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Tuesday, 12 September 1972
Page: 1134

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) (Minister for the Interior) - 1 oppose the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable a debate to proceed on this issue, particularly in view of the fact that there is a fairly extensive legislative programme ahead of the Government. Quite clearly for political motives we are seeing a situation develop within the ranks of the Opposition whereby this issue has been raised within a few weeks of an election campaign. It is one of those instant coffee type situations that can arise, and certainly have arisen, on the eve of an election campaign. It is quite obvious from speeches that have been made in this House on several occasions that the Government has stated its position very clearly, namely, that to lower the franchise age without taking into account all the other related issues, such as the age of legal responsibility and the age of marriage, is unwise.

The Government has been considering for some considerable time a report that was prepared by the various departments on this whole question. I believe that to introduce a Bill to lower the franchise age before the States as a whole have finally resolved to introduce this measure is to rush the issue at a ridiculous pace. Admittedly, South Australia and Western Australia have legislated to introduce the 18, 19 and 20-year old franchise.

Mr Whitlam - And New South Wales.

Mr HUNT - New South Wales has introduced legislation but it has not been proclaimed. I gather that that applies to a number of other States; indeed I think there is one State which has not yet made a decision on this matter. Why are we rushing this measure? Has there been a great clamour by 18, 19 and 20-year old people to exercise the franchise? I have spoken to a great number of young people on many occasions at various meetings. Whilst some may have expressed the view that there is an argument for lowering the franchise age, the question often has been asked: Should they be forced to enrol? These are the issues that I believe any government should take into consideration. We have to determine whether in fact the 18, 19 and 20-year-olds want the vote and, if a body of them does, whether we should make it compulsory for them to enrol. I do not think we should be stampeding the young people, who have enough pressures including education pressures on them at this time, into a situation in which they are forced to vote.

I believe that far too often members of this House - indeed parliamentarians generally - are inclined to think that the whole world revolves around them and that the whole community is interested in what we are doing in this place. In many cases parliamentarians feel obliged to try to impose upon people an obligation to vote for them. I wonder whether that is a right and proper thing to do at this time. I suppose that there would be political reasons why a party would want to try to stampede this issue on the eve of an election campaign, thinking that there could be short term political gains in the form of support at the polls from the youth of Australia. But the whole spectrum of the age of legal responsibility has been debated in this House on several occasions. As I said in an earlier debate, the issue of the age of legal responsibility and the age of marriage has a relevance to the question of adulthood. Indeed, the High Court of Australia unanimously decided that under section 41 of the Constitution people under 21 years of age must be regarded as not being adult for the purpose of the franchise. My Department and the Government certainly are studying that High Court judgment. I appeal to the House not to try to rush something through like this on the eve of the election, as it were. Even if we did go ahead with this Bill, even if both sides of the House agreed that there should be a lowering of the franchise age. there would be enormous and very serious technical difficulties facing the Commonwealth Electoral Office in trying to effect the enrolment of 18. 19 and 20-year-olds on the eve of an election.

This matter should be thought through. I believe that there has been good reason for debating the issue; I think it is a good thing if society considers the issue. However I do not think it would serve any purpose to suspend the Standing Orders and to put aside other business which the Government deems to be urgent in order to deal with this matter on the eve of an election. I believe that the Opposition's move is nothing more than a political sham.

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