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Tuesday, 13 March 1973
Page: 489

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - This, of course, is a very interesting debate. It has been very interesting to listen to albeit that it seems that all members in this House are now agreed that votes for 18-year-olds are a proposition that should be put into effect. Yet not so very long ago, in fact I think somewhat less than a year ago, those who are now in Opposition were sitting on the Government side of the House and opposing the proposition that 18-year-olds should have votes just as vehemently as they are now sup porting it. I am just wondering what has brought about the change of mind. The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), jogged my memory somewhat when he objected to the honourable member for Bowan (Mr Keogh) using the word 'hypocricy'. He made the comment that this is one word that should be struck from the parliamentary vocabulary. I would remind the honourable member for Bradfield and all those who object to the word being used - quite frankly I do not object to its being used, and if it applies to me I think it should be used against me - that it is in biblical in origin. Whilst my own vocabulary might not be as great as that of William Shakespeare I have searched the dictionaries and I cannot find another single word that describes the situation so well. It seems to me that it connotes that those who argue consistently upon a point, on a change of wind and for no other reason can argue just as consistently against it. I can find no other word, and if the honourable member for Bradfield could enlighten me I would be pleased to have that enlightenment.

It seems to me from all of the debate I have heard in the short time I have been in this House around this whole question of the franchise for people that I have hot yet heard a' very sound argument why : 18-year-old people in this country should not have the right to vote. Arguments were put forward by the former Minister for the Interior, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt). I well remember that very strongly and very vehemently he poured out from the table a lot of diatribe about the Commonwealth Government not having the right to force 18- year-olds into doing things. It is significant that the honourable member was a member of the government which forced young men against their will to go to Vietnam to die or be maimed. When it came to a situation where he and those who advise him politically through his Party felt that a franchise given to 18-year-olds could place his Party's right to rule at risk, it was a very bad thing to force people to do things. But it has already been brought out in this debate - and if it had not it should be - that the mere fact that people are now being given the right to enrol is not forcing anybody to do anything. Of course, after they have enrolled, they must vote. But giving them the right to enrol does not force them to do anything. They may choose to enrol or not to enrol .and those who wish to enrol should have that right.

The previous Government, , which is now sitting in Opposition, obviously has had a change of heart because the last words of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) were: 'We support the Bill'. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition commented that when we were in Opposition we encouraged the 18-year-olds to come forward and oppose what he called 'the system'. Now the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is saying that we are asking the 18-year-olds to support the system, rather than oppose it. Of course, the point that has escaped the honourable member's mind is that there has been a change of administration and we know that it will be an administration that will be fair and equitable to alt in our community. It will not be the discriminatory sort of system which operated under the previous Government - a discriminatory administration that was selective in its choice of favours.

The honourable member referred to the young people supporting the Liberal Party concept of free enterprise. He said that youth supports free enterprise in the concept of individuality. I agree with that. But I would invite the honourable member, or for that matter, any honourable member opposite, to show me where in our society today there exists free enterprise. If they can show me that, under the Liberal-Country Party Government, there was no collusion amongst sellers, that the market place operated properly and that there was respect for individuals, to use the colloquialism, I will go he. The arguments put forward by the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) were incongruous in view of arguments that he elaborated on last year. He said there had been no clamour from the 18-year-olds to be given the vote. He said that people in South Australia who had the right to enrol had not exactly rushed forward to enrol. That statement only substantiates the point I have already made: It is a voluntary proposition, as to whether one enrols. Those who do want to enrol can enrol and those who do not are not required to do so.

Honourable members opposite always stand as the great champions of the individual, yet for many years they denied 18-year-olds the right to enrol. The Australian Labor Party says: 'Give the individual the right to enrol'. So, we are the champions of the individual rather than this great, amorphous association called the Liberal-Country Party coalition. I also believe that one of the reasons why the Liberal Party maintained the position that it did in the past is because the councils of the Liberal Party are made up of elderly gentlemen and dear old ladies who sit around and deliberate on all matters. This is one of the reasons why the Liberal Party is now in opposition. These people could see a threat to their position if 18-year-olds were in fact able to come forward and cast their votes as to who should be governing this country. The question could be posed: Does the Liberal Party fear young people? Is that why it has opposed giving the vote to 18-year-olds in the past? I believe that the Liberal Party does fear young people.

There has been talk of politics being introduced into high schools. If people want to join a political party my party - the great and marvellous Australian Labor Party - makes membership open to those who are 16 years of age and over. So, we do hot worry about young people joining political parties and entering into political discussions, whether it be in their high schools, universities or anywhere else. We always hear from the conservatives in our community that politics should not enter into high schools or local councils. I have even heard a member in this House say that politics should not be discussed in this chamber. I ask you - where do we go from there? Who should speak about politics? Should politicians discuss politics with politicians or, in fact, are politics what people are all about and ire people what politics are all about? Let us get rid of the old shibboleth that politics are something that should never be discussed in public. In my view and in the view of my colleagues in the Australian Labor Party it is the very place that politics should be discussed. It is the very subject that should occupy the minds of the people because all the decisions that affect their lives are political decisions taken by political parties in a place of politics such as this. If we are going to stifle this sort of discussion among the people, this country of ours will have a very sorry future.

It is quite incredible to listen to debates such as this and realise that the Opposition does not oppose the Bill and yet puts up 13 speakers to debate it

Mr Giles - To agree with you.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Yes, that is correct; to agree with it. It seems to me that there is only one reason for this action and that is to take up the time of the House when it could well be used on matters of far more significance to the people of Australia. As 1 have said, one year ago, the gentlemen who were sitting on the government side of the House - perhaps they were not all the same gentlemen who now sit in opposition - spoke on this subject and some of them were quite vehement in their opposition to it. I am wondering what is the reason for their change in attitude. 1 am wondering whether those who now come forward from the Opposition side to support this measure did not have the opportunity to speak so strongly in their party room when they were in government. So, they can now come out as heroes and say: 'We support giving the vote to 18-year-olds and we always have. We would have supported it 5 years ago'. If they supported it 5 years ago, why did they not have the strength to convince their Government that that decision should have been taken. But they did not do that; they just like to come into this House to grandstand on the issue. What sort of criteria are used to determine the vexed question of adulthood? What marvellous wisdom descends upon somebody who reaches the age of 21 years?

Mr Maisey - Or of 18 years.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Of course, the same thing could be said about those who reach 18 years of age. What are the criteria? What is the yardstick? How do we determine that somebody suddenly becomes wise? if we care to go back through history we find that at different times people in differing situations and countries were regarded quite differently to the way we regard people today. For example, the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Caesars of ancient Rome regarded people as being of adulthood when they attained the age of 14. Perhaps that had something to do with physical rather than mental maturity but 1 am not prepared to enter into a debate on that; I just point out the facts. There has been argument not over the last 5 years but over many centuries - perhaps 20 or more centuries - as to what was the appropriate age for people to be given the right to enter into the determination of the affairs of their country.

The honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) quoted from a committee report and claimed that the argument that because a man was old enough to fight and die for his country, he should automatically gain the right to vote was fallacious. I suppose some of these arguments are hackneyed. But it is still an historical fact that, throughout the centuries, men and women who were eligible to serve their country in a military capacity were also regarded as being adult enough to do many other things in the community. I hark back to my earlier statement about the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Caesars of Rome. The legionnaires of Rome were, on average, 14 to 18 years of age. These were the men of that time who were given the right to engage in taking some decisions for their countries, apart from the decision to kill.

Mr Maisey - They used to work in coal mines.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - The honourable member is a farmer. I have seen people much younger than that working on farms. If he and his conservative companions were in government and had their way and we were not in opposition to their thoughts, they would still have children working in the coal mines. That is how enlightened those conservative troglodytes opposite are. Despite the education system evolved by the backward Liberal Party, the reactionary Country Party and the nonentity called the Democratic Labor Party, people today are far more advanced in their thinking than the previous Government ever was. People have emerged from the jungle and the mire into which they were forced. They have emerged with greater vigour, greater understanding and greater inquisitiveness than their predecessors. They are better equipped and should be allowed to develop to the maximum. These things are all relative.

I support the proposition that 18-year-olds should be enabled to vote. If it were suggested that the voting age should be 14 years I probably would agree with that, because 1 do not know that there is any proper yardstick by which to determine at which age people should have the vote. 1 would not give some members sitting opposite a vote even if they were 75 years of age because they just do not have the mental capacity to sort things out.

Mr Scholes - Do not talk about the honourable member for Bennelong like that.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - I was not speaking about the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer). If people are given the right to vote it is obligatory on the whole system to give them the further right to discuss the matters upon which they vote. The conservative members sitting on the Opposition benches almost certainly have never visited a high school in their electorates. If they have, then I would invite them to visit some of the high schools in my electorate and, incidentally, some of the Catholic colleges in my electorate.

Mr Daly - That would be the place to take them.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - My word it would be; they need some salvation. Believe me, if they want to hear enlightened political debate it is of no use their sitting in this place listening to themselves talk. Of course, they will learn a lot from listening to Government supporters. 1 frequently visit high schools and Catholic secondary colleges in my electorate. If members opposite did likewise they would have to face an inquisition by the young people. It is easy for them to sit in this House and to scoff and laugh, but people in the community regard these matters seriously. I would suggest that the 16 to 18-year-olds in our secondary schools could come into this House and take on the whole Opposition and do it like a dinner. Young people have a great capacity to learn and to understand. They take an interest in what is going on around them. This was made manifest in the results of the last Federal election. The community at large no longer is prepared to be persuaded by the hollow, archaic arguments that are constantly presented by the Opposition and found to be fallacious. This is exactly why members opposite are in Opposition.

We are debating whether 18-year-olds should be entitled to vote. We are not talking about anyone gaining any political advantage from this proposal. If we were I could name several people in my electorate who, for a variety of reasons, I should like to disfranchise. They are the people who did not have the wisdom to vote for me but who, for some misguided reason, voted for my opponents. There were not many of them. This matter should not be resolved on the basis of whether there will be a political advantage to the Australian Labor Party or to the other insignificant political parties in Australia but rather on the basis of whether it is fair, just and equitable that Australians should have the right to engage in every aspect of their social and political lives. The only way in which this can be determined is to remove this archaic, mandatory qualification of 21 years. This Bill represents a breakthrough. It seems that the age will be reduced to 18. This brings me to a small point. My son did not have the opportunity to vote in the last Federal election because he turned 21 after the rolls had closed. He is looking forward to having his first vote in the Victorian State election this year. This will mean the end of the Liberal regime in Victoria. Also my daughter, who is already 18 years of age, looks like getting her first vote.

Mr Hansen - That is 2 votes you will have next time.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - That is so. With 2 stalwarts like my son and daughter voting, I serve notice on the Liberal Party in Victoria that it has something to worry about. However my son is upset that he does not enjoy a 3-year advantage over his sister. I have persuaded him to my point of view that 18-year- olds should have the right to vote. This legislation represents a breakthrough and we will work down the line.

Mr MacKellar - How far down the line?

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - We might start from the middle and work outwards. While we are encouraging the young people to be franchised we might have to do something about discouraging the elderly, especially some of the elderly, to be disfranchised. After listening to this debate I put it to the House that there is not much substance in what members of the Opposition have said. I am led to believe that the Bill will be carried unanimously and that Australia will be the fifty-fourth country, if the statistics are correct, to give to 18, 19 and 20-year olds the right to have some say in the determination of their future.

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