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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 13 Hansard (Thursday, 2 December 2021) . . Page.. 4097 ..

it would be if we started to describe all people over the age of 55, or all mothers, as some monolithic voting cohort. We should not risk doing the same thing with young people.

Research conducted by Monash University found that 18-year-olds do not vote for progressive parties en masse but weigh up a range of social, economic and political factors. I have mentioned this in this place before, but I will mention it again: it was a former Young Liberals president, Josh Manuatu, who appeared before the inquiry into the 2020 ACT election and the Electoral Act, who proudly claimed that the Canberra Young Liberals were the largest youth political movement in the country. This is something to be proud of. I trust the Canberra Liberals are. To me, it represents a clear case for young people being politically engaged in the ACT.

If this bill were to pass, it would be far from a world first. Yes, we have occasionally heard about the social engine room that is the ACT parliament. But we would not be going this alone, Madam Speaker. Similar reforms have been achieved in Austria, Brazil and Scotland. Research has found that they have a positive impact on the confidence of young people, feeling that they can effect change.

The case of Scotland gives us a fascinating insight into the positive effect franchising young people 16 and 17 years old can have on the quality of our democracy. In Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum, and later during the 2016 Scottish elections, 16- and 17-year-olds were given the right to vote. Research conducted at that time found that the interest in politics by 16- and 17-year-olds was consistent with the rates in the already voting adult population. Seventeen-year-old Emma from Scotland described her feelings around the vote by saying:

… I think there this sort of strength that’s come with the voting age being lowered in the Scottish referendum … they lowered the voting age and then suddenly there was this feeling of “Our voices do matter. And we can be engaged.”

Further research found that for those voting for the first time in the Scottish elections, younger voters had a higher chance of turnout than their slightly older counterparts. Fifteen-year-old Ben from Scotland said:

I think that sixteen is the point where we’re transitioning … we’re in senior school, where we really have to start thinking about college and Uni and all those other … responsibilities, I think, in a sense makes you want to invest in your future. And I think having the lower voting age allows us to be able to voice our opinions.

A couple of hundred kilometres away, on the European mainland in Austria, research on the effect of empowering young people to vote found that they saw a great responsibility in ensuring that they were informed about major issues in Austrian elections. This responsibility extended to their social lives at school, with research finding that young people began to use education settings as a platform to discuss and debate politics with their peers. This is distinct engagement that is the consequence of stimulating the political interests of young people by giving them a seat at the table.

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