allowed to vote until you are 21.
    But the mantra of “they pay tax ” or ” they’re old enough to give their lives” seems to win any argument over reason.

    I can live with that, but not at giving children of 16 the right to vote.
    Let them join the YOUNG……….? and get involved that way until they are OLD ENOUGH to vote.

    Children who mindlessly protest with the Greens or Resistance or the Socialist Alliance do not deserve the vote, their inability to make sound judgements base on reality and real life experience shows that to be true. There may be some that are mature enough etc, but they are NOT the majority.

  39. Geoff, how about the ADULTS who mindlessly protest at Greens or Resistance or SA rallys? Do they not deserve to vote?

    How about the adults who are so misinformed or apathetic or easy to manipulate that they vote for whoever looks best?

    Should we examine statistics and say that since the majority of (insert group distinguished by anything other than age here) aren’t properly educated, aren’t aware of the political system and don’t understand the issues, that entire group should be unable to vote? Of course not.

    The idea that maturity is a function of age which is the same for everyone is preposterous. It is impossible, however, to have maturity testing or similar, so we have an age cutoff. My suggestion is that we instead impliment a phase-in period where those young people interested and passionate – and believe me, they exist – have a right to vote if they want to. And you don’t have to until you’re mature enough to. So voluntary voting for 16-17, then the same system for 18 up.

    I also resent the implication that because my brain is still deloping I am unable to make a rational decision. That is blatently untrue. Yes, brains continue to develop. That doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t function.

  40. Mollie-Waterman

    Geoff if YOU knew anything about cognitive development you would also know its a very individual thing and varies widely. Societal factos alone can and do have a strong influence not to mention a wide range of other factors.

    Geoff you quite frankly seem more obsessed with condeming and belitteling anyone – young or old – who professes an opposing political view to your own then engaging in meaningful discussion.

    You’ve referred to young people who are involved in political parties in derogatory terms several times now. One wonders – are the young people involved in your own party’s ‘Young Nation’ mindless as well? Is their participation in your party an example of their “inability to make sound judgements” as well?

    In any case the number of young people who actually join specific political movements in Australia is not that high – which reflects the low level of political party membership in the broader community, regardless of which party you want to mention.

    However there ARE many many young people who are involved in a wide range of political activities, not related to specific parties. They are aware, they have an excellent knowledge base, they are involved. They care. That is a good thing. That is to be encouraged. They may change their mind on occasion – so does everyone.

    I do though want to clarify one thing. In my previous comment I stated that 16 year olds are not children – according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is anyone under the age of 18, so in that sense and on that point only I ackowledge that Geoff is correct when he states 16 year olds are children.

    However I don’t agree that this means they are not capable of holding an informed and valid political opinion.

    I believe many young Australians are perfectly capable of doing just that and I respect them for it.

  41. For people interested in the issue worldwide, this page details what countries have a voting age below 18, and what other places have been considering the issue.

    Iran has a voting age of 15 (not that I’m sure that Iran is a good advertisement for democarcy in general). Brazil and Nicaragua have a voting age of 16, as do Germany and Austria for local elections. Our neighbours in East Timor and Indonesia have a voting age of 17.

    My view is that there are valid arguments for and against, but I think it would be worth trialling voting for 16 or 17 year olds for local government elections. I tend to think making it voluntary would be better too (voting in local council polls is already voluntary in some Australian states I think).

    (I’ve put this as an addition at the bottom of the initial post, for people who don’t get down this far into the comments thread)

  42. Mollie Waterman. Wouldn’t it be awful for our kids if Geoff was a teacher! Imagine that!.

    There are alot of people at all levels and positions in society and power who do not treat our children with any level of respect or regard. They do not value or find children worthy.

    Some of these people are in positions where they can discriminate against our children, victimise and segregate. The system does not weed out bad seeds, the system seems to promote them…….Its a receipt for disaster.

    These are not good foundations on which to build a society!

  43. Enough of the tantrums children. Or go to your room!!

  44. Geoff

    Well mollie all those years of teaching and Educational Psychology was wasted on me then. :roll:

    I’ll get back to you all later.

  45. Mollie-Waterman

    Oh dear Jolanda … your worst fears realised!

    Yes Geoff it appears it was.

  46. Just to balance the information in my comment above (#41) of countries with a voting age below 18, here is some info for countries that have a voting age above 18:

    It is 20 in Cameroon, Japan, South Korea, Nauru, Taiwan and Tunisia, and 21 in Central African Republic, Fiji, Gabon, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia,
    Maldives, Monaco, Morocco, Pakistan, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tokelau and Tonga.

  47. saint

    I see absolutely no reason to lower it. No one has provided any. Who cares how passionate you are at either 12 or 120. And precisely how many elections will a poor 16 year old miss between 16-18. I really don’t understand why people make issues out of something that is not even on the public radar and especially when there are more pressing issues requiring attention.

    For the record I left home and was supporting myself without any parental or family help (not even a stick of furniture) at 16 – working junior wage jobs and getting yourself educated. Still wouldn’t have given me the vote no matter how “old” I was for my age.

  48. saint,

    In a democract society the idea is that every person capable of having a say who will be affected by legislative decisions should be given the opportunity to have that say. Over time various disenfranchised groups – from non-landowners to women to Aboriginals – have had their voting rights normalised. We now have a system which discriminates against those capable and affected for two reasons: citizenship and age. The citizenship/permenent resident question is a debate for another day, but the point is that a group of people, affected by the decisions of government and capable of rational thought are unable to influence the government. This, according to some, including myself, goes against the purpose of democracy.

  49. red crab

    thank you Andrew.
    you have just proved that 16 is too young. have a look at the country,s that have the low voting age and the one,s that dont.
    michail tell me why you would want to vote at 16 anyway.do you really think you could change anything .I do value your opinion .

  50. red crab,

    I’m 18, so able to vote but have been wanting a lowered voting age since I was fourteen.

    Do I think, however, that sixteen year olds voting will make a substantial difference to the results of the election? No. Do I think it might have some impact? Yes. But most importantly, let’s say you disallowed all the people in Donald, a small town in country Victoria, from voting in the Senate elections. The outcome would probably be precisely the same. That doesn’t mean we’re allowed to bar Donald residents from voing. The result might not change, but under 18s can have their equal part in creating that result.

  51. red crab

    michail,
    i find you intreaging a person of (18)? is so educated in polotics. i would have thought to have such a grasp of issues like you it would take many a long year at uni to study.
    so tell everyone why did you want to vote at 14 thats extrordinary. what exactly would you change if you had the power?.

  52. saint

    “In a democract society the idea is that every person capable of having a say who will be affected by legislative decisions should be given the opportunity to have that say.”

    Our society is right to discern that children are not capable of a full range of mature decisions and nor should they be forced to. Heaven helps us we have already suffered enough thanks to parents who think that you can negotiate with a two year old about want they want for breakfast and then wonder why their kids are uncontrollable at four, playing truant at fourteen and unable to hold a job for more than six months at twenty four – if they haven’t managed to ignore any good parental advice and ended up in Kerokaboan Jail at 20 first..

    In any case, our society has rightly determined that the primary responsibility for children is borne by their parents. Parents vote just as much with their children and their children’s future in mind as they do for themselves (or aren’t you a parent to understand that). If you are under 18 and don’t like your government talk to your parents. If you are under 18 and can’t trust your parents to make a right choice on your behalf as much as theirs then you need to learn a bit of respect for the very people who have raised you and sacrificed for you. And also learn a bit of patience which after all is a sign of maturity. At most you might miss what – one state and one federal election even if that and it’s not as if we live in a country where your one precious vote one way or another is going to send us hurtling into some abyss from which we can never recover. Any 12 year olds out there clamouring to vote ought to grow up and get over themselves.

    To argue that adult women and Aboriginals fall into the same category as children is ridiculous. And yes sixteen year olds are children. Seventeen year olds too. They may be smart, intelligent, energetic, passionate, even parents at that age, but they are still children – not least because we live in such an easy country in easy times that doesn’t demand much of them. And some don’t even outgrow childhood at 18. But if we can send them to war at that age then we can give them the vote.

    If you are a resident over 18 and want to vote, then become citizen. If you can’t handle all the other other rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship like jury duty and defending Australia if called for, then don’t become a citizen. Tough.

    You might consider yourself progressive or inclusive but any society that keeps trying to eliminate boundaries for no bloody good reason except self-stimulation or some blind ideological ground only ends up in chaos. It’s called history.

  53. red crab

    saint has my vote well done . you are deffinatly not 18 and a half.

  54. MarkL

    I think that the ‘issue’ of making 16 year olds vote is something of a strawman.

    However, it might also be an effort by the minor/irrelevant political players to obtain some traction. To be blunt, the uni students these days are vastly more conservative in outlook than when I was first at uni in the 70s. I now have 2 sons at uni, and the number of VSU-day parties being planned is astonishing. They hugely resent having to pay $240 (ANU according to No.2 son) for nothing they use, when they had to work in low-skill retail jobs to earn the money.

    There is a real division at ANU between the bulk of students and those they term “the smelly hippies” (“Greens, Socialist Alliance, Spartacists and all those soap-allergic idiots, Dad” according to No.2 son). Basically, the present government is very popular in this age group because they want jobs when they leave Uni, and need jobs (any jobs) while at uni. They value their degrees and work amazingly hard at them. Both my sons cruised in high school. The change once they hit uni was astonishing, as they have to pay for a chunk of their uni education.

    So with the uni student sufficiently attuned to the realities of the world to simply laugh at the sheer silliness of much of the left’s ‘worldview’, where are they going to get votes,a nd all those lovely perks of office?

    How about from even more callow kids, who will pretty much believe anything?

    OH, a point about voting. VOTING IS NOT COMPULSORY IN AUSTRALIA. Attendance at a polling place on polling day IS compulsory. You do not have to vote, you can deface the form, stick it in the ballot box, and that is that.

    I spend a lot of time explaining this to Americans, who are usually fascinated by our system.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  55. “… and it’s not as if we live in a country where your one precious vote one way or another is going to send us hurtling into some abyss from which we can never recover.”

    I’m 18, but you know, that’s a brilliant political philosophy. I might leave it a couple more years to mature and learn to think rationally, because I was under the impression — and you’ll think this is silly — that voting was important in a democracy. Absurd.

    As for this issue not being on the public radar: it depends who you talk to. Something not being the highest priority in everybody’s mind is no reason to abandon consideration of it. And there are a great many people, “child” and adult, for whom this is a very important issue.

    Anti-youth suffrage arguments tend to run along the lines of “youth people aren’t mature – look at delinquincy, look at marketing – they have no idea about politics”. And I really think that Michael’s repeated point, that the detractors seem loathe to actually address, that the same arguments can be made about any minority and, in the case of “no idea about politics”, the majority, is completely valid.

    And the typical answer to that is either some kind of “proof by absurdity”, saying that by that argument two-year olds should be able to vote. In effect, that that makes the age of majority an arbitrary thing.

    And there’s the key. It’s already arbitrary. This was probably the only thing that Andrew’s posting on the various ages of majority in different countries showed: there’s no obvious key age. What Michael is saying is that when you have evidence that people are capable of making an informed decision – and such evidence clearly exists for 16 year olds – then it’s the responsibility of a democracy to err on the side of inclusion.

    And I tend to agree.

  56. saint

    Now we have Pat – who of course is old enough to vote.

    I’m 18, but you know, that’s a brilliant political philosophy. I might leave it a couple more years to mature and learn to think rationally, because I was under the impression — and you’ll think this is silly — that voting was important in a democracy. Absurd.

    As for this issue not being on the public radar: it depends who you talk to. Something not being the highest priority in everybody’s mind is no reason to abandon consideration of it. And there are a great many people, “child” and adult, for whom this is a very important issue.

    Where are they? Why is that whenever people – including long time observers of Australian ‘democracy’ at work – talk of weaknesses or friction points in our democracy, the voting age is not one of them? Heck some think voting is so important they talk of making it optional, but like MarkL I too think those arguments are more for political gain

    It was not me who suggested lowering the voting age. In fact I don’t even favour making it optional. My first question to those who think it so important Pat is why? What’s wrong with the present voting age that is so unbearable that it should change? Apart from “it’s all about me” or because “I want to vote.” Because you see, you don’t live in some ethereal world called “democracy” where you and your rights and your wants are the centre of the world – you are a person who lives in a society characterized by a complex web of relationships. So go ahead, those who want to lower the voting age. Convince the rest of us.

    And there’s the key. It’s already arbitrary. This was probably the only thing that Andrew’s posting on the various ages of majority in different countries showed: there’s no obvious key age. What Michael is saying is that when you have evidence that people are capable of making an informed decision – and such evidence clearly exists for 16 year olds – then it’s the responsibility of a democracy to err on the side of inclusion.

    And I tend to agree.

    Oh and like lemmings we go off and do what, start a bidding war? Haha, our voting age is lower than yours? Look over there, it’s 16! Quick let’s change ours. We are not Tonga or Iran. Nevertheless if you also cared to look at how these “arbitrary ages” as you call them were set and changed over the course of time em, you may notice *gasp* one common factor running through all of them, which has something to do with the basic building block and decision -making body of any society, democracy or not: families, households.

    In fact , if I could be bothered, I could probably make a case for increasing the voting age. But as I said, I’m not the one advocating for change. So Pat, convince me.

    (oh and technically MarkL, I believe you are required to register to vote, and once registered you must rock up to get your name crossed off and lodge a ballot paper. The AEC also has a policy of not finding you for not registering or registering late)

  57. red crab

    lets pose a question . if i was the govt of the day and wanted to pass legislation that is not wanted .or strips away your rights .would i not start a debate like this that will never happen.to draw attention away from the real issue.
    i was in qld in the peterson era this is typical.
    now thats the difference between michael and me.
    being older and wiser mabe not as well educated .
    i will ask what is the govt up to and look close at whats realy gowing on.before i jump up on a soap box and try to claim i have rights.our leader that 99 % of voters did not vote for is in india selling uraniun that has not bean debated about yet so mutch for democrasy. so what dose a 16 year old say about that?

  58. Geoff

    Let’s face it most kids 16 and under are clueless about politics. There may be the odd one or two in every hundred or so that have an interest in it or in economics or the environment etc, etc, etc…. but you don’t change the voting system just of .000?% of the public.
    It’s bad enough we let some adults vote.

  59. Geoff

    But don’t just take my word for it….

    ***
    “So would lowering the voting age be a step in the right direction?

    “It would probably increase the number of kids that are interested in politics,” asserted Zeebah. “But I also think that there are many kids at my age who wouldn’t be able to make the most educated decisions because I don’t think they have experienced enough in life… Once you go to college you see more than in high school.”
    ***

    Having taught kids and coached kids… and having been a kid, I think I have a fair idea about why or why not kids should get to vote.

    For most of their lives children attend school. This is a “cloistered” environment.
    In the vast majority of cases their lives do not involve adult pursuits, pressures or responsibilities.

    From the UK…

    Mostly the arguments for allowing people to vote at 16 are both muddled and incoherent.

    On behalf of the majority of the population who say that they think the idea of giving thevote to 16-year olds is a silly one (a reputable survey found that almost 80 per cent ofthe electorate is opposed to the idea), here are six arguments against:

    Let’s start with the Electoral Commission’s stated reason for raising the issue in the first place: turnout. Their interest in the voting age, so they claim, ‘stems principally from our concern about declining participation rates in UK elections, especiallyamong young people’. Yet it is difficult to understand the logic that leads from worries about turnout to lowering the voting age. All agree that turnout among electors aged 18-24 is significantly worse than among older people; the solution proposed is to include in the electorate a group whose turnout is likely to be even lower. By any standard this is bizarre reasoning. If anything is certain about what will happen to turnout if the voting age is lowered it is that in the next election turnout would be lower than it would otherwise have been. Even ‘Votes At 16’ accept that.

    Advocates of a lower voting age also place great emphasis on the fact that children(in England, at any rate) now receive formal education in citizenship. The argument appears to be that there is an anomalous gap between finishing compulsory education in citizenship and having the right to embark upon a career as citizen by voting. Yet the teaching of citizenship has barely started – the statutory obligation wasnot implemented until September 2002 – and all the available evidence is that it is being taught badly. Anyway, ‘civics’ has been compulsory in US schools for generations and there is no evidence that it increases political literacy or turnout – just as compulsory religious education in the UK has done nothing to stem the decline in church attendanceand compulsory PE has been accompanied by soaring levels of obesity.

    Next we come to sex. Because people can engage in sexual activity and marry at16 they should also, therefore, be able to vote. In fact, young people under 18 require parental consent to be married in England and Wales and very few do so.According to the 2001 census, just 0.26% of males aged 16-17 in England were married and just 0.49% of females. People of this age may, then, have a restricted right to marry but (perhaps thankfully) very few exercise it.This sort of argument is an example a more general belief that lowering the voting age should be seen as part of a move towards more consistency in the age of majority. The‘Votes At 16’ website is full of such examples: I can drive a car but not vote; I can join the forces but not vote; I can get married but not vote (with the last accompanied by a picture of a depressed looking bride, whose wedding day has somehow been ruined by the lack of the franchise).In passing, it’s worth noting some of the obvious discrepancies in these examples: youcan drive from 17, not 16, and whilst you can join the forces from 16, frontline service is meant to be avoided until 18, precisely because society does not see 16-17 year olds as full adults. But even so, ‘tidying up’ in this way does have superficial attractiveness. Yet it assumes that there is a single age at which people should become entitled to take up various rights and duties – criminal responsibility, driving, purchasing alcohol and tobacco, jury service and so on. But perhaps different ages should apply to different spheres of activity given that there is no logical connection between them? There is nothing inherently illogical in setting different qualifying ages for different things and just because some rights are acquired at 16 (like the right to have consensual sex) this does not necessarily imply that an unrelated right (like that to vote) should also be granted at the same age. Rather than ask ourselves at what age people should acquire a packageof rights and responsibilities we should ask what would be the appropriate age for the activity concerned. In that case, it is perfectly understandable that different ages would apply in different areas.

    Like all of the chattering classes, the Electoral Commission have got themselves into a terrible tizzy about the turnout of young people in elections. The Commission fails to appreciate that abstention among the young is like a belief in Father Christmas: it’s something that they grow out of. Instead, they believe that the alienation of young people from existing political structures is partly explained by their belief that politicians fail ‘to listen to and act upon young people’s concerns’. And so if the voting age were lowered politicians would have to take young people more seriously and act on their views. The sensible response to this argument is simple: how naïve can people be? Anyone could list a whole series of groups who would make the same complaint – the white working class, ethnic minorities, the poor, disabled people, small-business owners, pensioners, people who live outside London and university teachers, to name a few – and all of these have the vote.

    Then there’s the ‘moral argument’. The ‘Votes at 16’ campaign claim that it ismorally right to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year olds, suggesting that the arguments used against it are the same as those that were used to deny the vote to women and the working class and that such arguments ‘are as wrong now as they were then’.There are at least two sleights of hand involved in this assertion. The first concerns the claim to moral righteousness. Determining a cut-off age for anything is an arbitrary decision rather than a moral question. How, for example, could there be a moral case for votes at 16 but not at 15 or 14? And secondly, it is deeply disingenuous (if not downright offensive) to equate children and previously excluded groups in this way. The difference is that children grow up! A 16-year old will in due course be allowed to vote,which was not the case with women before 1918 or working-class men in the 19thcentury. Denying the vote to 16-year olds is not, therefore, inconsistent or discriminatory since they are simply not in a comparable position to the other groups.

    And lastly, there’s the rallying cry ‘No taxation without representation’. How can people who pay income tax be denied the right to vote? Yet this argument founders on the high percentage of children who already pay VAT (are those who spend their pocket money on sweets or CDs to be granted the vote because they are taxed?)and on the low percentage of 16 year-olds who pay tax. Just 5% of 16-year olds and17% of 17-year olds are full-time employees, according to the 2001 census. By contrast, 89% and 68% respectively were classified as ‘students’, few of whom will be paying income tax. The great bulk of 16 and 17-year olds therefore are financially dependent upon their parents and guardians. More generally, this is typical of the arguments used by those who argue for lowering the age of electoral majority. They take small groups of the population thought to be unfairly treated at present – such as those in the armed forces, those in employment,those who marry aged 16 or 17 – and then extrapolate to the wider population of 16-17year olds. This latter group is extremely unlikely to be married, are unlikely to pay income tax, and have about as much chance as dying for their country as they have ofwalking on the moon.If people really believe that it is unfair not to give the vote to soldiers or those in full-time employment under the age of 18, then one solution would be to grant it to them –but deny it to the others. This would stop groups like ‘Votes At 16’ trying to piggyback an extension of the rights of the majority of 16 and 17 year olds onto a few more deserving cases
    ***

    I guess the next question will be what other age restrictions we remove. Age of consent? Drinking? Smoking? Gambling? The list goes on….

  60. red crab

    re 59
    well done geof
    i dont think there are many 16/17 year olds that were given the right to vote and treated as an adult.actualy take responsibility for there actions and be willing to be treated as an adult.{cant have one without the other}

  61. Batman

    I do not think the voting age should be lowered to 16 based on the sole fact that most 16 year olds do not have the knowledge and know how of the government system. I personally have a 16 year old son and i know that he, or any of his freinds care at all about who is president as long as they have their dirtbikes and girls.

  62. Batman

    PS: I meant prime minister not president…

  63. Kane Hall

    Hi Everybody, I’m a first time user long time reader and i have an opinion, For straters I’m doing an assignment for aust studies and i needed to find some info on 16 and 17 year olds having the right to vote. After several hours of typing my name into Wikipedia i decided to do my assignment, so after a while i got some ideas of being able to vote, I’m 17 years 8 months 19 days ande 12 hours old myself and i love politics, seriously, i like cold nights curled up infront of the fire watching debates that have no meaning, it’s one of my faviourt past times. Anyway back to the subject. I would love to vote and i know all of my two friends would love to vote aswell so i think that voting should be not compusary but 17 years 8 months 19 days 12 hours 15 minute year olds shouold be able to vote if they want to. Thank you and goodnight. Kane Hall

  64. Amber Collins

    ummm ok why the hell would you want to do such a stupid thing like that. teenagers arent emotionaly stable and even mature enough to vote dont be gay!!!
    so i say
    NNNOOOOO!!!!

  65. CORAL

    There should be a referendum on this issue. Surely the government can rake up a few other issues to vote on at the same time, to make it financially worthwhile.

    If the adult voters decide that 16-year-olds can have the vote, they can take on ALL of the other adult rights and responsibilities at the same age – driving, going to jail, going to war, drinking, smoking, being self-supporting, age of consent. This would keep it simple.

    They can’t have all of the rights without all of the responsibilities.

    I am totally against it.

    High school teachers will have to put up with even more smart alecs mouthing off and interrupting their classes. Then our kids will learn next to nothing. Things are bad enough as it is.

Mini Posts

  • Rhetoric vs reality

    I’ve had a break from writing for a variety of reasons, but the reckless approach the new Queensland government is taking to their spending decisions – and the straightout nonsensicality of some of their claims – roused me enough to pen a piece for New Matilda. Time will tell whether the Newman government will start trying to ensure their statements have some connection with reality – I suggest the way they respond next year to the findings of the inquiry into child safety which they’ve established will be a significant test.

    (2)
  • End of LP the end of a blogging era

    Back in October, I wrote here about the decline or re-defining of blogs, at least in the Australian political arena.  The relatively few posts I’ve done on this blog since then shows how much less useful I find it to do my own blog than I used to, and as I mentioned back then, a big reason why I don’t read many of the blogs I used to is because the valuable links to many interesting stories, ideas and pieces of information can be found more easily through Twitter or Facebook, sometimes with comment threads which are also at least as good. The recent announcement by the Larvatus Prodeo blog that they are ceasing to operate is quite a significant one.

    More... (7)
  • A final comment on Labor's leadership laments

    Fundamentally, I don’t greatly care about the outcome of Labor’s leadership travails. As my previous post indicates, the bigger issue is that the ALP is being fundamentally damaged by the toxicity of this brawl, and the fact that the brawl is happening in this way is a sign of some much greater problems within Labor. Whatever the immediate outcome, I think those problems are likely to continue.  The outcome of the leadership contest (including the size of what will surely be a Gillard victory) will shape how those problems play out, but they will still be there. Not surprisingly, I see this as presenting an opportunity for the Greens to build some support, but more importantly it presets extra responsibility and obligation for the Greens to be a stronger counter to what is a seriously reactionary Coalition. But seeing we’re all pundits now, and despite having little inside knowledge, my prediction is that there will be no ‘third candidate’ in tomorrow’s leadership ballot.  Julia Gillard will win comfortably. The instability will not disappear. It’s quite possible there will be another leadership ballot before the election but Kevin Rudd will not become leader then either. No matter how good Kevin Rudd looks in the polls, that polling lead would disappear very quickly if he was back in the PM’s job.

    (29)
  • A long time between hits

    In amongst all the politics and policy stuff, I try to make time to do some things that are completely disconnected from that*.  One thing I’ve found myself doing recently is doing a bit of practicing with a band, which has led to me doing a live performance for the first time in a long time.  Readers of this blog with a very long memory for minor matters may recall that I played keyboards in a couple of mini-performances with a band as part of promoting the Rock Against Howard compilation CD prior to the 2004 election.  However, drumming is what I’m better at – although I’m still a long way short of being able to say I’m good at it – which is what I am doing in the band I’m currently doing stuff with.  They’re doing their first full live Brisbane show tonight – which I think will be the first time since 1988 I’ve played drums in a live show.  It’s all nice and low-key, and for peoples’ enjoyment rather with an eye to making money out of it, so will make a nice change. *Actually, I don’t think anything is completely disconnected from politics. By coincidence, today also happens to be National SLAM Day – Save Live Australian Music.  As their website shows,

    More... (0)
  • The Ups & Downs of Ups & Downs - interview with Greg Atkinson

    I’ve mentioned before my liking for the 80s Brisbane band Ups and Downs. I got a chance to interview their lead singer Greg Atkinson on 4ZzZ FM a few weeks ago. They’ve released a compilation CD of 20 of their best tunes and played a gig in Brisbane earlier this month to promote and celebrate it. It was a fairly long interview, but I found it very interesting to hear the views of someone who has been active in the independent sphere of the music industry for so long about what has changed and what is the same. You can listen to the interview at this link.

    (0)
  • Speeches to refugee rally + SIEV-X exhibition

    A local activist helpfully recorded speeches given by myself and by Julian Burnside at a refugee rights rally held in Brisbane last Saturday.  You can listen to them here and here. The rally was held to mark the tenth anniversary of the sinking of the SIEV-X.  353 refugees drowned when that refugee boat sank on the way to Australia on 19 October 2001.  There is a beautiful exhibition at The Studio on the ground level at the State Library of Qld this week, commemorating that anniversary. It finishes this weekend – I strongly recommend you try to get along for a look if you have a chance. The Library also has a screening of the documentary Hope on Friday October 28 – this film tell the story of Amal Basry, one of the few survivors of that tragedy.

    (0)
  • Stuff from my 4ZZZ shift this week

    Every Monday morning I do a shift on radio 4ZzZ FM102.1 – Brisbane’s longest serving community radio station (36 years old this year). And almost every week I talk with social media expert and lawyer Peter Black about some current political and other issues. You can listen to our talk this week by clicking on this link (it goes for over 30 minutes and has the occasional sweary word, so probably best just for dedicated fans). You can see the songlist I played this week – as usual featuring a sizable number of local artists – at this link, which in most cases also contains further links to other videos, information or photos of the artists.

    (3)