Expanding voting rights in the ACT

Submission to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021
by Bill Browne

The Australia Institute welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Justice and Community Safety Committee’s inquiry into the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021.

The Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program was founded in 2021 to improve the quality of Australian governance and heighten public trust in politics and democracy. Although the program is new, the Australia Institute has written about democracy and accountability issues since it was founded in 1994.

In principle, the Australia Institute supports extending the franchise to those aged 16 and older. Young people have a stake in the decisions that are made for them and in their name, and have the greatest incentive of any group of voters to consider the long term. Decisions made by governments today, particularly in response to global warming, will affect a 16-year-old today for decades to come.

Australia Institute research finds that “if you don’t vote, you don’t count”. Examples include the increase in pension spending after compulsory voting was introduced in Australia; large and sudden increases in public health expenditure when women received the vote in the United States; and improved public services in African-American communities after the Voting Rights Act 1965. Allowing those 16 and 17 years of age to vote could lead to similar, valuable outcomes for young people.

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