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Thursday, 12 October 1972
Page: 1521

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) - The Commonwealth Electoral Bill which has been introduced by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) is designed to amend the present electoral law and to do quite a simple thing, and that is to adapt ourselves to the needs of present day reality. This measure proposes to give to 18-year-olds the right to enrol and vote in State and Federal elections. Some of the States have already agreed that this is a reasonable status for 18-year-olds. Some have not yet got around to legislating along these lines. But the High Court decision highlights the responsibility of Parliament to make a decision in this matter. The High Court expressed the view that it was not its prerogative to interpret the Constitution but that the Parliament, being the supreme body in a democracy, should grasp this problem and deal with it. So it is the Government's responsibility. We have such a measure before us today on which we can do just that.

Senator Sim,with great sincerity, declared himself to be in favour of the principle inherent in this Bill and then proceeded to adopt a pragmatic approach and draw a dividing line between the principle involved the politics. I think it is a great pity that this issue has been made a matter of politics when it goes deeper than that. The issue itself is of less concern to honourable senators than it is to the 18- year-olds who, in their own way and doing their own thing, believe that they are responsible enough to be able to participate in the affairs of the nation. Senator Sim said that he wanted to it quite clear that he has publicly declared his support for the right of 18-year-olds to the vote. What is the difference between declaring publicly and declaring in this forum in which he represents the public? Why can he not declare himself now? Senator Sim pointed out that he has loyalty to his own Party in Western Australia. It has supported this proposition and it has sent him to this Parliament to represent it.

Senator Sim - My Party does not dictate to me like your mob does to you.

Senator O'BYRNE - I am just referring to the situation in which the honourable senator is placed. I admire the honourable senator's sincerity as a very honourable representative of Western Australia in this Parliament, but I would point out that the honourable senator's Party in Western Australia has agreed in principle to this proposition.

Senator Sim - It also agrees with my attitude now.

Senator O'BYRNE - Of saying: 'To hell with the 18-year-olds and get on with the polities'?

Senator Sim - The honourable senator should not talk about politics. When he shows enough guts to stand up and criticise a decision of his Party I will listen to him.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wilkinson) - Order!

Senator O'BYRNE - I am sorry, Mr Acting Deputy President; I must apologise for interrupting the honourable senator's interjections. But, being on my feet, I insist on the right of saying that the Parliament is the place where these issues should be decided. I would like to make the observation that when the history of this issue is being examined by historians they will note all of the paraphernalia of tongue in check, double talk, confusing the issue, dragging a red herring across the trail and all the other things that one could think of that has been introduced into this debate by honourable senators from the Government side of the chamber who speak on this Bill. The young people who take our place in society later on will say: 'How did that Parliament function when there was such equivocation and such insincerity?' Every honourable senator in this chamber knows the true position.

Senator Sim - What is that?

Senator O'BYRNE - That in this day and age young people are maturing earlier. They have been given the right to vote in some States. Those who go away to fight for our country automatically receive the right to vote. Just because of the obstinacy by the and mulish attitude of some people in this chamber other 18-year-olds are being deprived of the right to vote. I would not object if honourable senators opposite were to get up and say: This is not Government policy; therefore I will be voting against it'. But the attitude of those who get up and have the proverbial 2-bob each way and say: 'I am completely in favour of the proposal but I am going to vote against it' is difficult to follow. I wonder how Senator Sim feels when he looks at himself in a mirror. Those honourable senators opposite who have already spoken in the debate have portrayed themselves as being the modern father who want to organise his family according to orthodox lines and according to his own values and who finishes up finding that his family leaves him because he is not able to adapt himself to the needs of young people. The inability of the past generation to adapt itself to changed circumstances is a tragedy that is happening throughout the community. I would not include Senator Sim in the category of being a member of the past generation.

Senator Sim - Thank you. I still look young, do I not?

Senator O'BYRNE - You do. You look vigourously young. But the youth of today are just as pragmatic as their elders and they want to speak in a language that they understand. They know very well that the only thing that is preventing them from having the right to vote at 18 years of age is the stick in the mud pragmatism of many honourable senators on the Government side of this chamber who are supposedly representing some of them. As I said before, the children of the pragmatic father who is so obstinate that he will not adapt himself to changing circumstances leave him. That is what is going to happen to the Government. Those young people who support its policies are going to change their opinion because they have no reason to have any confidence in a government that takes the stand that the Commonwealth Government has taken on this issue. Senator Sim said that increasing interest was being shown in world affairs by young people. I support that observation. Historically young people have been the successors to responsibilities as time goes by.

Senator Wheeldon - Sometimes the predecessors.

Senator O'BYRNE - That is right. Sometimes they are the standard bearers. Interest in world affairs conies from the added opportunities of education. When we create better educational opportunities for our young people we expect some critical and decisive results from our investment and they are showing them; yet we deprive them of the basic democratic right, the final democratic act, of participating in the choosing of members of Parliament. 1 am certain that Government members have failed to understand this issue in depth in view of their tendency to equivocate and try to postpone the inevitable. Senator Sim said that today young people are capable of accepting responsibility at an earlier age. This is very true. If honourable senators look at the younger people today they will see that they are engaged in important scientific research work, that they are expressing themselves in literature and reaching a stage where they are able to entertain and to interpret artistic traditions. In every way, this is a young people's world. How do we appear in their eyes when we, as an august body, are prepared to speak against or to equivocate against their having the final right to vote and par- ticipate in the selection of those who will represent them in the parliament of the Commonwealth?

Senator Simsaid that we cannot expect them to accept responsibility if they are not given responsibility. How important it is for young people to feel that the older people recognise them and give them responsibility. That is all this Bill seeks to do. It seeks to give responsibility to the 18-year olds. Let us see how they accept the responsibility. Those who are prepared either to defer or to find some weak excuse for not giving them the vote now are failing the young people of this country. I ask Senator Sim to prevail upon his colleagues who are having 2 bob each way to come down on the side of reality and support this measure.

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