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Thursday, 4 June 1970


Mr CONNOR - Sir, inthe 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. 15 was considered to be the age of majority in Britain and many European countries. But, with the Norman Conquest came a new concept and the feudal system. The age of the Cataphractos arrived with the armoured horseman, the heavily armoured war horse, the need to maintain and to carry arms and the concept of service in knighthood. There was a dichotomy for many years in English law where a tenant in socage reached adulthood at 15 and a tenant in knight service did not reach maturity until the age of 21 . There were important property considerations too. Military tenants could be kept in ward, and, their feudal lord could control their property until the age of 21. Knighthood service was abolished in 1660. What was once the concept of law applicable only to the gentry was applied to the whole of the United Kingdom. We have perpetuated that concept. Today this Government in this House through its chosen speakers will be advocating something which was introduced some 900 years ago.

The Latey Committee received also a report, which is worth quoting, from the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility. It put the matter very forcibly. lt said:

.   . Historically the concept -

That is the concept of the majority at 21: is one of properly rights in and power over children, as much as of a duty to protect them.

The preoccupation of the English statute law and common law right through the 19th century was to be concerned with the accumulation of capital and who should control it. For that reason, there was every encouragement for that concept to be continued. The quotation continues:

.   . the time has now come when it is in the interests of society generally as well as the individual young people concerned to eradicate from our legal system any residual traces there may be of a legal age of majority imposed for the sole purpose of furthering the interests, or serving the convenience, of any persons or bodies of persons other than the child himself. The law should now be examined and where necessary amended to ensure that:

(1)   no child or young person is in any way restricted by his or her capacity or independence as a citizen solely for the benefit of any other person or persons

If the law has never matched the needs of the young very exactly, we do not feel that we need necessarily prove that the young have changed before we recommend a change in the law.

Even the British Medical Association which is by no means a revolutionary body has said that physical maturity and emotional maturity in fact are going together with the young today.

Again, if I may, I will inflict on the House a further quotation from the report of the Latey Committee. It is worth noting very carefully. I refer to the submissions by the Chancery judges who stated:

Any legal system must lay down some age at which people who are not mentally defective are free to live their own lives at their own risk; free, for instance, to associate with whom they please, to live where they please, and, subject to the sanctions of criminal law, to live how they please. Whatever age is fixed there will inevitably be numbers of people over the age who many of their fellow citizens will consider to be unfit to enjoy such freedom. The law must, however, choose the age which accords best with the needs of the great majority. Moreover, the age which is appropriate to the conditions obtaining at one period may not be fitted to the conditions at another ... we think that 18 should be substituted for 21 as the age at which a marriage can be contracted without consent and the Wardship jurisdiction end.

There would be no more experienced group in England than the judges in Chancery.

Let us look at the situation in Australia today. Let us look at the young and their approach to the world today. Old men create wars and send young men to fight them. There is a liability for military service today at the age of 18. Are we to deny these young men or any young man who could conceivably be liable to military service the right to full citizenship?Today, the youth as never before are separate and distinct in their approach. We live in an age of technology. We live in an age of materialism. I speak as one of the older members of this House of the need for a compassionate viewpoint of the youth revolt today.

We need these young men and young women to be inducted into full citizenship. They are entitled to express their views and to express them not outside Parliament but inside it and to have their representatives here because there is a definite younging of the population in Australia. There is a definite change in Australia's outlook. A definite need exists today for the young to be able to enter this Parliament and to express freely their grievances. They are receiving answers to them where their grievances are of no account. They equally are entitled to have appropriate remedies passed by legislation. The day has passed when people can insist that young, mature, physically capable, mentally alert Australians should be treated as infants at law until the age of 21. They are entitled to come here. They are entitled to enter into their civic inheritance.







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