Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Lowering the voting age

has been suggested yet again. This time it has come from the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Shorten is not doing too well in the polls and this is an all too obvious attempt to divert attention from his leadership and gain support from those too young to vote - yet.
Shorten's arguments run along the lines of, "You're old enough to go to work and pay taxes" and "You are old enough to drive a car" and "You are old enough to serve in the armed forces (at 17)" so "you should be able to vote at 16".
He has also said that "young people were allowed to vote in the Scottish Independence referendum" and that there is a tendency in Europe towards lowering the age at which people can vote.
Hold it right there.
Very few 16yr old adolescents pay tax. If they do pay tax they pay very little tax. They have, by and large, chosen to be in the workforce. The vast majority of them are still in school.
The law says a 16yr old can get a licence to learn to drive. That does not mean that a a 16yr old is old enough to drive - and they can't get a full licence then. Most young people are not old enough to drive for some years - and research shows that many young males in particular are not mature until around age 25. Learning to drive is a choice. It is not a requirement. 
Entering the armed forces is also a choice - and a 17yr old wouldn't be sent to fight unless Australia went to war. (It may not happen even then.)
Allowing young people to vote in the Scottish independence referendum is not an argument for allowing young people to vote here either. There is no compulsion to attend the ballot box in Scotland and it was a vote about one issue - not many. 
There is no compulsion to attend the ballot box in most European countries - Cyprus, Lichentstein, and Luxembourg try to enforce it but Belgium doesn't. Most countries have an age requirement of 18.
The idea of lowering the age has very little support in the community - even among those who would be eligible to vote if the measure was successful.  Yes, it is a diversionary tactic from a man who is desperate to change his standing in the polls.
But there is more to it than that. I genuinely believe 16 is too young to vote.. At that age I am sure I made many choices on impulse. I didn't know party policies or how they might affect me or the groups I cared about. It's possible most people still don't know. Some young people take an intelligent interest in politics. It is easier to do it now with so much information so readily available. But because some do and because information is readily available it still doesn't mean that informed choices will be made.
If we are to have compulsory attendance at the ballot box then I would be inclined to say "raise the age" or "allow voluntary attendance at least to the age of 25". It's about that age our brains finally mature. That's when we should start to vote. 

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