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Thursday, 4 June 1970

Mr LUCOCK (Lyne) - Mr Deputy Speaker,the debate on the Adulthood Bill 1970 again shows the complexity of the issue and the points that are made in regard to the reduction of the voting age and the marriage age. The position is that in certain instances - I refer to those young people who are serving overseas and to those who apply for special consideration - young people automatically are entitled to vote in an election. They are given this right because they are accepting a greater responsibility.

I think that this is a debate that is of value to this House and to this country. I would agree with the remarks of the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) when he said that this was a matter that the Government felt should not be voted upon and that a final decision should not be made at this stage. I accept, if I may say this, what the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) said, that this may be taken to mean sometime in the near future or sometime never. The lowering of the voting age is something that will have serious repercussions in this Commonwealth. These repercusions will be felt not only in relation to the 2 matters that were referred to by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), namely, the reduction of the voting age to 18 years and the age at which con.sent automatically is given for marriage being set at 18 years. The effects of this change will also flow into so many areas with which we are connected in our community life. It is for this reason that I say that this is a matter that needs very careful consideration.

There is a danger, which I appreciate and accept, of condemning young people in general terms because of certain attitudes that are adopted by some groups. Because these groups get publicity we tend sometimes to think that their behaviour is the behaviour of all voting people, lt has been argued by those who suggest that the voting age should be reduced that young people mature at an earlier age now than they did. say, 40 or 50 years ago. I think we would agree with that. Our world has become more closely integrated today because of advances in means of transport. Young people are considering things that in our lime we did not understand because we did not have the close associations that are now common. People are travelling abroad at ages younger than people did in our time. This, as I say, is principally due to the development of transport facilities, lt s also due to improved financial circumstances.

There are many complex questions related to this issue. One concerns the economic factor involved in giving young people additional responsibility. I speak not so much of the reduction in voting age but more of the ability to marry at 18 years of age without obtaining special permission. lt is accepted. I think, that young people today slay at school and at universlies for much longer periods. The school leaving age has been increased in recent years. In my own Slate of New South Wales I know that young people are frequently at high school until the agc of 18 and even 19. Ali of these factors show the complex issues that confront the Government when con sidering the Bill that has been presented by the Leader of the Opposition. J do not speak in any disparaging sense when I say that an Opposition always has the opportunity to discuss matters without having to accept the responsibility of putting those matters into legislative effect. This, of course, increases the responsibility of the Government when it is deciding whether to agree to a proposition put forward by the Opposition or to accept legislation covering that proposition.

I spoke earlier about young people accepting responsibility in this 20th century. Young people these days associate with other people in circumstances far different from those prevailing 30 or 40 years ago. I want to read something that was said in this House by the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock), who is now the Minister for the Army, when this subject was being debated in 196K. lt highlights a factor that should be given deep consideration by all people who think about this subject. He was commenting on the Latey report that was presented in the United Kingdom and he gave this quotation from that report:

II is easy for those not closely in touch with young people to Kel an entirely wrong idea of what they arc like. The very word 'teenager' conjures up horror images, of pop fans screaming at air ports, gangs roaming the streets ami longhaired rebels being rude to their headmasters; and some of the older generation react to them wilh an automatic shudder.

We think this is Hie result of two thing:.. First, the Press. 'Dog bites man' is not news, 'Man biles dog' is. Five-hundred thugs vandalise a seaside town and the public gels front page headlines on it; scores of thousands lend normal, decent lives and little is written about it - if only for die simple reason that, when it is, nobody takes any notice.

Wc found this impression cropping up again ami again in the evidence. One quotation will perhaps suffice to stand for the rest:

The report went on with a quotation crf some of the remarks of a person who was opposing any reduction in the age of people who may vote, and also young people accepting responsibility. This is what that person said:

I look to the contemporary scene for signs of increased responsibility among the young and I see the hooliganism of 'mods' and 'rockers', the hysterical behaviour of pop fans, (he growing number of unmarried mothers and (he higher proportion of pregnant brides under 21, the increase 'of drug taking, purple hearts and pep-pills, and the increase of venereal disease among the young, and I do not feel that this suggests any grounds for assuming that 'they Mature so much earlier nowadays'.

The report went on to say:

It is a point of view. And those who bold it are, like this witness, inclined consistently to be against any lowering in the age of majority. They say, as she does, that hire purchase and mortgage agreements are 'a rock -on which many adults come to grief. Youthful optimism at the mercy of high pressure salesmanship can only end in disaster.' She regards very young marriages as peculiarly likely to turn into a brake on a young man's career and an end to a young gill's dream. The Committee discussed the reasons why people put these propositions forward.

I quoted that report and comment because of something which appeared in one of our Victorian newspapers. It referred to a number of ratbags at a basketball game in Victoria, lt read:

Oil thrown at race riot.

Anti-apartheid demonstrators tried to wreck the women's basketball game between South Africa and Victoria at Royal Park last night.

That group of young people would never be responsible enough to vote if they lived to bc 221 or 218. But the point that is emphasised by that newspaper report is thai the hundreds of people who acted normally got no publicity whatsoever because normal behaviour is not news. Let me give another illustration in regard to this. If a piece of legislation passes through this House with the Opposition voting against it and the Government in favour of it, this event is just recorded as an item of news. But if legislation passes through this House after some supporters of the Government have crossed the floor to oppose it, that is headline news because it is a little out of the ordinary. Yet, basically our Parliament is able to function smoothly and effectively only because of the acceptance of the principle of majority rule and a majority decision.

Of our young people today I think it is completely true to say that the majority accept their responsibilities and are playing their part as citizens in the community. If this were not so, our society just could not function. If this were not so, our universities would not be able to achieve any progress or any development. The majority of the young people who go to universities will be contributing to the progress and development of this country because they are placing themselves in the position where, by gaining knowledge and advancing themselves in the academic field, they can accept the responsibilities of citizenship. If there is any doubt about this I would point to the fact that within our community we have Apex clubs in which young people are doing something within the community. They form the group that helps charitable organisations. Young people constitute a very high percentage of the members of charitable organisations. Young people are associated with charitable groups such as the Smith Family which engage in collecting food and clothes for needy people at Christmas time and on other occasions. We should realise that the majority of young people are accepting responsibility as did their forefathers and are making a contribution to the community life of this nation.

We do not want to get a wrong impression, as I have said, as a result of the publicity that is given to particular groups. One can understand that this is only publicity and that the great majority of young people working normally and behaving normally in community life are not news. Because of all the publicity given to a minority we should not feel that all our young people are not facing up to and accepting their responsibilities. Because of this, I believe that the subject we are discussing is worthy of debate in this Federal Parliament. It is a subject that should be given very, very serious consideration and is not one that can be passed off lightly. I believe that we should not come to a point were no change is ever made. I accept the criticism that this decision to make further investigations and further studies can be used as an excuse to delay bringing in legislation; but I come back to the point I mentioned earlier that, because of al'l the complexities of the matter, because this subject in itself is not just an isolated question of whether a certain age group should be given the vote or be allowed to marry at the age of 18 years and because of all the other factors that flow from this I. believe that this is a measure that should be given very serious consideration. It is to the value-

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