7 December 2021

The kids are all right, but they don't need to vote just yet

| Ian Bushnell
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Climate change protests

Young people may be engaged, but that doesn’t mean they should be given the vote. Photo: File.

The ACT Greens are nothing if not consistent in their belief that 16 and 17-year-olds deserve to vote in ACT elections.

The push goes back to 1996 and could easily be brushed off as being based purely on self-interest.

They might deny it, but the consensus is that in the ACT, a lot of teen voters, understandably freaked out about climate change, how the hell they might be able to buy a house and generational theft, might throw their lot in with the squeaky clean progressive Greens.

Well, political self-interest is not a crime and fishing for votes is part of the system.

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Most of these kids work (part-time), even if they are still at school, pay taxes, use the Territory’s services, drive a car and have sex. Many are informed, articulate, and would like a say in running the place. Others are immature, disengaged, want to be left alone and don’t trust politicians.

Well, that sums up the electorate generally, and there is no doubt that age does not necessarily endow voters with wisdom.

So simply saying they’re too young won’t cut it.

A recent survey by the Youth Coalition found that most young people support extending voting rights. It argues that enfranchising while most are still at school would be the ideal opportunity to educate them about the electoral system as they start their voting journey.

But they should be careful what they ask for.

Youth has certain advantages – freedom from responsibilities, food and shelter provided (mostly) and the breathing space to make mistakes without too many consequences.

The corollary to giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote is to also make them legal adults liable to be held accountable under the law for their actions and charged and tried as adults.

Suppose one discounts the fact that they are not fully developed human beings whose immature brains render them (mostly boys) incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions to allow them to vote. In that case, it follows that protections young people enjoy under the law are no longer valid.

That blurring of the line between childhood and adulthood could be one unfortunate and unintended consequence of fiddling with the voting age.

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It is not that long ago that children were indeed thrown into the adult world – in mines and factories, on farms and ships. Rightly they were given protections that evolved to what we have today.

The lure of adulthood is a seductive one, and it remains a universal experience for young people to want to leave their youth behind until they actually are encumbered by the rights and responsibilities of adulthood.

Adding another burden to a youth cohort, already weighed down by an ever complex modern world, seems unnecessary and unfair.

It comes down to where the line is drawn, as it must, and when people can assume their full rights and responsibilities under the law.

Since the conscription battles of the Vietnam War, that line has been set at 18, when most leave school and start to make their own way in the world, usually with some inkling of where they are heading.

That is now an established and fitting threshold that young people cross – a rite of passage that corresponds roughly with a coalescing of human development generally.

The Greens proposal may be well-meaning or simply served by self-interest, but it remains flawed and would not really enhance the system.

The best thing may be to stay: “You’ll get your chance.”

In the meantime, be informed, be engaged if you want, and bide your time.

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I generally support ‘green’ ideas. But not this one.

I’m not all that keen on 18 and over for voting, either!

Because I have (at last?) got an unvarnished memory of what I was like at eighteen.

There are many reasons why children have not been given the vote or allowed to stand for parliament throughout history in any country or democracy. But the unbounded arrogance of the local Greens gives them the belief they know more about history and have more wisdom and foresight than all previous generations in all countries. If schoolies get the vote the next step will be to allow them to stand schoolie candidates, form schoolie parties and get schoolies elected. Do we want a Schoolies Party in ACT Government? The Greeens confuse being progressive with being arrogant, irresponsible and foolish.

One age for voting, paying tax, marriage, joining the military, driving, drinking, owning a firearm, having sex…you name it. One age.

riccardo, which age do you think that should be?

why? these are all very different things. If for instance no child paid tax until they were 18 then every parent would put investments into their childrens name. Its also probably a bad idea to have a single day when you are first allowed to drink, drive and have sex…. the results might be horrific!

I disagree. I think the whole point of the proposal is that it is voluntary as it is a period in which to learn about rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Furthermore if you are being taxed then you absolutely should have a right to a say in how taxes are spent. If we do not allow children to vote then we should not be taxing them.

We have mandatory voting so you can’t make it optional or voluntary.

One in, all in. Which is why it can’t work.

Corporations pay millions in tax. And even though they are entitled as a “legal person” they don’t get to vote. Lobby, yes- vote no.

of course it could. just make it optional when you are 16 or 17.

I agree. Also, when Greens repeatedly raise this, why do they fail to clarify if their proposal would mean 16-17 years olds can also stand as candidates in elections. Do Greens wish to just partially enfranchise 16-17 years olds with the vote, or do they wish to fully enfranchise 16-17 years olds with the right to be elected too? Which is it Greens?

18 I think is a fair age to start voting. Ideally you need to have some experience out of school and possibly abroad so instead of 21, 18 is a reasonable voting age. What has been seen is that the younger impressionable people tend to vote Green but then mostly change their minds after age 20 and move to the centre-left and centre-right parties (Labor, Liberals etc.). Many people including myself will say they would’ve voted Greens in their high school age, because we were young and thinking it was progressive and stuff. But real world experience beyond the school grounds can show or bring about other perspectives.

It’s actually quite insulting to the youth that The Greens are taking advantage of naivety for their own gain. It’s based on demographic voting patterns and not actually about empowering youth.

Excellent article Ian – well balanced and thought provoking with a sound conclusion.

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