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Tuesday, 13 March 1973
Page: 485

Mr KEOGH (Bowman) - This afternoon we have been treated to yet another example of Liberal Party hypocrisy: I have sat in this Parliament for 3 years and on many occasions I have seen the former Opposition propose a measure such as the one we are discussing this afternoon. I must say in fairness to the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) that his sympathy is in keeping with the terms of this Bill. In fact he and several of his colleagues are probably greatly relieved to see the responsibility taken by this Government to introduce legislation to lower the voting age to 18. This afternoon the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) closed his address on the Bill by saying that the Opposition agrees that the time has arrived when 18-year-olds should be given the right to vote and it supports the Bill. Surely he must have had his tongue in his cheek.

Honourable members on this side of the House who had the fortune to be here in the dying days of almost a quarter of a century of Liberal-Country Party administration will recall the futile efforts made on many occasions by the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) when he was Leader of the Opposition during the last Parliament to force the then Government to agree to lowering the voting age. Successive Ministers for the Interior answering the requests made in this House by the Australian Labor Party always followed their unconvincingly expressed sympathy to the proposal by the ultra conservative approach which could be summed up as: Yes, we agree; but not yet.' Even as late as the occasion when the parties were delivering their policy presentations to the electorate prior to the election held on 2nd December last the Australian Country Party failed to permit the Liberal Prime Minister to include in his policy a definite undertaking to lower the voting age for Federal elections. This was a very definite indication that should the Australian people have been cursed by another 3 years of that style of government nothing would have happened during the life of this Parliament just as certainly as we now know that nothing eventuated in the life of the last Parliament.

The fact that this Parliament is today considering the extension of the franchise to 18- year-olds is due to the decision of the Australian people to accept the Labor Party's proposition at the time of the last election that 'It's Time.' It surely was time. It was time for a new approach to many responsibilities of government, and this is certainly one of them. I congratulate the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) for bringing this measure before us for consideration so soon in the life of the Parliament. As was to be expected, in his policy speech, the Prime Minister gave a clear undertaking on behalf of the Labor Party when he said:

We will give the vote to men and women at 18 years of age, as is already done in all other federal systems and most English-speaking countries.

In presenting his second reading speech to the House the Minister provided a table for 'he consideration of honourable members. It is now included in Hansard. The table shows some of the countries that have extended voting rights to citizens 18 years of age. This surely must mean that, in the eyes of the rest of the world, Australia has been dragging its feet to an extent that can no longer be permitted. The list contains names of countries not only that are insignificant in terms of major influence in our sphere of the world but also that lay claim to having a democratic form of government. Those countries have had such a provision in their electoral laws but that provision did not exist in the electoral laws for the election of Federal parliaments in this country.

Reference was made today to the fact that once this measure is put into effect we will see an intrusion into our high schools of party political influence. Recently the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) was reported by the Adelaide 'Advertiser', under the headline 'Country Party will woo young voter', to have said:

The Country Party expects to form political branches in high schools and universities when the 18-year-old vote is introduced.

He emphasised that the Party had to increase its appeal and sharpen its image with young voters. Certainly I cannot find any cause to disagree with that statement but, as my colleague the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Doyle) prompts me, that is certainly no different from the action that needs to be taken not only in relation to young voters but also in relation to older voters. The Leader of the Country Party went on to say:

It seems to me that the bulk of the Australian people and the other political parties want the age reduced to 18. We must be realistic and accept that this is going to happen.

What more reluctant acceptance could one find than that? Even as late as the last Federal election this influence prevented the Liberal Party from throwing out the bait to the electorate that it surely would have wished to throw out to match the promise that had been made by the Labor Party.

Let me remind honourable members once again that today this House is considering a measure which for years the previous Government had the opportunity to put into effect. For years the previous Government refused to accept the responsibility to put it into effect. The Labor Party has no intention of setting up branches in high schools. We certainly will encourage the political enlightenment of our young people, whether they are eligible to vote or simply approaching that eligibility.

I refer now to a survey which was conducted approximately 18 months ago in a neighbouring electorate of mine, namely, the electorate of Griffith. If the previous Government had grasped the nettle and had taken the progressive step of reducing the voting age to 18 years, the electorate of Griffith

Would have been represented much more capably in the Twenty-eighth Parliament than it is. The survey was conducted of 5,321 high school pupils in that electorate. The question they were asked was: 'At what age would you prefer to start voting - 18, 19, 20, 21, any other?' Of the 5,321 students 72.5 per cent indicated that they would prefer to see permission to vote granted to 18-year-olds. The next highest percentage - 18 per cent - indicated a preference for the voting age to remain at 21 years. The total percentage which indicated a preference for the lowering of the voting age than for it to remain at 21 years was over 80 per cent. By the next election the vote for 18-year-olds will be an accomplished fact. I have no doubt that the addition of votes of 18-year-olds in the electorate of Griffith will bring about a significant change in the result of that electorate, as I expect that there will be significant changes in the results in many other electorates. The young people who will be given the franchise by this Government certainly will take the opportunity to show their gratitude to the Labor Party for being prepared to accept the responsibility which the previous Government was not prepared to accept. I remind the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) that the previous Government had the opportunity to introduce legislation such as this.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Although I was absent from the chamber I was listening in my office, on the public address system, to the speech of the honourable member for Bowman. I heard him refer to a survey which had been taken in the Griffith electorate, the electorate which I represent. Mr Deputy Speaker, am I in order in asking him to tell us who conducted the survey? I conducted the survey, and the honourable member has told an untruth. He said that 5,000 were interviewed. Only 1,200 were interviewed.

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