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Should Australia lower the voting age to 16?
By Jean-Paul Gagnon Posted in News essay on April 18, 2021 0 Comments 2 min read
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Should Australia lower the voting age to 16?

[I was invited by The Conversation to answer this question. I, and the other four commentators (Helen Berents, Philippa Collin, Lisa Hill, and Louise Phillips) said yes.]

The Conversation: Voting is a key part of the democratic process. It allows all citizens of a certain age to have a say on matters important to them. Voting in federal elections and referendums is compulsory for every Australian aged 18 and over.

But decisions made by elected governments – especially in areas such as education, health and energy – impact young people too. Legal and political voices have long called for Australia to lower the voting age to 16. After all, people under 18 can leave school, get a job, drive a car and pay taxes. So why not vote?

parliamentary inquiry is currently looking into the issue. In the meantime, we asked five experts their views. Here’s what they said.

Gagnon: History – across language, time, and space – is peppered with tensions about the boundaries to political participation, in this case voting. Progressives have fought and won against arbitrary exclusions to participation formed by the powerful. Think about it: in some cases only men of a certain age were allowed to vote; in others it was about title; while in others it depended on where you were from, how much property you owned, and so on. Were any of these absolutist positions logically defensible? No, and certainly not in the face of the ‘one person, one vote’ principle. That’s why these arbitrary positions crumbled in confrontation with more democratic logic.

If a 16-year-old asks, ‘am I allowed to vote?’, what viable counter-argument would one have? The ‘you’re too young’ line, arguably the most popular, doesn’t hold water, if only because some teenagers can outsmart their grandparents in different policy fields or vice versa. We’re better off working together across generations, drawing on each other’s expertise, and crafting a polity of more ages and not a polity guarded by ageists.

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