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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 2419

Mr DALY - A glance at the nations provided for a vote at 18 years of age gives a striking example of how far behind Australia lags in providing this democratic practice. Take, for instance, Andorra where all male heads of families may vote. In Bolivia married citizens may vote. The Dominican Republic is an example. Another example is Ecuador where the vote is limited to literate citizens. So we are with the illiterates in Ecuador at this time!

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order!As it is now 2 hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, the debate is interrupted.

Motion (by Dr Forbes) agreed to:

That the time for the discussion of Notice No. 1, General Business, be extended until 12.45 p.m.

Mr DALY - Other examples are El Salvador, Guatamala and Jordan, where male Transjordanians may vote but not Bedouins. So under the Liberal Government we are right back with the Bedouins. At least the Bedouins are still sticking with us. Further examples are Mongolia and Nicaragua where literate or married persons may vote. Therefore one can see how far back we are. Other examples are Venezuela and Uruguay. These are just a few which one would hardly describe as advanced democratic nations, yet this reform is an established fact in those countries, lt is a tragic fact that Australia, which once proudly led the world by giving equal, democratic vote to every man and woman, now drags at the heels of some of the much less advanced nations of the world. It is now an accepted fact that the majority of the nations of the world consider that men and women at 18 years of age are more mature, better educated and articulate than those of a generation ago at 21 years of age.

Let me now present the case in support of a vote at 18 years of age for men and women. The age of 21 appears to have been a product more of guesswork than design, or more likely, as Professor Geoffrey Sawer has said:

That at the time of the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1900 it was accepted as the common age of 'majority' or end of the 'non age' in Australia.

The position is different today. Young men and women are more mature and better educated in most cases and because of the times in which they live, more advanced mentally than those of a few generations ago. Today, 18-year-olds may, or soon will be able to, enter into contracts, dispose of property, take and defend legal actions, drink in hotel bars, drive, and in numerous other ways act like adults. Thousands of them work and pay taxes. In fact, from an answer given to me by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) recently, it is estimated that in mid- 1971 there were 275,000 males and 235,000 females of 18, 19 and 20 years of age currently employed in Australia - in all, 310,000 persons.

It is also a fact that a youth of 18 is mature enough, courageous enough and old enough to be conscripted to fight for democracy abroad. It is interesting then to deal with the question of compulsion. The Minister for the Interior said that he did not like to compel youths to vote, but he did not express any kindly feelings for those who are compelled to fight. He did not see that some of those youths may resist this much more I would say than they would resist compulsion to vote. This being the case, on what grounds could they be declared ineligible to have a voice in maintaining democracy at home?

Mr Staley - They get to vote.

Mr DALY - The fact that they have a vote is not the question. The Minister said that 18-year-olds would object to being compelled to vote. I am pointing out to him that a lot of these youths are objecting to being compelled by this Government to fight. This is a much more striking comparison.

Great Britain, the United States and other nations accept the principle that if a youth is old enough to be conscripted for military service he is old enough to vote and have a voice in the election of his Government. The Minister for the Interior, who is at the table, said that argument will not hold water. I hope that every man under 21 years of age who is called up and called upon to fight for this country realises that the Minister does not think they are entitled to have a vote.

It is also true to say that many more teenagers are becoming politically and socially activated. The view is taken that 18-year-olds are immature and incapable of sound judgement. This argument is defeated if we seek to deny a person of 18 years the right to vote on the score of immaturity because is there any reason why it should not be withdrawn from those unfortunate people who reach senility, if we accept that argument? Whether or not men and women are mature enough to vote at 18, the test to be applied is that they are increasingly involved in social, financial, industrial and political affairs and to take a responsible role in society they must have the right to vote.

This would allow them to be politically articulate in the community - a state of affairs which is denied them now simply because they are not aged 21 years or older. Is it to be said that the dear old lady that votes Conservative or Tory or Liberal or Country Party, God help her, is not as destructive to good government as a young person who supports leftism or militancy. If this test is applied the logical thing to do is to restrict it to those who are reasonably intelligent, to include an IQ test on every ballot paper and prescribe that failure to pass would render the vote informal. It is an impossible and silly argument.

Again, by what magical process is it assumed that every person aged 21 years and over is mature, intelligent, politically alert, community minded and responsible? To assume this is reaching the heights of fantasy, particularly when one looks at the members of the present Government and study the results of elections in Australia in the last 20 years.

The case that I have presented has already been accepted by more than 37 nations of the world and in our own country by Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales, and in principle by Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania - that is, by governments which are the political blood brothers, or the majority of them were, of the present administration.

Evidently, what is good enough for the Liberal-Country Party in the States is not good enough for the nation.

Quite apart from the salient facts that I have presented in support of the Bill, it is extremely doubtful whether the Government can legally deny the vote at 18 years in view of recent legislation passed by some of the State governments, as the Leader of the Opposition mentioned. The Government has created a constitutional problem. Section 41 of the Constitution provides that an adult who has the right to vote in elections for the more numerous Houses of Parliament in a State shall be entitled to vote at elections for either House of the Commonwealth Parliament. The Australian Labor Party has decided to challenge the right of the Federal Government to deny to 1 8-year- olds the right to vote at this year's Federal elections and it will hinge on the definition of 'adult' by the High Court, no doubt.

I do not seek to canvass this matter at this stage, but I consider that had the Commonwealth given 18-year-olds the right to vote as promised or indicated some time ago this crisis could have been avoided. Undoubtedly the case for votes for those of 18 years of age is supported by world opinion, by advanced nations and on the grounds of democratic rights. Even the 18-year-old Liberals - the young Liberals - have become enlightened. I did not know until I read the article in a Sydney newspaper that there were any young Liberals, but they have called upon the Government to implement this measure. Why then does the McMahon Government oppose the legislation? This question is not difficult to answer. The Government fears the vote of the 18-year- olds at the forthcoming election and for this reason the Government stubbornly rejects the legislation. The Commonwealth Statistician indicates that 700,000 men and women will be eligible to vote if the age is lowered to 18 years for the next Federal elections. They could make or break the Government. Evidently the McMahon Government thinks they would break it and that is why the Prime Minister resists this desirable democratic reform. It means that the present Government is prepared to deny a vote to about 10 per cent of the voters at the next elections because it believes they could decide the fate of the Government. Frankly I think Labor will win without them.

The Prime Minister is working on the theory that it is better to deny them a vote and be certain that the majority will not vote against him in preference to giving them democratic justice, and a say in the election of their Government. Some of the fears of our Prime Minister about the 18- year-old voters are evidently not shared by much more famous world leaders. President Nixon evidently did not fear a swing to the left by the 10 million or 11 million 18 to 20-year-olds who will vote in this year's Congressional elections. He lowered the voting age. He evidently believes that he can persuade them to support his policy. Harold Wilson - a true democrat - went to the polls in 1970 when 18 to 20-year-olds voted for the first time and was defeated. But who is to say that they voted against him? In Western Australia 18-year-olds voting for the first time elected the oldest Premier ever to take office in that State and this should give our present Prime Minister at least a gleam of hope. To say the least, to anticipate how the 18-year- olds will vote is a rather dubious, doubtful and dangerous pastime. Whatever the Prime Minister's reason for denying them a vote, there can be no excuse for doing it on the assumption that they will vote right, left centre or against him. It should be divorced from these assumptions and based squarely on the right of citizens of this age to take their rightful place in a democracy and exercise all their rights. The Prime Minister has his doubts as to their support. Quite frankly, judged on his performance, he probably has a case for that point of view.

Are we to expect that the Government will postpone this reform until the Minister can computerise the voters' thoughts and know precisely from their sex and age what party they intend to support if the vote is given? If the Government had acted democratically it would long ago have drawn up the uniform legislation with the States that the Minister spoke about covering all the rights that go with adulthood or the age of legal responsibility, such as the right to vote. This process would have eliminated the additional costs of preparing separate rolls and at the same time it would have established a democratic right to vote for all 18-year-olds irrespective of State boundaries. However, this was not to be. It appears that under the Liberal-Country Party Government it is not justice or democracy that counts at this time but rather the fear of the effect of the vote of these young people on this worn out, tired and decadent tory administration. If this is the reason, it may be politically expedient but it is certainly democratically contemptible.

The legislation deserves the support of this Parliament. It is enlightened, responsible, just and democratic. Quite contrary to what the Minister has said, it is wanted by those 600,000 to 700,000 people. The excuses that he has brought forward today were paltry in the extreme but at least I give him credit for being the only Minister for the Interior who has ever put a case against it for us to judge just where this Government stands. He said that there was no time to prepare the legislation, it would be too rushed. That argument collapses when one looks at the Bills that have been introduced in this Parliament. On 31st March last year, legislation was introduced that could have brought about this electoral reform. The Minister's argument that people would not want to vote is one that will not stand investigation on any ground at all. Of course there ought to be a uniform franchise for Australians, as he said, but whose fault is it that there is not? It is this Government's fault. It gives no lead. The Government wants public opinion to tell it where to go. I presume. Of course, everybody knows that it is a leaderless government. So unless there are demonstrations and wide clamour are we to take it that there will be no reform in respect of this matter?

The Minister mentioned facts and figures associated with this reform, but there is no substance whatever in them because the Government has had 20 years to think of this. It has had at least 4 years since the Leader of the Opposition brought certain proposals to this Parliament. I do not think that any 18-year-olds in this country will accept the Government's putting it off now by saying that there is no time. As the Leader of the Opposition indicated, if the argument about compulsion is so great why not give them the option to vote and see whether they exercise it? That would be a reasonable test. I was not certain from the Minister's speech whether he was against the whole principle of 18-year-olds voting or only against the element of compulsion. I would like him to clear that up because it is very important. I would like him to explain also whether if it is made optional - even if we introduce another Bill to achieve that end - the Government will give its support.

I believe that the case put forward by the Leader of the Opposition in the debate on previous Bills and today is one that is unanswerable in the minds of all democrats in this country. It is an endeavour to give to the people of Australia 18 years of age and over what is their right, namely, the opportunity to participate in the progress of our nation. Such legislation would bring Australia into line with other nations large and small, and would enable us to maintain our place as a leader in the democratic world. This is a great issue. It is a great democratic process. I think that the House should vote on it.

I now formally move:

That the question be now put.

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