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Thursday, 4 June 1970


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill will give the rights to marry and to vote at 18 years of age. It is the same Bill of which I gave notice in August 1968 and which came on for debate on 21st November that year. I gave notice of it again on 25th November last year, having promised to bring in such a Bill in the event of my Party securing a majority of members in this place. I gave notice of it again on the first sitting day this year.

Back in 1968 similar legislation was introduced by the leaders of the Australian Labor Party in each of the State Parliaments. At that time there was only one State Labor Government - that in Tasmania. The argument was put in this place at that time that the Commonwealth Parliament would be out of step with the other Parliaments in Australia if votes were introduced for 18-year-olds. Since that time things have moved. Events have shown the inevitability of votes being given to 18-year-olds in at least 3 State lower Houses.

The Premier of New South Wales, whose Party had opposed the proposition when my Party brought it up in 1968, is now proposing to introduce such legislation. Similarly, the Premier of Victoria and the then Premier of South Australia, whose Parties had opposed the legislation when the leaders of my Part) had proposed it in 1968, each said that if he won the State election last Saturday he would introduce such legislation. Accordingly, we may anticipate that there will soon be Bills introduced into the Parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, to give votes to 18-year-olds at least for the lower Houses. The onus therefore is on those in this place who want to delay this reform to say why in the 2 larger States and in 1 other State votes should be available for 18-year-olds in State elections and not in Federal elections. The onus is on them to say why this Bill should not now go through this chamber.

Furthermore, the United States Administration is still of the mind that votes at 18 years of age should apply to the United States Congress. Mr Trudeau has announced a similar policy for Canada. The forthcoming British elections will see votes for all of 18 years of age. In New Guinea the previous constitutional committee - that presided over by the present Speaker of the House of Assembly. Mr Guise - and the present committee have recommended votes at 18 years of age for residents of the Territory. If, therefore, there is to be uniformity on the part of the Commonwealth with our principal States and with comparable countries this legislation should go through. It is not the States that are now lagging; it is not other common law countries that are lagging; it is the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia that is lagging.

Consent to marry at 18 years of age is no longer required in Britain, from which all our laws in regard to marriage and matrimonial causes stem. Perhaps I should repeat the principal arguments I put to the House on 21st November 1968. I believe they are still valid. I would be very happy if the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes), who I take it will follow me in this debate, because his predecessor followed me on the earlier occasion, were to repeat the speech that he made on that occasion. I have never heard him to better advantage. I may have my own views as to the validity of all his arguments on matters of law and order. On order they are deplorable; on law they are admirable. I say nothing of his views on law and order in Papua-New Guinea. He is probably more mortified than anybody for having rushed in on this subject in a state of primeval innocence 3 months ago, but he may get the opportunity in the few months remaining before Papua-New Guinea gets independence to appoint magistrates in the Territory as well as judges as he does in the Australian Capital Territory. Things will be better for law and order and justice during those few months when Australia retains control over the administration of law in the Territory if he is given that responsibility.

Very clearly, many matters which are involved with the age of majority or adulthood fall primarily within State powers. The whole range of the laws of property and contract and succession is within State jurisdiction. True, the States now have a report advocating 18 as the age of adulthood in all those matters. The Bill which I have introduced does not purport to touch any of those matters, even where they would fall within Federal power, as in the Territories or the Services. The Bill deals solely with matters which are within this Parliament's power. The first head is marriage. Under the Constitution this is entrusted to this Parliament. The Commonwealth Parliament has passed laws covering the whole of that field. State parliaments can no longer pass laws on the subject of marriage. Accordingly it is appropriate to propose a Bill on this subject in this Parliament. It will not prejudice the deliberations of the Standing Committee of Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General in the report on adulthood which the State governments are now considering.

Then there is the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Clearly electoral legislation is within the province of the States as well as that of the Commonwealth. There have been many occasions over the years when qualifications for enrolment have differed as between the Commonwealth and the States. In fact, in some of the State parliaments the qualification for enrolment differs as between the 2 Houses. The Commonwealth Electoral Office maintains the electoral rolls for every State as well as the rolls for elections to both Houses of this

Parliament. It is appropriate, therefore, that this Parliament, which has the primary responsibility for electoral matters, should deal with this legislation. If it does not it will have to produce separate rolls for the great majority of elections in Australia, because the 2 larger States and South Australia are legislating for votes at 18 years of age.

Majority at 21 years of age has no validity other than an historical one. It flows from the theory that a man was not fully capable of bearingarmsuntil he was 21. If one visits the cathedrals erected in Britain and throughout western Europe in mediaeval times one can well understand from the effigies and sarcophagi that formerly men took longer to develop and when developed were smaller than men are now. In these graphic sculptured terms we can see that in the course of 5 centuries mankind has been physically transformed. And in cold figures - as well as in cold stone in mediaevaltimes - the statistics demontrate quite clearly that over the last 100 years men and women have been maturing at a younger age. By any standards men and women are as mature at 18 years now as they were at 21 only a generation ago. They are more mature intellectually, physically, socially and economically. They are better educated. They stay at school longer. They go on to tertiary and technical education in much greater numbers. They are physcally bigger, stronger and healthier. They are more active. They conduct themselves with greater aplomb. Their consumption in all respects is greater. They make their presence felt and their ideas known much more readily. They appear in the massmedia and respond to them. They attend the theatre and perform in it. They practise a knowledge of the performing andplastic arts at a much younger age than men and women did a generation ago.

There are many legal criteria for the steps we propose. Young people can drink. They can drive. They can and sometimes must, bear arms. They qualify for the payment of taxes and they have to pay them much younger and in much greater numbers than was previously the case. The number of people under 21 years of age who were income earners in Australia at the time of the 1966 census was 819,475. One would assume that almost any income earner would pay tax. The Commonwealth Statisti cian has been good enough to supply me this morning with details of the number of potential voters in the 18 to 21 years age group this year. They would number approximately 650,000. He has also given me the latest figures available of marriages in this age group. In 1968 approximately 52,000 of this age - 15,000 males and 37,000 women - entered into matrimony.

The first part of the Bill deals with a person's right to marry without consent at 18 years of age. The former AttorneyGeneral gave me an answer to a question on this subject on 10th October 1968 and the present Attorney-General gave me an answer on the subject on 19th May last, the latter being recorded at page 2376 of Hansard. Honourable members will see from those answers that in Bri tain consent of parents, courts or public officials is no longer required by persons over the age of 18 years who wish to marry. This is also the position in 4 Provinces of Canada. It is the position in 18 States of the Ameri can Union. It applies for males in 4 States of the American Union and for females in 37 States. In 3 States of the American Union consent is not required for males age 19 and in 2 States for females age 19. In the Soviet Union, the Attorney-General tells me - and I have always found that anything the honourable gentleman says about the Soviet Union must be consummately sound - consent is not required for marriage after 18. It is quite clear that it is becoming very common for people to marry under 21 and it is not difficult for them to get consent in Australia.

Now I deal with the situation in regard to the voting age. The Minister for the Interior(Mr Nixon) gave me an answer on 24th Sepiember 1968, which appears in Hansard at page 1436. and another this year on 14th April at page 1105. It will be noticed from the second answer that votes are now given in 3 of the Canadian provinces al 18; in another 3 at19, and in New Zealand the vote is given at 20. The Netherlands has also given the vote at 18. It is not only my own Party which has had the policy of votes at 18 for quite some time. I notice in the deliberations of theL iberal Party this idea is getting increasing support. I know that there can always be arguments for saving that it is not appropriate or not proper to give women the vote, to give negroes the vote or to give Aboriginals the vote. All these arguments have been used in the past but we have discarded them all. Quite clearly sooner or later 18- year-olds will have the vote.

There is one very real reason why a vote should be given at a younger age than it is at the present time in this country. The great problem areas in Australia, geographically and socially, are those areas in which there is the largest percentage of people in those age groups - 18, 19 and 20 years. The expanding parts of Australia, the outer suburbs of the great cities, the new developmental areas, are the areas in which young people are living or working. In my own electorate, largely because of the age distribution and partly because there are people who are not yet naturalised, only 43% of the residents are enrolled. It is not at all uncommon, however, in other parts of Australia to find that two-thirds of the residents are on the roll. It is quite clear that the difference is due, as the censuses show but at less frequent intervals than municipal and electoral records, to the fact that young people are in these outer suburbs and in the new areas such as Wollongong, Whyalla and Mount Isa. I believe that if people were given the vote at 18 years of age one would not only remove a great number of the causes of discontent symbolised by student power but one would also remove a great number of the causes of discontent which one finds in the developing areas of the capital cities and in the provincial areas - the development areas of this continent. It is in these areas that it is difficult to get a large range of employment, accommodation and recreation. These matters affect people in the 18, 19 and 20 years age group - the people who want to train themselves for life and who want to get married and settle down in these areas. I believe it is very clear that we would remove the causes of discontent in this country to a more marked extent than in any other way if we were to give the vote to people who are involved in this respect, if we were to involve them in the political, democratic process.

I appreciate that there is a deal of resistance to this Bill on the other side of the chamber and among people who support honourable members there, because of the manifest unrest among people in this age group, particularly at the universities. I am aiming to speak on this occasion in a persuasive and not a polemical way. Nevertheless, we would all acknowledge that it is because of the 2 issues of Vietnam and conscription that people in this age group are alienated. I do not want to canvass the validity of Government policy on Vietnam and on conscription - my own views are well enough known, I trust - but it is sufficient to say that it is because people in these age groups are inevitably involved in these 2 issues that they are stirred up. Whether we think that they are right or wrong, the fact is that the young people, men and women of 18, 19 and 20, are much more critical these days. They do not accept facts given to them by their masters, their law makers and their seniors if they believe that those facts are false. They do not support their attitudes if they believe that those attitudes are evil. It would be a very bold person among us who would assert that this generation in Australia is less informed or less idealistic than the same agc group at any period in our past or in any other country.

I think, therefore, we must acknowledge that the resistance to votes at 18 is due to the fear among a great number of conservative persons in this country that their interests and their supporters would be diminished if votes were given at 18. This is particularly the case in universities because everybody at a university lives with these 2 problems of Vietnam and conscription. Having said that and not wanting to canvass the merits of those 2 matters, I do believe that I should identify what I feel is the only ground for resisting votes at 18 for this national Parliament. I have heard no other reason given which can explain this reluctance. The State parliaments, of course, are not faced with this reluctance because they are not involved, except marginally through police action, with the questions of Vietnam and national service. The last time I spoke on this matter, which was in November 1968, I was supported by one other speaker on my own side and by 2 out of the 3 speakers on the other side. The 2 speakers on that side are now the Attorney-General and the Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock). I would have very little doubt indeed that on a free vote in this place this Bill would be passed.

L am speaking for much less than the time allotted to me on this because 1 am anxious' for other honourable members to speak on it and I am anxious that the House should vote on it. 1 think it is fair to say that on the last occasion the tactic was to spin out the debate for so long that no vote could be taken. I obviously am not under any such temptation. I believe the arguments that were put on my side and by the present Attorney-General and the present Minister for the Army in November 1968 are still valid. 1 believe the number of countries which are now giving votes at 18. the number of countries which are allowing marriage without consent at 1 8 and the number of Australians who will now get the vote at 18 for their State parliaments, now make this Bill a matter of urgency. I believe we- in this Parliament must now catch up. Australia at one stage was in the vanguard in electoral and social matters. We should get there once again. 1 commend the Bill to the House.







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