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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3097


Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (16:30): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I table an explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

For far too long, politics has failed to properly represent young people or the issues they care about. There are many within this place, and beyond, who believe that young people do not care about our world, or that they simply haven't earned the right to participate in our society, from a perceived lack of life experience or maturity. There are those who see young people as a threat and for this reason do not, or cannot, look to the future. Many in this place see the disengagement and disenfranchisement of young people from politics as politically convenient, or even ideal.

Yet the reality is that young people can work full time and pay taxes. They can own and drive a car, contributing to the maintenance of our roads and transport infrastructure. They can have sex and make decisions about their bodies. They can be treated as adults by our justice system.

But they can't vote.

In the last few years we've seen a surge of young people making their voices heard about the issues that matter to them. Marriage equality in Australia is a key example of where young people really took a step forward and made their voices heard. From a global perspective, we've seen young people taking a lead role in culture-changing movements such as #MeToo, #MarchForOurLives and #BlackLivesMatter.

In Scotland, during the independence referendum in 2014, a decision was made to allow 16 and 17 year olds to participate for the first time. Almost 80% of that age group turned out to vote, and they continue to turn out at much higher rates than their predecessors, who weren't given an early opportunity to participate.

In Australia, young people are also disengaged from politics. However, they are also more aware and more tuned in to the issues facing our world than previous generations. The rise of digital media means that young people are now plugged into the 24 hour news cycle and they are taking part in activism. It is true that they don't see politics as representative of them, but this is our problem as legislators and representatives, not theirs.

The old parties don't value young people as a constituency because the old parties are only focused on the three year election cycle. They know they can simply speak to the same old constituencies and rely on this getting them across the line and it's not good enough!

My generation will have to live with the consequences of the decisions made in this place for the longest time. As the youngest person in this place by close to a decade, and the only person under the age of 30, I think it speaks volumes about the lack of real representation for my generation. It's time we recognised the enormous contribution that young people give to our society and included them in our decision making.

What this bill seeks to do is lower the voting age to 16 in Australia, whilst leaving the age of compulsory voting at 18. This will serve as a grace period for young people, allowing them to familiarise themselves with our electoral process without fear of being penalised. It will facilitate greater civics education and allow teachers to bring process - not party politics - into the classroom in a tangible way. It will foster a culture of civic participation amongst young people, leaving them in good stead for the rest of their lives as we know that voting is a habit. We want them to form this habit early so that it stays with them.

And finally what this bill seeks to do is update our archaic electoral practices that say you are not allowed to participate on Election Day if you have not updated your details on the electoral roll. It's 2018, and we should have enough flexibility in our system to allow people to do so at a polling place, on polling day.

It's time to lower the voting age to 16 in Australia and show young people that we hear them, we care about their opinions and we are working for their future.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.