Why teens should get the chance to vote

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“If young people wish to take part in our democracy, the Greens think they should have that option. That’s why we’re advocating for young Canberrans aged 16 and 17 to be given a chance to vote,” writes MLA CAROLINE LE COUTEUR

IN recent months, we’ve seen millions of young people getting involved in our political process. 

Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur.

All over the world, the School Strikers for Climate Action made clear that young people want to be more engaged than ever in the decisions that will shape their entire future.

At a time of growing political disillusionment, you have to give these kids credit for bucking the trend – and getting involved in the decisions that will make an enormous difference to their future outlook.

If young people wish to take part in our democracy, the Greens think they should have that option. That’s why we’re advocating for young Canberrans aged 16 and 17 to be given a chance to vote – optional, before they reach the age of 18 and must vote – to ensure their voices are heard where it matters most: at the ballot box. 

Sixteen and 17-year-olds can legally work full time. If they are working, they pay taxes. They can drive a car, have sex and make medical decisions about their bodies. They can join the Army, Navy or Air Force. They can sign a lease, or join a political party – yet they can’t vote.

These students – residents, and often taxpayers, of the ACT – are concerned about their future but are denied the most powerful way in our democracy for their voices to be heard.

All the arguments against giving our young people a chance to vote are views that could apply to any number of people in our society – yet we don’t cut out their right to vote. 

Disinterested and disillusioned in politics? Most Australians are! There are already plenty of people that express their dismay with “donkey votes” in our elections. 

Have your say in other ways? Absolutely – but why deny the most important avenue for political participation to those residents who want, simply, to have their say where it matters most?

There’s no doubt that, at the age of 16 or 17, some young people have already matured much faster than others. By making voting optional, we’re allowing for exactly that – giving a voice to young people as they make this important transition in their lives, ahead of reaching the ripe old age of 18.

As a grandparent, I know first hand that our future belongs to our young people. Many of these young people are angry. They are inspired. They want to take part in our country’s greatest institution. 

Why should the old people among us – who, with our generational inaction on climate change – be the ones to let them down, again?

If our Greens proposal is supported by the major parties, based on data from the last census, we estimate that this would allow at least 8500 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the 2020 ACT election.

Young people are disenchanted with politics because they don’t see our parliaments as representative of them. Their future is not being decided by people their age, who represent them – who speak to them and for them. 

At the Federal level, under-30-year-olds make up 40 per cent of the Australian population, yet just over one per cent of the Australian Parliament. In our ACT Assembly, just one of our parliamentarians is aged under 30. 

At the Federal level, the Greens are also fighting the good fight to make sure young people’s voices are heard.

Caroline Le Couteur MLA is the ACT Greens Member for Murrumbidgee. 

Are you a young person who wants to have your say at the ballot box? Sign up to make your voice heard at bit.ly/YourFutureYourVote.

 

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