There are plenty of 30-year-olds, some still camped on their parents’ couch, who might not be the most switched-on participants in the political process, and quite a few 16-year-olds with an already sharpened focus on the big issues.
So moves to lower the voting age in the ACT are understandable, but I think they’re misguided.
ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur plans to table an amendment to the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 which would give 16 and 17-year-olds the option of voting in the 2020 ACT Election if passed.
Under the amendment, 16 and 17-year-olds would be given the opportunity to vote but the compulsory voting age would remain at 18. Ms Le Couteur argues young people should not be punished for not voting.
Based on data from the most recent census, the Greens estimate that this would allow at least 8,500 Canberrans aged 16 and 17 to vote in the upcoming election.
Putting aside the ACT Greens’ blatant self-interest in moving to lower the voting age to 16, given more of that teenage cohort tend to fly an environmental and progressive flag, the idea needs to be taken seriously.
As Ms Le Couteur says they can work, pay taxes, drive, have sex and even sign a lease but aren’t allowed to have a say in their future.
Many young people are more concerned than ever about their futures, particularly over the impacts of global warming, expressed in the recent Extinction Rebellion protests.
And in mainly middle class, highly educated Canberra, those young people are probably more savvy than their peers elsewhere.
There are 11 countries where 16 and 17-year-olds have the vote, including Scotland, Brazil, Argentina and Scotland, so the precedent is fairly well established.
But like it or not, in general terms, people of that age still have developing brains more prone to impulse than any consideration of the consequences of their behaviour. Many doctors will tell you that the drinking age, for instance, should be restored to 21.
If there has to be an arbitrary line where youth crosses into adulthood and acquires the rights to express that new state, then 18 is as good an age to draw it. Most of us leave school at that age and, if we can afford it, home, and start making our way in the world under more or less our own steam.
The amendment also devalues the vote by making it optional. Anything that erodes the compulsory nature of our voting system that has nurtured a highly developed culture of civic duty and meant voting rates in this country are the highest in the world, conferring legitimacy on the governments we elect, should not be countenanced.
We do not need a democracy that is the preserve of the motivated, the activist or party hack.
It is also good for 16 and 17-year-olds to work towards and understand the value of the vote, not have it handed to them because they are showing interest in some admittedly key issues.
Political participation is not limited to polling day, and there is nothing stopping young people from having a say through protest or the less-exciting avenues available to them.
Casting that first vote at the not very ripe age of 18 is a rite of passage that will come soon enough for those chafing at the bit to have their say at the ballot box. They should have time to realise the burden of responsibility that comes with it.