11 March 2010

Editorial - Young people deserve a voice (September 2009)

The national discussion around whether or not we should lower the voting age following the release of the Rudd Government's Green Paper into Electoral Reform will inevitably be drawn, at some point, into a list of futile examples of the terrors of adolescence. 

No doubt there will be people who oppose the change lining up to say that young people are irresponsible, immature and ill-informed and shouldn’t be let anywhere near a ballot box.  Have you seen some of the things they say on MySpace? Gosh!

However, whether or not you agree with the decision a young person might make and the way in which they make it should not be the basis upon which support for such a proposal is determined.  The test must be: should people have a say in decisions of government that affect them?  The answer to that question is overwhelmingly in the affirmative and for that reason, we should lower the voting age.

“Grown-ups” do stupid things at times too – witness the behaviour of the nude policemen who recently romped through Brisbane – but that is not a reason that they shouldn’t be allowed to determine who governs them.  Imagine the uproar if we limited the other end of the age spectrum by saying: “they’re too old to know what’s going on!”

The proposition that it would be unfair or overly burdensome to ask young people to vote is also fallacious.  As a society, we find no reason not to force young people to attend school, obey the road rules or pay taxes – it’s simply part of the social contract that our idea of society is based on.

If your concern is that young people should be educated more about their civic duties, then let’s do that too – but let’s not use it as an excuse to deny young people the opportunity to vote now, the two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, and shouldn’t be treated as though they are.

The worst possible outcome of lowering the voting age is that young people vote in a way that some people disagree with, hardly a dire consequence by any measure.  The best possible outcome? A huge number of people who experience the results of government decisions every day, at schools, on public transport and in dealing with the bureaucracy will be able to have a say in who makes those decisions and what decisions they make.

Owen Wareham is Assistant Secretary and Young Labor Organiser of the Annerley Branch
(Originally published September 2009)

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