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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 2408

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

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Bil] is intended to give the right to vote to men and women citizens of 18, 19 and 20 years of age. In that connection its provisions are similar to those in the Bill of which I gave the second reading on 21st November 1968 and again in the Bill of which I gave the second reading on 4th June 1970. One would have thought that there would be no need for any private member - all members of the Opposition are private members - to bring in a Bill on this subject again. Before the last elections for the House of Representatives and during the election the then Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), promised that at the next election for the House of Representatives men and women citizens of 18, 19 and 20 years of age would have the vote.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - He did not promise that at all.

Mr WHITLAM - The honourable member for Griffith is the first member of Parliament to deny that the former Prime Minister made that promise. I have never known the right honourable member for Higgins to deny that he made that promise. 1 have never known his successor, the man who ousted him, to deny that the promise was made. The whole of the public has understood that the Liberal Party was committed at the last House of Representatives election to introducing the right to vote for 18. 19 and 20 year old men and women at this year's elections for the House of Representatives. The Australian Labor Party has been committed to this proposition for many years. The reasons why the Opposition has had for a third time to raise this Bill on that the present Government has repudiated promises made by the Gorton Government and there are divisions in the coalition parties on this question. The matter has been shelved all these years for those reasons. When I gave the second reading of the Bill in November 1968 the then Attorney-General followed me in the debate. He concluded his speech with these words: . . the Government is considering this subject, has not made a decision, but opposes the passing of the Bill in this form at present.

When I gave the second reading of the Bill on 4th June 1970 I was followed in the debate by the then Attorney-General, the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Hughes), who made it plain that his own views were in support of the Bill. He concluded his speech by saying:

.   . the Government opposes the Bill not in order to be obstructive but rather for the reason that a little more time in which to make up one's mind, one's collective mind, on a question of such importance as each of the questions raised in the Bill, would be better on a balance of all the considerations involved.

Members of Parliament and of the public can scarcely have been more patient on any matter than they have been on this. To indicate the Government's delay on this matter let me point to today's notice paper. Honourable members will see there that there has been a Government Bill on this subject on the notice paper since 31st March 1971. My colleague the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) is listed as having the right to resume the debate on that Bill. True, it was a Commonwealth Electoral Bill to make many amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act to which the Government was committed and on which the Government said at the time that action was not only desirable and necessary but also urgent. The Bill has not been brought on for resumed debate because it would have been possible for the Opposition to move an amendment to it for votes at 18 years of age.

Mr McLeay - What about first past the post voting?

Mr WHITLAM - That could have been moved too but, as the honourable gentleman knows, that would not go through the Senate. The honourable gentleman who interjected belongs to a party which, just under 3 years ago, was understood in the words of its leader to promise votes at 18 years in this year's election.

Dr Klugman - That was not the only promise.

Mr WHITLAM - Of course it was not the only promise. It is only another instance of deGortonisation by the McMahon Government.

Mr Daly - A promise ain't a promise any more.

Mr WHITLAM - Not when Mr McMahon has the responsibility of implementing it. This Government's Bill has been stalled for all these months - for the last 14 months - because the Government will not have a vote on this subject of votes at 18 years of age. When the Opposition brings in a Bill as we are doing this General Business day and as we did on 2 previous General Business days, all a government has to do is to keep the debate going until the time elapses for debate on that Bill. Once that time has elapsed the Bill can never come on for debate again unless the Government brings it on. It is not possible for the persons who move it or who support it to bring it on for debate and for vote. Only the Government can do so.

Sir Winton Turnbull - Has that not always been so?

Mr WHITLAM - Of course it has, but the next government will give opportunities to conclude debates and take votes on private members' Bills. The present Government has taken the attitude that it will not allow debates to conclude or votes to be taken on private members' Bills, even where those Bills or resolutions are brought in by its supporters.

In fact the present Government takes the same attitude to many Bills it has brought in itself. I have quoted one instance, namely the Commonwealth Electoral Bill. The Government is not bringing this on because if it did so it could not avoid a vote on an Opposition amendment. The Government's own Commonwealth Electoral Bill is in the same category as the Australian Institute of Marine Science Bill, the Continental Shelf (Living Natural Resources) Bill, the Fisheries Bill and the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill which have been on the notice paper for as much as 2 years and more. Today the Government will do its best to talk the Bill out. There is a majority of members in this House and also in the Senate who are in favour of Australians having the vote for the national Parliament at 18 years. If there were a free vote on this matter in either House, the vote would be in favour of it. The Government's technique today therefore will be to talk out the Bill and to leave it on the notice paper as it has allowed my Bill of June 1970 to remain on the notice paper and as it is allowing its own Bill of March 1971 to remain on the notice paper.

It is not possible now for the Government to say that it has not had plenty of time to consider the matter. It has had time to consider its own Bill. It has had time to consider 2 Opposition Bills in this House and also in the Senate. Furthermore, the matter was brought to the attention of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) and the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair) on 16th March this year by the National Youth Council of Australia. The Council's Press statement quotes the letter:

At its meeting in Melbourne last night the executive committee of the Council discussed this matter at some length and was deeply concerned that the Adulthood Bill 1970 has been awaiting resumption of debate on the second reading since June of last year. It was felt that even if this Bill was seen to be inadvisable in its present form there has surely been sufficient time in almost 2 years for it to be amended or for a new Bill to be introduced. We can only presume from this inaction a deliberate intention to delay legislation enfranchising 18-year-olds.

The Council's point is well taken. If the Bill that I introduced in June 1970 was unsatisfactory and if it required further collective consideration by the Ministry and the Government parties as the then Attorney-General, the honourable member for Berowra said, although he personally supported the Bill, there was plenty of time to give consideration to this matter before the Government introduced its own Bill in March last year. If the Government required still more time to consider 'he matter in order to come to a collective decision there has been a further 14 months in which to amend its own Bill. If its own Bill comes on. of course, the Opposition will put up an amendment and Government supporters will be unable to get the Bill through without at least voting on the Opposition's amendment. So, a vast amount of time has been available to 2 Prime Ministers, several Ministers for the Interior and a still greater numb.- of Attorneys-General to consider this matter.

When the matter was first raised in my Bill and in Senator Murphy's Bill in November 1968 the Attorney-General pleaded that this matter was being considered by the Standing Committee of Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General. They have all considered it. They have had a report from supreme court judges who sit on the law commissions. 1 suppose that the law on this matter has been more thoroughly examined than any other matter in our time. Ostensibly, every party supports the matter in principle but the Liberal Party in the State Parliaments and in this Parliament will not act upon it.

It might have been said in 1968 or even in 1970 when I earlier introduced Bills for the franchise at 18 that this was not yet standard practice in all the common law countries. In most of the countries of Europe and the countries which Europe had settled votes were then available to citizens at 18 years of age. It was true, however, that 18-year-olds did not have the vote in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia. This is no longer the position. At the last elections in the United Kingdom men and women of 18 years of age had votes. In this year's elections in the United States for the Presidency, for governors, for senators and for members of the House of Representatives, citizens of 18 years will have the vote. In Canada citizens of 18 years now have the vote. In Western Australia at the last State elections citizens of 18 years had the vote. In Papua New Guinea last month citizens of 18 years had the vote. So, where the Commonwealth is responsible in Territories and in other common law countries with whom we usually compare ourselves - Britain, America and Canada - votes are now given at 18 years. Therefore, I do not again have to list all the other countries which have had votes for 18 year olds for much longer periods. 1 do not have to go again through the arguments why votes should be given for men and women at 18 years. I have given those arguments on previous occasions. Many of the issues upon which 18. 19 and 20-year-old men and women felt more intensely than any other people in the community at that time are still matters upon which they feel intensely. Obviously, 2 such matters are the burden of national service and the cost of higher education. The people who are affected by the administrative and legislative provisions in this regard are denied the votes to influence the legislators. Let me indicate to honourable members the extent of the increasing interest in education. In 19S4 only 6.2 per cent of men and women who were 18 years of age were in full-time education; in the 1961 census there were 13.2 per cent; in the 1966 census there were 27.2 per cent; and in a statistician's survey of a one per cent sample of households throughout Australia in 1968 there were 35.7 per cent. I assume that last year's census will reveal that maybe 45 per cent of males and females aged 18 years are in full-time education. Is it to be wondered at then that men and women of 18, 19 and 20 years are becoming increasingly alienated and frustrated by the Liberals refusal to carry out an election understanding?

There are 2 other matters. People of this age particularly feel the social and economic hardships in 2 particular areas of our country. One of these consists of the regions outside the metropolitan areas and the other consists of the regions on the outskirts of the metropolitan areas. I assume that I am to be followed in this debate by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) who represents a region outside a metropolitan area. He would know that the age groups who are leaving the countryside in the greatest numbers are those of 18, 19 and 20 years of age. It is impossible to read any country newspaper outside the metropolitan areas without reading an account of a farewell party to a young man or woman going to what is often called 'the city' - by which is meant the capital city. If 18, 19 and 20 year old men and women had votes in Australia much more would have been done to see that conditions outside the metropolitan areas were such as to retain such people in those areas and give them some future in those areas. I would think that this argument would appeal to the Minister for the Interior who will follow me.

The other area in which much more attention would be given to social, economic and civic requirements, if there were votes attached to those areas, is on the outskirts of the metropolitan areas. Yesterday I quoted the situation of Mount

Druitt which is one of the new suburbs well outside Sydney built with Commonwealth money to house fair-sized young families. People do not have much chance of getting a Housing Commission house unless they have quite large family commitments in terms of numbers of children and the age of children. The average age of people in Mount Druitt is 8 years. The outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne have a minority of the population on the rolls because most of the people cannot be on the rolls either since they are not yet naturalised or they are not yet adults. If votes were given to those who are 18, 19 and 20 years old, very much more political attention would be given to the needs of these developing areas on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, as well as to those regions outside the metropolitan areas which are being denuded.

The depopulation of the countryside and the alienation of the outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne would be reversed if the young people who are leaving or who are alienated were given the vote. I refer to the men and women of 18. 19 and 20 years of age.

The Government should accept, with good grace, votes at 18 years in this year's House of Representatives election. There are excellent chances that men and women of those ages will be able to have a vote in this year's House of Representatives election, even if the Government does not allow a vote to be taken on the Bill I have introduced today, or on the Bill which I introduced in June 1970, or on the Bill which the Government itself introduced in March last year to which we would move an amendment to give votes at 18 years of age, The reason why these people might have a vote at this years House of Representatives election is because the Constitution states:

No adult person who has or acquires a right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of a State shall, while the right continues, be prevented by any law of the Commonwealth from voting at elections for either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth.

There has always been question as to what is meant by an 'adult'. Some people say that an adult in our Constitution means what it meant in Britain when our Constitution was enacted by the British Parliament in 1900. Others would say that an adult in our Constitution means what it means in the general law in Australia. The matters which affect adult rights in Australia usually fall within the province of the State parliaments. The clear matters which fall within the province of this Parliament are marriage and the franchise. But by the end of the next month men and women of 18, 19 and 20 years of age in South Australia will not only have adult rights in the general sense; they will also have the right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of that State. For confirmation I quote an answer which the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) provided to me on 9th December last. 1 had asked:

On what matters and what dates (a) has each State Parliament enacted, and (b) has each State Government proclaimed or will it proclaim legislation giving adult rights to persons under 21 years of age.

The Attorney-General provided the following answer in regard to South Australia:

On 8th April 1971, the 'Age of Majority (Reduction) Bill' was assented to and on 15th April 1971, the Act was proclaimed to commence on that day.

This Act provides that persons who have attained the age of 18 years shall be of full age and capacity except for certain specified matters including conditions, rights and obligations of employment.

The Constitution Act Amendment Act (No. 2) 1970-1971, which is expressed to come into force on a date to be fixed, or at the latest on 30th June 1972, reduces the voting age under State law to 18 years.

Under the heading 'Western Australia' the Attorney-General informed me that some adult rights had been given to minors in the age group 18 to 21 years and that they had been given the right to vote for the State Parliament. Since then the Western Australian Labor Government has announced that it will give complete adult rights to 18- year-old men and women. It is quite likely, therefore, that by the end of next month, when those who have adult rights will also gain the right to vote in South Australia for the State Parliament, those who have the right to vote at 18 years of age in Western Australia for the State Parliament will also have adult rights. In South Australia it would appear clear, and in Western Australia it seems probable, that by the end of next month men and women of 18 will be adults and they will have the right to vote for their State Parliaments. In those circumstances they will have the right in South Australia, and one hopes in Western Australia, to apply for enrolment for the. House of Representatives and Senate elections in those States. 1 quote Professor Geoffrey Sawer who wrote an article in the 'Canberra Times' on 22nd March. The article reads: li might have been the case that the 18-year-olds would have had to wait until the election, and then presented themselves at the polling booths and demanded to be allowed a vote, and only then started to take legal action if refused.

Fortunately, however, they can test the matter before the election and very simply.

This is because of section 39B of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, introduced by amendment in 1961. That section authorises the enrolment in the Commonwealth electoral rolls in the appropriate residential division, of any person to whom section 41 of the Constitution applies.

The provision was put there in connection with the voting rights of Aborigines, not of persons under 21, but it is clearly applicable to the age issues as well if section 41 of the Constitution is interpreted as 1 have suggested.

Hence m order to test out this matter, the ALP needs only to stand behind an 18-year-old in South Australia, after his State voting right comes into existence, and have him apply for Federal enrolment under section 39B.

Probably the electoral officials, advised by the Commonwealth Attorney-General will refuse enrolment, when the applicant has an appeal to a local court of petty sessions and eventually to the High Court.

I interpolate at this point to say that 1 would have thought that an 18-year-old would have the right to go directly to the High Court as paragraph (v.) of section 75 of the Constitution states that in all matters in which a writ of mandamus is sought against an officer of the Commonwealth the High Court shall have original jurisdiction. I return to Professor Sawer's article which reads further:

However, there are 2 other intriguing points about section 39b.

First, pursuant to our general national policy of compulsory enrolment of voters and compulsory voting, section 39b brings people qualified to vote under section 41 of the Constitution within the reach of both these requirements. This puts a different complexion on the position of tine 18 to 21 group; if they are qualified to vote, under section 41 of the Constitution at Federal elections, it is their legal duty to go ahead and enrol and vote, not hist a matter for individuals to do their thing.

The Gorton Government had time to consider this matter and we all understood it had agreed to introduce votes at this year's election for citizens of 18, 19 and 20 years of age. Even the McMahon Government has had time to sort out its collective mind sufficiently to introduce votes for such citizens. Therefore I would urge the Government, gracefully and promptly, to give voting rights to those citizens, just as such citizens will have that right in this year's United States elections, as they have had in the British and will have in the Canadian elections, as they have had in Papua New Guinea, as they have had in Western Australia as they will have in every future South Australian election.

If the Government does not yield on this matter one would hope that 18-, 19- and 20-year-old citizens in South Australia and, if the Western Australian Parliament passes the full adult Act, in that State also will exercise their right and it would appear their legal duty to apply for enrolment to vote in this year's election for the House of Representatives. The Australian Labor Party will back them in seeking their rights.

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