At 16,Australian youths cant hold driving licenses or,in some states,drop out of school. But they could make or break governments in knife-edge elections under a draft proposal to lower the voting age from 18 years.
The proposal will be included in a public discussion paper on a range of potential reforms to the Australian electoral system released this year,Special Minister of State Joe Ludwigs spokeswoman Sarah Cosson said on Tuesday.
Some welcome the proposal as a means of engaging young Australians in politics.
Others suspect Prime Minister Kevin Rudd,whose center-left Labor Party government is more popular with younger voters than the conservative opposition,is seeking political advantage.
Australian National University political scientist Norm Kelly said the government wont find a strong mood for change among the general public.
Maybe the Labor government is flying a kite and seeing how it goes and if theres general support,then they can use that support to get an advantage, Kelly said.
Im in two minds whether theres a need for it,and there doesnt seem to be a big push to have it lowered, he added.
Australia is one of the few countries in the world where voting is compulsory for all citizens over the age of 18. The proposal is for voting to be voluntary for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The change would take an act of Parliament. But opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said the government cannot count on the Liberals support in a hostile senate for the change.
I think 18 is about right, Turnbull told Nine Network television on Monday.
Reducing the voting age was one of the top recommendations of a national summit,convened by Rudd last year,of 100 young community leaders aged 15 to 24 years.
One of those leaders,Reynato Roedica,said young people have long wanted more say on government policy on issues that affect them such as education and climate change.
Young people within that age group do have a unique perspective that they bring to the political debate,particularly around issues that affect their lives, said the 25-year-old executive officer of the Sydney-based Youth Action and Policy Association.
Australias voting age was cut from 21 to 18 after years of 20-year-old Australian men who could not vote being conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War.
A newly elected Labor government ended conscription in 1972 and reduced the voting age the following year..