Bill Shorten says Labor will consider lowering the voting age if it wins the next election. Photo: Michelle SmithTHEYcan serve in the army, get a gun licence, drive a car, fly a plane and even leave home, but there’s one thing no 16 or 17-year-old in Australia can do – yet – and that’s vote in a federal election.
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wants that to change that and in a speech on Saturday to a young Labor Party conference in Sydney, he will outline a plan to enfranchise an estimated half a million voters if the ALP is elected.
The ambitious proposal is designed to galvanise interest in politics among younger Australians and comes as 400,000 Australians aged 18-24 did not enrol to vote between 2010 and 2013.
In the speech, Mr Shorten will promise that Senator Sam Dastyari, the shadow parliamentary secretary for youth, will consult with community leader and young Australians across the country on the proposal and report back to him on whether the voting age should be lowered to 17 or 16.
Mr Shorten points out that 17,000 Australians aged 16 or 17 paid more than $41 million in income tax in 2012-13.
“Too many of your peers are falling through the cracks in our democracy. More fines and penalties from the AEC won’t fix this. More speeches from politicians won’t change it. Only you can change that,” Mr Shorten will tell his young audience.
“The worst outcome for our country would be for young Australians like you to lose faith in the power of our democracy to change our nation for the better.
“Parliaments have to trust the people they serve. This is why I want Australia to think about lowering the voting age, to give more young Australians a say.”
At a time of high youth unemployment and concern about issues including the rising cost of housing and university education, Mr Shorten says democracy has a growing participation problem.
“We, the Parliament of Australia, should extend that trust to include a direct, empowered say in our democracy. It’s certainly occurring in other parts of the world. Young Australians like you deserve the right to shape the laws and policies that shape your lives,” he will say.
Any move to lower the voting age may well deliver a direct boost to the political fortunes of left-of-centre parties including Labor and the Greens.
The Sydney Morning Herald