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Tuesday, 26 August 1969

Senator SCOTT (Western AustraliaMinister for Customs and Excise) - The Bill now before the Senate was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy). Its purpose is to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-66 to provide for enrolment and voting at the age of 18 years. I might say at the outset that many people on both sides of the Senate believe that the voting age should be reduced and are anxious that this be done. But I am surprised that the Leader of the Opposition should see fit to bring this Bill forward at this particular time which is only about 8 weeks before the holding of an election. He knows full well that if this Bill were passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives there would be no opportunity for the rolls to be altered in time for that election. This Bill was first introduced in 1968, not only in the Senate but also in another place. It is almost 12 months now since the Bill was introduced and the Leader of the Opposition now decides that the Bill should be discussed under the general business of the Senate tonight.

Senator Murphy - Is it not reasonable that you should indicate your attitude to it?

Senator SCOTT - I said just prior to your interjection that many honourable senators and many honourable members on both sides of the Parliament, members of all political parties, supported the lowering of the voting age from 21 years to anything from 18 years upwards. What astounds me is this action by the Leader of the Opposition at this particular time. The Senate is a States House. The Leader of the Opposition represents the State of New South Wales. As a representative of that State, he knows full well that the New South Wales Law Reform Commission, under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Manning, investigated the reduction of the legal age of responsibility to 18 years.

Senator Wright - For all legal purposes.

Senator SCOTT - That is right. I will come to that side of the argument a little later. The report was made quite recently. It favoured reducing the age of legal responsibility to 18 years. Our Government has already indicated that it will again look into the question of reducing the franchise age to 18 years after it has examined this report because there are other problems associated with changing the voting age and the age of legal responsibility.

The Leader of the Opposition has said that his Party wants the voting age reduced to 18 years. I said a little earlier that we know very well that this cannot be done prior to the coming election, and the Leader of the Opposition would understand this quite well. When it comes to reducing the voting age, whether it be to 20, 19 or 18 years, I should think that, the Senate being a States House, it would be the responsibility of the Commonwealth Parliament, and of the Senate in particular, to give full consideration to the views of the States. I mention this because four of the States have a common roll.

Senator Georges - Why would this be a handicap?

Senator SCOTT - If the honourable senator understood the construction of rolls he would appreciate that it is a handicap. Before interjecting he should make a study of the electoral rolls. If he did he would find that four States have a common roll. In those circumstances, how could the Commonwealth electoral office function satisfactorily to the electors of those four States if it had to prepare for each of them rolls which had on them names of people aged 19 or 18 years for Commonwealth purposes and names of people 21 years and over for State purposes? Just how could that be worked out? I suggest that the honourable senator study that problem and come up with a solution. We could quite easily have a situation in which there were four different voting ages in four different States for State purposes and one common age for Commonwealth purposes. That would be ridiculous.

The Attorney-General and the relevant authorities in the respective States will be giving very close consideration to the report submitted by the Law Reform Commission in New South Wales. That report was tabled only in August of this year. After full consideration has been given to it, recommendations will be made to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and to the Premiers of each pf the States. I do not believe that it would be satisfactory to have different voting ages, especially in the four States to which I have already referred; but it would be to the advantage of all electors in Australia if the Commonwealth and the States could agree upon a uniform voting age for all purposes.

Senator Georges - How long do you think it will take?

Senator SCOTT - That will depend upon who is the Government after the forthcoming election. I believe that it will be the present Government Parties. If this Government is re-elected, it will not take very long. It will take a considerable time if the Opposition is elected into office. As I see it, that is the situation in a nutshell. The Opposition is trying to ram down the throats of the State governments what they shall do. The Government is endeavouring to achieve a probably similar end result but it will not make a move until the Commonwealth and State governments have had sufficient time to study the report of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission.

The New South Wales Law Reform Commission has been examining the matter for some considerable time. It was expected that the Commission's report would be presented for consideration in March of this year. I think (he Leader of the Opposition mentioned this point in his second reading speech. But in actual fact it was tabled in the New South Wales Parliament only this month. Therefore the States and the Commonwealth have not had an opportunity to give it the consideration that it warrants before they decide upon whether there should be any amendment of the present situation. It would be impossible for the matter to be given consideration and an amendment made to the present legislation between now and the Federal election and for the rolls to be adjusted so that people in the younger age group would be able to vote at that election. That is why I think that the Leader of the Opposition should have given consideration to the introduction of legislation of this nature after the elections.

Senator Marriott - He will still be in the Opposition ranks.

Senator SCOTT - He will, we hope, be adequately placed to introduce this type of measure. He will still be, we hope, Leader of the Opposition. It all depends on the number of supporters he has on his side. I come now to some of the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition. He said that if his proposals were adopted the number of voters in Australia could be increased by up to 800,000. The figure that I have been given is not quite as high as that. I have been told that the number of voters could be increased by about 600,000. The number of voters throughout Australia will, at any rate, increase considerably. I suppose the Leader of the Opposition is game and willing enough to try anything once in that he believes that although the Australian Labor Party has not been in Government in the last 20 years it may be able to persuade the younger generation to vote for its style of politics.

Senator Rae - Not according to the statistics in the gallup polls.

Senator SCOTT - I read the gallup polls with interest because I am a great believer in them. I doubt whether the ALP would get the support of the 18 to 21 age group. The ALP has been in opposition for 20 years and has been unable to put forward in a policy speech something that will appeal to the electors. It is now trying to get the young people on its side.

Senator Cavanagh - Why does the Minister advance that argument?

Senator SCOTT - I advance that argument because the ALP has been in opposition for 20 years. I suppose I would be doing the same thing if I were in opposition for 20 years. The gallup polls indicate that the ALP will not get the support of the young people. I go along with that view.

Senator Georges - What is the purpose in saying that?

Senator SCOTT - Because the Opposition is desperate and will say anything. It hopes that the gallup polls will prove to be wrong. I would like to say that it is a desperation measure.

Senator Georges - The Minister does not think that 18 year olds can think. He thinks that all they can do is fight.

Senator SCOTT - Yes, for the defence of South East Asia and Australia in that region.

Senator Georges - They cannot vote but they can fight.

Senator SCOTT - The honourable senator does nothing but interject. If he read a lot more and kept quiet he would do a lot better in the Senate. It is terribly monotonous to hear interjections which do not really cut any ice. They are not very good. If ever a group of people has received the consideration it deserves lt is the young people of today under this Government.

Senator Cavanagh - What, sending them to Vietnam?

Senator SCOTT - The young people of today know that the Government has given them greater opportunities in education.

Senator Cavanagh - It has given them a gun and bullets.

Senator SCOTT - The Government has made them responsible citizens, Senator Cavanagh. It has given them an opportunity to partake in the defence of Australia.

Senator Cavanagh - Do they deserve Vietnam?

Senator SCOTT - By way of interjection the honourable senator is virtually saying that the Opposition is not interested in the defence of Australia or in national service training.

Senator Keeffe - He did not say that at all.

Senator SCOTT - He said that the Government is sending the young people away to Vietnam.

Senator Cavanagh - I said: 'Do they deserve what they are getting?'

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood) - Order! There are far too many interjections.

Senator SCOTT - I think that the interjections should cease and that I should be allowed to continue with my speech. I know that no interjections were made during the second reading speech of the Leader of the Opposition.

Senator Georges - He did not make such a mess of it.

Senator SCOTT - The honourable senator may think that way, but I do not. I have already given the reason why I think the honourable senator raised the matter. I wish to point out that honourable senators on this side of the chamber have looked at the proposition of young people getting the vote. We were interested to hear that after consideration of the Latey report the British Government has now given a vote to the 18-year olds in Britain.

Senator Ormonde - But it did not do so for the same reasons.

Senator SCOTT - I think it is a trend throughout the world today.

Senator Ormonde - Well, why not get into the swim and be with it?

Senator SCOTT - I have explained to honourable senators opposite that the Government is anxious to introduce such proposals but there are two reasons why it cannot be done now. Firstly, there is insufficient time to get these people onto the electoral rolls. Secondly, the Commonwealth Government and the responsible representatives of the State governments believe that the right way to approach the matter is to allow the States an opportunity to consider the report of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission that was tabled in August I am thoroughly convinced that after consideration of this report the State and Commonwealth Attorneys-General will be making recommendations to their respective governments in regard to the matters raised in the report. The report did not cover the voting age, but I believe that this will be taken into consideration at the appropriate time, together with other matters relating to legal ages which have been raised. We are not running away from what was recommended in the report. I should think there are just as many honourable senators on this side of the chamber as on the other side who would like to see people getting a vote at an earlier age. However, I believe that this is something that we cannot rush into.

I have mentioned already that it would be impossible to bring about a situation in which people had the right to vote at an earlier age unless the four States whose electoral rolls, boundaries and divisions were uniform with those of the Commonwealth made uniform alterations to their electoral rolls. Honourable senators will be aware that four States have boundaries and divisions which are the same as for the Commonwealth and that they have a certain number of State members representing divisions which are represented also by a certain number of Commonwealth members. I believe that the States must be given an opportunity to look at this problem and to decide how it will affect them. Now that this report has been tabled in New South Wales the Attorneys-General will be able to give the subject their full consideration and will be able to make recommendations to their Premiers or governments. I believe that this will be done some time early in the new year or shortly after the election, but certainly the matter will not receive much consideration from the Australian Labor Party or from us before the election because we know perfectly well that there is nothing we can do about it at this stage. We know that after the report has been considered we can do nothing about the matter until such time as the new rolls have been brought in. This could be done only for the election for the House of Representatives to be held in 3 years time. There are problems associated with giving a vote to persons aged 18 years. 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.

Consequently if we are not very careful we could have different voting ages in the States from those we have for the Commonwealth.

Senator O'Byrne - You have it now for the soldiers.

Senator SCOTT - But in the proposition that I am discussing at the moment, if the voting age in Tasmania were fixed at 18 years those people, according to the Constitution, would have a vote also for the Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. In another State it might be decided that the voting age will remain at 21 years, in which case only those who had reached 21 years of age would have a right to vote in electing representatives to the Commonwealth Parliament. A different situation would obtain in each State. That is why we believe that a reduction of the voting age cannot be rushed into but must be given full consideration. After the States have given it the consideration that it deserves we will give consideration to what should be done and, if necessary, bring in legislation during the next Parliament.

The whole of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition carried with it the proposition that 18-year-olds were of a right age to have a vote in Australia, and he mentioned other countries which were adopting this proposition. The former President of the United States, President Johnson, expressed his interest in the younger people of America having to vote. Perhaps that would be the right thing to do in America. I know that many people in Australia have said that they also would like to see the voting age reduced. There are arguments for and against this proposition. I propose to state some of the arguments in favour of reducing the franchise age. On 30th May 1968 President Johnson was reported as having asked Congress to approve a constitutional amendment granting 18-year-old citizens the right to vote at federal elections. According to reports the President said:

The time has come to grant to our youth what we ask of them but still deny them - full and responsible participation in our American democracy.

A recent Speaker's conference in the United Kingdom recommended that the minimum age for voting should be reduced to 20 years. However, in October 1968, the United Kingdom Government announced that it would lower the voting age to 18 years. It is understood that a Bill is currently before the United Kingdom Parliament to give effect to this decision. I understand that a Representation of the People Bill received Royal Assent on 17th April this year, but as yet I have not been able to establish whether the franchise provisions were embodied in the Bill as passed. Because of the gap between a person attaining voting age and the ensuing election, it could be up to 3 years after attaining the right to vote before a person was in fact able to exercise such right. A reduction of the voting age to 18 years would remove the need for existing legislation which grants the voting right to a member of the defence forces, irrespective of age, if he is serving, or has served, on special service in a special area. The youth of today are better educated than hitherto and reach maturity earlier and take a keener interest in the affairs of the country. Thus young people in this day and age are better equipped to assume responsibility than was the case in earlier years.

Senator Murphy - The Minister would agree with that, would he not?

Senator SCOTT - I would, I think. I would say that the youth of today are far better educated than the youth of a few years ago. They are far better educated because of the action taken by non-Labor governments, both in the States and in the Commonwealth sphere. They are given better opportunities for education through Commonwealth scholarships and aid to independent schools, which has been opposed by the Labor Party for so many years. They have been given better opportunities for education because the Commonwealth Government, being a responsible government, wished to give that aid to independent schools. When the Labor Party was opposing aid to independent schools it appeared to me that it was endeavouring to withhold from youths in independent schools the opportunities for education that they deserved.

Senator Georges - Why is the Minister talking about this?

Senator SCOTT - Because the Leader of the Opposition interjected and I was answering him.

Senator Murphy - 1. did not interject.

Senator SCOTT - The honourable senator asked whether I believed in this.

Senator Murphy - I did not interject.

Senator SCOTT - In that case I apologise.

Senator Georges - The Minister is looking in the wrong direction again.

Senator SCOTT - That may be so. Now I propose to state some of the arguments against the lowering of the voting age. The Commonwealth should not lower the franchise age unless and until agreement is reached with the States for parallel action. The franchise age is of mutual concern to both the Commonwealth and the States, particularly in the joint roll States of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and

Tasmania where one electoral roll serves for both Commonwealth and State purposes. I do not think I need to elaborate on that point. It is a real problem associated with the proposition contained in the Bill introduced by the Leader of the Opposition.

The universal franchise age of 21 years has applied for both Commonwealth and State purposes for about 60 years and any variation in the Commonwealth sphere independently of the States would generate public confusion and misunderstanding. In most Western countries, the age qualification for voting is coincidental with that of the legal majority of individuals. Australia has always considered this principle to be sound and logical. Although it is sometimes argued that if a young man is old enough to serve in the defence forces he should be permitted to vote, a person's franchise entitlements and obligations cannot properly be related to the responsibility of serving in the defence forces. The franchise and military service are quite unrelated matters which must always be considered separately.

While it may be true that many persons in the 18 to 20 years age group possess what may be termed political maturity, it is also true that many others in that age group have not demonstrated any real interest in government. Certain actions by youth groups in Australia and overseas in recent times have raised some doubt about the sufficiency of their responsibility and maturity properly to accept the franchise.

Senator Cavanagh - What actions?

Senator SCOTT - The actions they have taken. I turn now to consider some questions about the voting age that have been directed by supporters of the Government to the Attorney-General. The first question is:

I refer the Attorney-General to the oral recommendations of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission that 18-year-olds be granted, among other things, the right to contract and the right to marry without consent. My understanding is that, regrettably, the Commission did not consider the matter of reduction of the voting age. Apart from the very strong arguments in fa'vour of reducing the voting age it would appear anomalous that 18-year-olds may be given further rights and, of course, duties, while the more basic right is still denied them. If this is correct, will the AttorneyGeneral consider the question of reducing the voting age at the same time as he has said the Government will act on matters contained in the Commission's report?

The Attorney-General replied that whilst the report of the Law Reform Commission related to many matters, it did not relate to the voting age. He said that it is the responsibility of the Attorneys-General further to consider the Law Reform Commission's report as the matters dealt with in it are inseparable from the voting age issue. It is important that the Government and the nation consider the proposition contained in the Bill introduced by the Leader of the Opposition. We should consider it. I believe that all thinking people in the world today are conscious of the fact that the uprisings of youth, particularly in universities, probably have their origin in the situation that the young people are not given the legal responsibilities that they should receive.

Senator Cavanagh - Why do you not rectify that position?

Senator SCOTT - I do not want to cover that ground again. I have given the reasons. If the honourable senator has not listened, I cannot help him. After the AttorneysGeneral of the Commonwealth and the States have considered the Law Reform Commission's report they will report to their various governments. I sincerely hope that the recommendations they make will receive the right treatment and as a consequence the voting age will be reduced. I have already said that there are as many honourable senators on this side of the chamber who are anxious to have the voting age reduced to 18 years as there are opposite. Before I was interrupted by Senator Georges-

Senator Georges - Who interrupted?

Senator SCOTT - You have not stopped interrupting. The fact that the young people in our universities have not been given the responsibility of voting has contributed, I think, to the problems that have arisen in those institutions. Since the voting age was reduced in Great Britain, about 4 or 5 months ago, I do not believe there have been disturbances in the universities there. The young people today are in a far better position to act responsibly than were the young people of 20 or 30 years ago because of the educational facilities and education generally available to them.

My only objection to the proposition of the Leader of the Opposition is that we should not rush to reduce the voting age until the legal authorities of the Commonwealth and the States have given due consideration to the report of the Law Reform Commission. Involved in that consideration is a study of the whole question of the responsibilities of youth. I do not believe that this action can be undertaken before the coming election. The matters involved will take some time to consider.

Senator Cohen - You will not have the opportunity if you do not do it quickly.

Senator SCOTT - Had the honourable senator been in the chamber a little earlier he would have heard me say that the Labor Party has introduced this motion in desperation because it has failed to convince the 21-year-olds at each election since 1949. It is now looking for a way to obtain the reins of government. Even should the Labor Party succeed in reducing the voting age to 18 years, I do not think the change would react in its favour. I suggest that the correct attitude to adopt to this proposal is to wait until the matter has been considered by the Attorneys-General of the Commonwealth and the States in the light of the report of the Law Reform Commission. Then the Commonwealth and the States can say with one voice what shall be the voting age in Australia.

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