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Tuesday, 13 March 1973
Page: 496

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - We support the Bill. We support the lowering of the age of franchise and candidature to 18 years. There has been a lot of discussion about the capacity of younger people to handle adult responsibilities. Clearly that capacity has grown in relation to political knowledge. I believe they can adequately handle the political responsibility. There has been considerable support for this reform within the Liberal Party for some time. Mr McMahon, the former Prime

Minister, announced prior to the election that we were moving quickly towards this step. I made it quite clear during that period that I strongly supported the measure and expected it to operate before the next Federal election. My colleague, the Premier of Victoria, Mr Hamer, has introduced similar legislation and 18-year-olds will be voting in the next Victorian State election.

The granting of the vote to 18-year-olds has always been seen to have implications over a wide range of public, legal and traditional attitudes, that is, the whole age of majority question. It was the wish of many people that a detailed and careful analysis be first carried out that has prevented the lowering of the age limit being adopted before now. Arrival at adulthood is a most significant point in the developing lives of young men and women. In most cases it can have fundamental consequences on the person's family and social relationships. Many parents will regret its arrival. Others who have established sound and understanding communication with their sons and daughters, will see in it the blossoming of independence and character of their children. There are complexities and constitutional difficulties in the definition of adulthood about which the complex modern society is concerned. Some of the questions of adulthood by which the relations of unconnected persons are affected are: the age of legal responsibility for con.tractural and proprietary rights; the question of domicile and citizenship; the age at which certain social freedoms are permitted; the age at which marriage is permitted without parental consent; the age of responsibility in industrial matters; and age limitations in respect of financial legislation.

Throughout history it is clear that individuals - simply because they are individuals - have acquired de facto adulthood at different ages. There can be no doubt that attitudes to legal adulthood have changed sharply over the last decade. Perhaps I might add, for those who see the changes with regret or sadness, that nothing in the legal change removes a young man or woman from the influence and guidance of parents, if it is capable of being exercised through the relations of trust and reliance that have already been built. Nor should it. It merely acknowledges that young people are equipped today at an earlier age than in the past. I raise these matters not necessarily to support the contention that they all ought to be immediately reviewed or the age limitations reduced. No doubt, there are very good reasons which can be argued why the present law in respect to a number of them should remain. I do mention them as specifics which need to be taken into account in our general consideration of adulthood. The voting issue can stand alone and the franchise ought not be withheld while other social and quasilegal debate goes on in other areas.

The rapidity with which our education system has grown to bring a vastly expanded educative level to young Australians has made it possible for us to entrust the vote to 18- year-olds. It has made them better-informed, better able to judge, more confident in their judgments, more critical in their appraisals, and on more mature terms with society around them. (Quorum formed)

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