Our futures, more than ever, are on the line. But in the government’s accounting, we’re left out of the equation.

Young people all around Australia are more involved in politics than they ever have been. With significant issues such as climate change, the cost-of-living crisis, and the Voice to Parliament, our futures clearly rest in the palms of politicians.

Countries around the world like Austria, Malta and Brazil, Germany, Belgium, Wales, and Scotland have already lowered the voting age. It’s time that Australia catches up to the rest of the world and embraces the votes and voices of young people aged 16-17.

Why? Voting is an undeniable, fundamental right for all Australians. It’s enshrined in Article 25 international Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia has ratified. That means Australia has signed up to uphold the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs.1   It’s this right which gives us great power. And if actually recognised by our government, it can empower an entire generation to engage in politics, and therefore strengthen our entire democracy in doing so.

Ravin Desai

Our federal Parliament only has one politician in the Senate under 30 and in the House of Representatives there are zero, yet close to one fifth of our population is Gen-Z.2 How does this represent the proportional democracy we strive to achieve? How does this represent equality? Clearly something is not working with our electoral system.

In Australia, you can get a job and pay tax from the age of 13, receive a Medicare card at 15 and start receiving Youth Allowance if you’re living independently. We also grant 16-year-olds the power of sexual consent and the ability to get a learner driver’s permit. 17-year-olds are even permitted to join the Australian Defence Force. And yet despite all of these adult responsibilities, young people such as myself are still refused the right to vote.

If young people aged 16 and 17 can be trusted to drive a car, which is the second leading cause of death amongst their age group, how can they not be entrusted with a ballot?

If 17-year-olds are allowed to enlist to fight for our country, then how is it fair that they cannot have a say in the future of their country which they are prepared to go to war for. If young people aged 16 and 17 can be trusted to drive a car, which is the second leading cause of death amongst their age group3, how can they not be entrusted with a ballot?

I’ve worked in a small retail business for the past two and a half years. The government’s decisions – whether those be JobKeeper, COVID lockdowns, or the minimum wage – have had a direct impact on my work, where part of my income has and does go to the tax office. And yet, despite the fact that I contribute to society, and I have worked just as hard as my colleagues older than me do, I am denied the right to vote. It’s taxation without representation.

Studies have shown that when we give young people the right to vote, we not only engage them in politics, but we strengthen our democracy as a collective. After Scotland lowered their voting age to 16, 17% more of Scottish respondents to a research survey had engaged in at least one form of politics aside from voting than their peers from the rest of the UK.With these numbers, it’s clear: by giving people aged 16-17 the right to vote, we can potentially boost political engagement in young people exponentially.

This conclusion is only logical. When you give a group a say in their futures, they’ll listen. So, if our government lowers the voting age in Australia, they  will increase youth engagement in politics,  and in doing so, will provide a means to hear crucial debate around crises such as climate change, where young people like myself have the most to lose, or indeed gain from government decisions.

Over the past few years, political discussion in and outside of the classrooms at my school has only grown stronger. Why? Our futures, more than ever, are on the line. But in the government’s accounting, we’re left out of the equation.

Our country already lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 under the Whitlam government in 1973, so this change is not a new concept for our country. What will be new is how many voices it will bring to the table, with approximately 580,000 young people aged 16-17 waiting to be enfranchised across our country. 5

For too long we’ve left young people out of politics. It’s time we finally give them a seat at the table. Let’s lower the voting age to 16 and turn up the voices of young people.

Ravin Desai (he/him) is a year 12 student campaigning with Make It 16 to lower the voting age in Australia to 16. He's also a Youth Advisor for the Office for the Victorian Information Commissioner and a member of his local youth council.

In his spare time, Ravin can be found in his school theatre, debating with peers, or at the NGV.

Photo credit: Sam Biddle

  1. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (n.d.). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/international-covenant-civil-and-political-rights#:~:text=Article%2025
  2. Statista Research Department. (n.d.). Generation Z in Australia - Statistics & Facts. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/topics/10607/generation-z-in-australia/#topicOverview
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (n.d.). Leading causes of death. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/life-expectancy-death/deaths-in-australia/contents/leading-causes-of-death
  4. LeGrand, C., Alvis, R. K., & Suggs, P. (2018). The influence of individual- and community-level factors on Medicaid beneficiaries' access to primary care. Public Administration, 71(2), 365–384. https://academic.oup.com/pa/article-abstract/71/2/365/4316143?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  5. Australian Government Department of Health. (2023, June 29). Eligible Australian kids 16+ can now get a booster. Retrieved from https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/eligible-australian-kids-16-can-now-get-a-booster

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