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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 2422

Mr BROWN (Diamond Valley) - I admire and respect your discretion in the matter, Mr Acting Speaker. Now that this debate is to continue after the Opposition's rather regrettable attempt to gag it, let me address a few remarks on the subject. It is only fair and proper that I should say at the outset that my personal position is that in principle I support the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 years. On this subject there are very substantial arguments on both sides. When one looks at the evidence and weighs up the issues involved I believe that one should come down in favour of the proposition that the franchise should be granted to those of 18 years of age. Before I develop that at more length let me direct a few remarks to some of the matters that were raised in this debate by earlier speakers. I want to refer to 2 matters raised by the

Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), one raised by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) and one raised by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt).

Honourable members will recall that during the debate the Leader of the Opposition suggested that the Government had abandoned the principle altogether. He said that although the Government at one stage might have supported the lowering of the voting age to 18 it had now abandoned that principle, no longer supported it and would do everything it could to prevent the voting age being lowered to 18 years. So far as I am aware there is no abandonment of the matter of principle; so far as I am aware there is no great division of opinion within Government ranks on this matter; and so far as I am concerned, and I say this quite openly, there is a quite substantial body of opinion on this side of the House in support of the proposition, although I recognise at the same time that there are people who hold a contrary view. So there is no abandonment of the principle. As I said at the outset, I certainly support it.

The second matter to which I want to draw attention, arising from comments made by the Leader of the Opposition, is his call for a free vote on this matter.

Mr Garrick - Are you coming over?

Mr BROWN - As the Leader of the Opposition said, there are people who have views on this matter and there are people on this side of the House - I have said I am one - who support the principle. So the Leader of the Opposition says: 'Let us have a free vote'. The honourable member for Batman (Mr Garrick), my electoral neighbour in the city of Melbourne, asked me by way of interjection whether I would go over on this issue. I presume he means would I vote for the Bill. I certainly would vote for it.

Mr Foster - Why didn't you?

Mr BROWN - The honourable member for Stuart whose contributions in these debates seem to be confined to puerile interjections, asks why I did not vote for it. I remind him that the issue being voted on in the last division was the attempt by the Opposition to gag the debate. It is not a vote on the substantive issue. If he wants to know whether I would support the Bill, let me say that I certainly would be glad to support the principle of it. The Leader of the Opposition said: 'Let us have a free vote'. I remind him that on another matter only a few weeks ago we on this side of the House were saying 'Let us have a free vote on the issue of the abolition of capital punishment'. Of course the Opposition would not allow a free vote on that issue. Does this mean that there are to be free votes on some issues of conscience and principle and not free votes on others? If it does mean that, does it mean also that the Opposition is to decide which are the issues on which there will be a free vote and which are issues on which there is not to be a free vote? If it is a valid argument that there should be a free vote on the lowering of the voting age, and I agree that a substantial case can be made out for that argument, what is the case against a free vote on the issue of capital punishment and its abolition?

I come now to the honourable member for Grayndler and the contribution that he made to the debate. I say at the outset that I agree almost exclusively with what he said. I agree with the substantial arguments that were advanced by him. He put [hem to the House in an eloquent and persuasive manner. One of. the myths in this debate concerns the argument which unfortunately was raised by the honourable member for Grayndler about servicemen. It has been said to us on the Government side by some people inside and, on occasions, outside the Parliament: 'You have a national service system. You conscript people. You send them overseas when you decide it is necessary for them to go. They are under 21 when you do that and yet you do not allow them a vote'. It has been said that if people are old enough to go into the armed Services and old enough to go overseas and defend and fight for their country they are old enough to vote.

Let me hasten to add that I agree with that proposition. I hasten also to add that the proposition already is embodied in the legislation. I would simply draw the attention of the honourable member for Grayndler and the House to the provisions of section 39a of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. That section provides in substance that where a person who is less than 21 years of age is a member of the defence forces and is on special service, which is defined, he is entitled, provided he meets the other qualifications, to he enrolled as a voter. The term 'special service' is defined in the Act. As honourable members will appreciate, this is a reference to another Act which defines in more detail special service overseas and special areas and the substance of the provision for the legislation is that when a man is in the defence forces and is overseas in a theatre of war, if one may refer to it in that compendious way, he is entitled to be enrolled as a voter. So, as I said earlier, it is a myth; it is not true. The legislation already provides for a person in such a case to be enrolled as a voter. As 1 said, I hope that this matter raised by the honourable member for Grayndler and some people outside the House will be laid to rest once and for all.

Another matter which concerns me about this Bill and which I find rather a peculiar provision is that although it lowers the age at which a person may be enrolled for voting, it does not lower the age at which a person may stand as a candidate for election in this Parliament. Curiously enough, although the Bill that is now before the House goes through the sections of the Commonwealth Electoral Act which refer to 21 years of age and changes them to 18 years of age, it does not change the age for candidature. I recognise that a case could be made out for the proposition that a person should be more mature than 18 years and that he should be 21 years before he takes on the high responsibility of being a member of Parliament, for it is a high responsibility. However, it would seem to me that if it is a matter of principle and if in coming to a conclusion about that matter of principle we are looking at maturing ages and what has happened to young people over the last 10 or 20 years, one should come to the conclusion that if a person is entitled to vote at the age of 18 years, as I believe he should be, he should be entitled to stand as a candidate. All the arguments that have been advanced for enabling or justifying a person to enrol as a voter at 18 years are arguments that can just as validly be put in respect of the proposition that an 18- year old should be able to stand as a candidate for election to this Parliament. I put it no higher than that - that it is curious that there should be this dichotomy in the Bill that is now before the House between the age for enrolment and the age for candidature for election to this House.

To the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster) and other honourable members who have asked me by way of interjection why I did not cast my vote in a particular way I would say it is because this is at least one inconsistency in this Bill. Members of the Opposition should not think that just because an Opposition member introduces a private member's Bill on a matter of principle that some of us support, we will automatically vote for it in the form in which it is introduced into this Parliament because that simply will not happen. I would suggest that in some of the private members' legislation that has been introduced by Opposition members in this House, it unfortunately has been loosely drawn. It has been full of inconsistencies and it has not been legislation for which we should be obliged to vote.

I should now like to mention some remarks which were made by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt). Of course, he made a substantial contribution to this debate and with respect and, 1 hope, politely, 1 would like to disagree with him on one matter which he mentioned during the course of his remarks. He suggested that, in view of the fact that in Australia there is compulsory voting, it would in fact be imposing an obligation and a duty on 18-year olds if this legislation were passed when in fact they may not want to vote. I suggest that there are 2 completely separate issues involved here and. with respect to the Minister, I do not think that it is an answer to the case that has been put up for 18-year old voting to say that, because voting in Australia is compulsory, if 18- year-olds were given the vote it would compel them to vote. I do not think that that is an answer. I suggest that the proper approach to take is to decide as a matter of principle whether one supports 18-year old voting and. when we decide that we do support that principle we should implement the legislation and then go on to look at the next question of compulsory voting and whether it should remain on the statute book. I suggest that they are 2 separate questions which should not be confused and which should not be used as an argument against lowering the voting age.

They are just some remarks that I wish to address to the House with respect to some of the points that have been raised by honourable members who have spoken in the debate. I want to develop perhaps at a little more length the basic proposition, namely that although there have been advanced quite persuasive arguments from both sides of the House, nevertheless my personal view is that the voting age should be lowered. In this place in recent years there have been 2 very interesting on this issue, one in 1968 and one in 1970. I must say that I have been very compelled by the contribution that was made in 1968 by the honourable member lor Kooyong (Mr Peacock), now the Minister for External Territories. He drew attention in his remarks in that debate to the lowering maturity age of people these days and he drew on a large number of sources which substantiated that proposition. He drew attention to the investigation by the British Committee on the Age of Majority and to the conclusions to which that Committee came.

At the risk of taking just a couple of minutes I should like to emphasise to honourable members that the report of the Committee on the Age of Majority is a very valuable document. It was published in the United Kingdom in 1967 and the whole issue of the age of majority is examined in great detail. The Committee did not concern itself with the voting age but with all the other aspects of the age of majority. It is interesting to look at some of the conclusions to which the British Committee came. In its report under '.he heading: 'General Conclusions' it was stated firstly:

That the historical causes for 21 are not relevant to contemporary society.

The Committee in another conclusion said:

That most young people today mature earlier than in the past.

In another conclusion the Committee said:

That by 18 most young people are ready for these responsibilities and rights and would greatly profit by them as would the teaching authorities, the business community, the administration of justice, and the community as a whole.

They are some of the general conclusions reached by the British Committee after taking evidence and investigating the mat ter in great detail and I emphasise compendiously that its conclusions tended towards lowering the age of majority.

When one looks at the particular recommendations that the Committee made in particular areas, one again sees consistently a recommendation for lowering the age for marriage, for wardship, for contracts, lor the inheritance of property and so on. I would strongly suggest to honourable members that they should look at in is report because it goes into the matter in great detail. Some of the particular areas where it is suggested that the age should be lowered are, as I have mentioned, marriage, wardship in children's cases, contracts and the whole area of property, where it is suggested that a person should be able to hold a legal estate in land at '.he age of 18 years. The Committee went on to concern itself with wills, income tax law and even down to details such as blood donations and passports. But the point to be made and understood by the House is that they are consistent recommendations for a lowering of the relevant age because of an earlier maturity, and this is the basic point about the whole matter.

They are arguments for the lowering of the voting age. There are other arguments tending against the passage of this legislation in this form. I have mentioned one of them already - the fact that the age for nomination for candidates for election to this Parliament is not touched by this legislation and I would like to know why. It is not an unanswerable case. I think it deserves some reply from the Opposition. The other substantial matter - and I suppose that it is the matter on which this whole debate finally centres at this stage - is that the Government has said that the matter is detailed and involved and requires closer and more detailed examination than has been given to it so far. I emphasise that that is what has been said by the Goverment. I think it is fairly clear that a law could be passed now to lower the voting age without any more being done. It could be done as a matter of law and it would be effective as a matter of law. But the substantive point that should be understood - and I ask honourable members to try to accept this - is that there are other consequences. If the voting age is lowered to 18 years then there will be consequences in other areas of Government activity and in other areas of law. I emphasise that a law could be passed at this stage to lower the voting age, but one must go on and concede that to do so without considering the implications in other areas of law would be very unwise indeed.

I want to mention some of the areas where legislation will have to be amended and where the whole question of the relevant age will have to be investigated before the whole matter can be completed in toto and all of these areas of law put in a consistent form on the statute book. I mention some of them: The law relating to bankruptcy, bills of exchange, employees' compensation, powers of attorney and estate duty; the whole law relating to the inheritance of property; the law relating to legal proceedings brought by infants, as they are called under the law today, although that is perhaps an unfortunate term; and the law relating to marriage, divorce proceedings concerning people under the age of 21 years, social services, superannuation and many other matters.

As well as these substantive areas of law there is a whole range of detailed legislation which operates in the Commonwealth Territories. Clearly all of this will have to be investigated in detail and amended. My time has almost expired. I merely want to conclude on the substantive point that we cannot lower the voting age without recognising that it must have other and very wide consequences in many other areas of law. lt would be very unwise - indeed it would be reckless - to lower the voting age, ignoring these other areas of law which would have to be changed, investigated in detail, and made consistent with our attitude on the law of majority.

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