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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Paul Karp

Monique Ryan and Greens renew push to lower Australia’s voting age to 16

Independent MP Monique Ryan
There are moves by both Independent MP Monique Ryan and the Greens to lower Australia’s voting age. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Independent MP Monique Ryan and the Greens will both renew a push to lower the voting age in Australia in the new year.

Ryan has said she will introduce a private member’s bill, to require 16 and 17-year-olds to vote but without the threat of fines, or work with the Greens, which have a bill in the Senate to extend the franchise with voluntary voting.

The move follows a New Zealand court ruling that the current voting age of 18 is discriminatory, which has prompted New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to green-light a parliamentary debate on lowering the voting age.

In an encouraging sign for those agitating about the issue in Australia, the special minister of state, Don Farrell, said the government had “never ruled out” lowering the voting age.

Ryan told Guardian Australia lowering the voting age was raised during her campaign for the seat of Kooyong, with young constituents arguing they have other adult rights and responsibilities including working, paying tax and having kids.

“I thought it was fair enough – and there are certain issues that young people are particularly concerned will impact them more, such as climate change,” she said.

“We should have legislation on this – I propose to extend the vote to people aged 16 and 17, making it mandatory but with no fines in the event they don’t vote.”

Ryan said extending the franchise should be accompanied by greater civics education in school.

Ryan will begin community consultation before introducing a bill next year, but said timing of the reform may also depend on not wanting to “muddy the waters” ahead of the referendum to entrench an Indigenous voice to parliament.

In 2018 the Greens senator Jordan Steele-John introduced a bill to lower the voting age to 16 on a voluntary basis, a bill which was restored to the notice paper in July 2022.

In the joint standing committee on electoral matters (JSCEM) inquiry, Labor noted support for lowering the voting age but opposed the bill “on the basis that it proposes a different voting regime for voters aged 16 and 17 than for other voters, with the proposed extension of the franchise to be non-compulsory”.

The Greens MP Stephen Bates, the party’s youth spokesperson, told Guardian Australia he welcomed “support across the crossbench” for lowering the voting age. He noted the New Zealand decision had “mobilised a lot of people” in Australia.

Young people feel the way to change politics is to work “outside the system”, which Bates said was “important”, but many “feel politicians only listen if their seats depend on it”.

“It just make sense to give [young people] a say in the future of the country.”

Bates said he would have to seek party room support for a shift to compulsory voting for 16 and 17-year-olds, but he was “open to” that option to expand the franchise, provided young people are not fined.

In opposition, the former Labor leader Bill Shorten promised before the 2016 election to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, but Labor has not recommitted to the idea at subsequent polls.

Farrell has asked JSCEM to consider extending the vote to permanent residents and
New Zealand citizens – but did not ask it about young people, although this has been proposed by the academic George Williams and others during the 2022 election inquiry.

On Tuesday Farrell told Guardian Australia he had asked the committee about measures to “improve electoral transparency … particularly lowering the threshold and trying to introduce real-time disclosures of political donations”.

Farrell said those are the focus of the government “for the moment” but he noted Labor had “never ruled out” lowering the voting age.

In July Guardian Australia revealed that, after the inquiry, Labor intends to legislate spending caps and truth in political advertising, as well as promote adherence to the one-vote one-value principle.

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