Page 390 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 22 March 2022
The committee report summarises the arguments presented but does not analyse the strength of evidence and rigor that lay behind the submission statements. Submissions to the inquiry and accompanying hearings could be regarded on a spectrum ranging from expert to layperson, with a level of supporting evidence ranging from extensive to personal opinion. Community voices and expert evidence should play different roles in committee deliberations. Lived expertise often adds a depth of perspective and insights that are not represented through other means. In this case, however, we are dealing with a hypothetical change in voting age, so Canberrans were not able to speak of their experience with such a change.
Hearing the concerns of the public about proposed changes to policies is an important way to gauge public understanding and support of an issue. This may help in determining next steps—for example, where work may need to be put into accurate and evidence-based education and communication. Evidence-based policy must have mind to but look beyond the vagaries of public opinion to understand the likely impacts of any kind of government policy.
Submissions in support of extending voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds included strong evidence in the form of references to peer-reviewed journal articles across a range of relevant disciplines including psychology, sociology, education, youth studies and medicine. Much of this research drew on extensive empirical evidence across the jurisdictions that have expanded voting rights to those who are 16 years and older.
Submissions that did not support extending voting rights had far less or no supporting evidence, relying more on perceptions, anecdotes or opinions. As Bessant et al said in their submission, “arguments made against reducing the voting rely more on prejudice than rigorous empirical evidence.” We are therefore unable to rely on the substance of those arguments, and see these submissions as contributing to our understanding of public concerns. The evidence for cognitive development and capacity was directly applicable regardless of jurisdiction and regardless of whether it was compulsory or voluntary. We can conclude from this that the weight of empirical evidence is that there are no credible grounds for continuing to believe that young people lack the relevant cognitive and moral capacities to enable them to vote.
The most consistent concern across all submissions in the hearing was exposing young people to criminal penalties and the court system. I agree, this warrants further attention. Critically, the concerns identified by the committee are not unique to 16- and 17-year-olds and apply to Canberrans of all ages and across many different offences, whether they are vulnerable or not. For the population as a whole the benefits of compulsory voting are seen to outweigh the costs of the consequences. It is perhaps time to re-examine the infringement policies more broadly and their inequitable impacts across the community. My motion, which will come forward in this place on Thursday, will hopefully go some way to addressing these issues.
Whilst acknowledging the inconsistency in voting across jurisdictions that the bill would present, I am of the view that young people already have demonstrated capacity to manage cross-jurisdictional variations in other aspects of life. Whether it