'Democracy Deficit': Labor Seeks To Lower Voting Age to 16

31/10/2015 6:06 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

CANBERRA -- Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has moved to lower Australia’s voting age from 18 to 16 years, arguing under 18s should be trusted at the ballot box.

The Labor Leader today addressed what he perceived as a growing “democratic deficit” in Australia during a speech to the NSW Young Labor Conference in Sydney.

“Young Australians, like you deserve, the right to shape the laws and policies that shape your lives,” Shorten said on Saturday morning.

At the same time, the Opposition Leader noted “democracy has a participation problem” in Australia, especially among young people.

“400,000 Australians turned 18 between 2010 and 2013 -- and did not enroll to vote,” he said. “Too many of your peers are falling through the cracks in our democracy.”

“I believe young people want to be involved in decision-making processes -- and should be offered the opportunity to do so, within our existing political structure.”

Other nations have moved or are moving in this direction. 16 and 17 year olds were granted the right to vote in the referendum on Scottish independence and it was regarded as a success.

Shorten cited current rights and responsibilities for 16 and 17 year old Australia, including the ability to enlist in the military, get a driver’s licence, acquire a pilot’s licence, take a job and pay taxes.

“Then we -- the Parliament of Australia -- should extend that trust to include a direct, empowered say in our democracy,” Shorten added.

He is also looking at improving the enrollment system for young people once they reach voting age and further engaging young disabled people, young Indigenous people and young people outside cities.

This may include enrolling young people in school, TAFE and at University, or through the tax system in annual returns and licensing.

Traditionally, younger voters are more left of centre and this more likely to vote for parties such as the Greens and Labor. They are also more likely shift their vote over issues such as the environment, education and marriage equality -- areas where there are significant differences between the major parties.

The Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Senator Sam Dastyari, is now charged with undertaking nationwide consultations on Labor’s proposal with community leaders, disability advocates, Indigenous Australians and young people.

Calls to consider lower Australia’s voting age have included the 2008 “Australia 2020 Youth Summit”, a 2004 discussion paper from the Victorian Electoral Commission and a 2007 report from the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Education, Training and Young People.

Earlier this year, Shadow NSW Minister Jodi McKay called for that state’s Parliament to lead debate on changing the legal age of voting in NSW to 16 years of age.

"The fact that these young people are unable to have an immediate say on the future of education, on TAFE, on the environment, on health services and public transport, I believe does us a disservice," Ms McKay said.

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