Parliamentary speeches

Presentation of JSCEM status report and report on inquiry into lowering the voting age

April 02, 2019

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the following reports: the Advisory report: Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering Voting Age and Increasing Voter Participation) Bill 2018, incorporating dissenting reports, and the Status report, together with minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

These two reports conclude the business of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for this parliament, and they mean that nine reports have been presented to this parliament through the work of this committee. That has involved an enormous amount of work, and I acknowledge the contribution of the secretariat and those staff seconded from the Australian Electoral Commission, who have provided invaluable work to this committee, which has a particular set of responsibilities which go to safeguarding the quality of our democracy.

The first report I want to turn to briefly is described as a survey report, and it reflects some ongoing work which will have to be attended to by, perhaps, the minister at the table, but more particularly the committee in the next parliament if we are to safeguard the quality of our democracy, particularly in an age which is characterised by an increasing capacity and preparedness to engage in disinformation—practices which go to the heart of our capacity to have meaningful democratic conversations about the issues that matter to Australians. This is one of many significant matters that the successor committee to this committee will have to have regard to.

This committee is also presenting to the House now a report on a bill which was introduced to the Senate and which would have the effect, in part, of lowering the voting age. On behalf of the Labor members, I just want to make two brief observations in respect of this. Firstly, I draw the attention of the House to the Labor recommendation, which is that in the next parliament we give proper consideration to this question of enabling 16- and 17-year-old Australians to vote but on the basis that we do not interfere with compulsory voting, which is another cornerstone of our democracy and a great guarantor not only of equal participation in our democratic processes but of its legitimacy across the community. This is of particular importance at times like this.

I also want to acknowledge the people, particularly the young people and their representative organisations, who gave evidence to this committee and demonstrated to me and my colleagues on the committee that in young Australians, those below the present voting age, we have some incredible, articulate, visionary people, great activists, with a diverse range of interests and a passion for the future. And I have absolutely no doubt that our committee reaching out to young people in settings like schools has offered the opportunity for us all to think harder about how we can improve our democracy.

With that, I commend both of these reports, but particularly the dissenting report of the Labor members in the voting bill report, to the House.