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Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2642


Mr KIRWAN (Forrest) - Mr Acting Speaker,as you will know 18 to 20-year-old persons in Western Australia have the right to vote and they exercised that right at the last State election. You will . know also that the former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), said that the Federal Government would introduce the right to vote for 18 to 20-year-olds at the federal level. You will know also that section 41 of the Commonwealth Constitution provides:

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.

Now 1 am sure that you would have expected that, under that provision of the Constitution, 18 to 20-year-olds in Western Australia would be entitled to vote at a Federal election and that 18 to 20-year- olds in New South Wales, South Australia and other States, when legislation was introduced to provide to those people the right to vote in elections in those States, would similarly be entitled to vote at a Federal election.

Because of that provision and because in Western Australia the right of this age group to vote had been exercised in a State election, I wrote to the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) on 29th June. I asked him what instructions had been issued by his Department to chief electoral officers in each of the States in which the voting age had been lowered to facilitate the enrolment of those newly eligible to vote? I asked, further, what procedures would be adopted in the event of an election if no instructions had been issued. I asked, finally, what advice should be given to inquiring 18 to 20-year-olds in Western Australia who had the right to vote for the more numerous House in that State and whether the Federal Government was intending to extend the right to vote to all 18 to 20-year-olds across Australia, as was promised by the right honourable member for Higgins.

The Minister for the Interior sent this reply to me:

I refer again to your letter dated 29 June 1971 seeking my advice on various electoral matters relating to the lowering of the franchise age.

The answers to the queries raised by you are as follows:

(a)   and (d) Although legislation has been passed in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia lowering the enrolment and voting age to 18 years for State elections, the new legislation is operative only in Western Australia.

The Federal Government has not yet considered the question of lowering the franchise age for Federal elections and no instructions relating to this matter have been issued to the chief Electoral Officer or the Commonwealth Electoral Officers.

(b)   Changes in procedures will not be determined until the franchise age is changed.

(c)   Persons in the 18-20 year old age group who seek advice about enrolment and voting entitlement for Federal elections might be informed that the government has not yet considered the question of lowing the franchise age.

As that provision is in the Constitution I contacted the Minister's Department again to find out what it intended to do about this matter because I believe that the provision was clearly there for these people to vote at Federal elections since they had the right to vote at State elections. I was told that the Government had decided that this was not so. The reason was the word adult' in the provision that 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 be prevented from voting at Federal elections. 1 believe that the Department is going outside the intention of the Constitution. Perhaps under Commonwealth law the Department's interpretation is legally correct; but, as I said, I believe it is not in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution.

During question time I asked the Minister for the Interior the following question:

I address my question to the Minister for the Interior. Following upon my correspondence with him-

I was careful to mention that so that he would know that this was something on which he had given me a decision and also because he has a facility for remembering correspondence from members on the Country Party benches - regarding the rights of 18 to 20-year-old persons to vote in Federal elections under section 41 of the Constitution, what is the reason for the Government's refusal . . .

I had been told that it had refused - to allow 18 to 20-year-old persons to vote in Federal elections in States where they have the right to vote for their State parliaments? Is this refusal a further indication of the Liberal-Country Party desires to avoid decisions of the people wherever possible, as with gerrymandered electorates and preferential voting?

The Minister's answer was as follows:

This is a matter of Government policy and it has not yet been resolved.

The Minister had given me a decision; so this was not a matter of Government policy. I discussed the matter with him afterwards and he asked me to place a question on the notice paper. My question was placed on the notice paper on 10th September, which is 6 weeks ago. I think the question is simple enough but I have not received a reply to it. My question is as follows:

(1)   What is the reason for the Government's decision to withhold the right to vote from persons 18 to 20 years old when they have the right to vote in State elections in certain States.

(2)   Will the situation be any different when the Adulthood Bills in respect of 18 year old persons are enacted in the various States.

This is what is intended in Western Australia. I believe that that is a simple enough question and one which should not have taken 6 weeks to answer, just as I believe that the question I directed to the Minister at question time was simple enough and certainly was not a matter of policy because it was a matter on which the Government had made a decision. I asked what the reasons were because the Government's attitude appeared to me to be in conflict with the spirit of section 41 of the Constitution.

I am of the opinion that this is a further indication of the Liberal-Country Party desire to restrict the franchise wherever possible. We know that it was not very long ago thai there were property qualifications for the franchise in Western Australia. We know that this qualification still exists in the election of upper houses in the Parliaments of South Australia and Tasmania. Also, we know that these Parties have resisted every extension of the franchise. I believe that the refusal of the Government to give 18 year olds a vote is a further indication of the Liberal-Country Party's desire to restrict the franchise at the federal level. 1 think the reasons for this must be that the Liberal-Country Party saw that the first election in which 18 to 20 year olds voted resulted in a Labor government being returned in Western Australia and it has associated those 2 facts. I believe that it is not quite as simple as that.

When the former Liberal-Country Party Government of Western Australia removed the property franchise in that State it still resisted an expression of the will of the people by the way in which it drew up boundaries and by the operation of preferential voting. We have a situation as reflected in the figures from the last Legislative Council elections in Western Australia. In those elections in the metropolitan area the Labor Party received 149,094 votes for which it received 2 seats; the Liberal Party received 78,701 votes for which it received 3 seats. In the agriculture, mining and pastoral areas the Labor Party with 63,698 votes received 1 seat, the Liberal Party with 43,868 votes received 5 seats and the Country Party with 25,035 votes received 2 seats. This was achieved by the way in which boundaries are drawn, by the combinations of seats that return Labor members into one Upper House seat and in other areas of combining 2 anti-Labor seats with one Labor Assembly seat to make up a Council area. I believe that we live under one of the most manipulated electoral systems in the world. As I have said before, it smacks of guided democracy. We are still suffering from the decisions made at the turn of the century. We have never been able to get majorities in the Upper House so as to be able to alter electoral legislation and accordingly we have never been able to obtain equitable boundaries. I believe that the decision made by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) with regard to 18 to 20-year olds in Western Australia, where they have the right to vote and where they ought to have it under section 41 of the Constitution, in refusing to introduce legislation to operate throughout the Commonwealth is a clear indication of the desire of this Government to restrict the franchise as far as possible.







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