Lower the voting age!

October 6, 2007

The Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACV) is calling on the Victorian government to consider lowering the voting age, following the tabling of a report in the ACT parliament recommending 16- and 17-year-olds in the territory be given the vote.

YACV policy and projects manager Jen Rose was quoted in the September 28 Herald Sun as saying young people are "typically working part time and paying their taxes, they're active citizens and we question why they shouldn't have a say on who represents them". She added that there was a lot of support for voluntary rather than compulsory voting in the youth sector.

It makes sense that if young people can work, pay tax and drive a car, then they are entitled to vote as well — especially at this time, when matters like climate change and Australian participation in wars of conquest so deeply compromise our future. Why should the government be able to take tax from young people without them having a say?

It's bad enough that "democracy" in Australia is limited to voting once every few years, with major decisions affecting everyone's lives made behind closed doors by the corporate rich. Then at the ballot box we have the "choice" of a pro-big business Coalition or pro-big business Labor government, with no right to recall totally unaccountable MPs. Yet young people are denied the right to vote at all!

Young people should have the right to vote against the government's severe new workplace relations regime. The Work Choices system, with its individual agreements and restrictions on trade union activity, strips from young people the ability to seek the support of a union when working their first job, and to bargain collectively for better wages and safer conditions. Young people, subject to a higher rate of unemployment than the overall working class, are forced to start work from a young age or else risk not being able to find work once they turn 18 due to "lack of experience".

Young people work long hours, typically with one or two short breaks, and generally get paid pathetic hourly rates. This is often in rather unglamourous retail or fast-food jobs, which have a notorious reputation for exploiting young people.

Without the collective strength of a union, individuals are left to try to negotiate with managers who are typically seeking to provide only the bare minimum of pay and conditions. Negotiating is a tough thing to do and requires confidence and an advanced understanding of your legal rights at work and what pay you should expect.

It seems young people are expected to be their own personal workplace rights delegate and pay negotiator, but are not mature enough to vote. What a joke! We are allowed to work for the corporations our government represents, and in doing so make those corporations rich. But we aren't allowed to vote out this dodgy government and vote for a party that will fight for our rights at work.

The very real crisis of climate change and the utter failure of the major parties to come up with an adequate response makes granting young people access to Australia's political system even more urgent. Here in the world's most arid populated continent, already an ongoing drought is wreaking havoc upon our farmers, a trend the CSIRO says will continue and worsen with time.

Climate change threatens to cause unprecedented chaos and destruction around the world. Long after the current generation of politicians are dead and buried, today's generation of young people will be left behind to try to bring climate change under control, and deal with the constant severe crises that the phenomenon is predicted to unleash. Young people may not be experts on climate change (although some are), but know enough to want to take real action now to stop this crisis before it is too late.

Meanwhile, Australian troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan, perpetuating the illegal and murderous occupations of those countries. Young people who do not want this war supported in our name should have the right to vote for those parties who will bring Australian troops home from these bloody wars.

Young people have repeatedly shown our determination to have a say on these issues, by taking to the streets in protest at the Howard government's policies, from the Iraq war to Work Choices.

The Socialist Alliance, which Resistance is part of, supports the lowering of the voting age to 16 as one step towards extending the democratic rights of young people. However Resistance and the alliance also seek to involve young people in struggles outside of elections. History shows it is mass action by ordinary people, especially young people, that drives social change.

We cannot be expected to sit idly by, watching helplessly as our rights at work are eroded, as our government joins wars for oil and conquest in our name, and as the climate — and our future — is destroyed before our eyes.

[Zane Alcorn is a Resistance activist and is standing as a federal election candidate for the Socialist Alliance in the Melbourne seat of Wills.]

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