Voting age should be lowered

August 6, 2010

From August 9 to 12, high school students will be able to take part in a mock election thanks to the Google Student Voice initiative.

Students aged 15 to 17 will be able to participate in the online poll. Google sent information packs to schools around Australia

The vote will allow students to choose between the candidates standing in their electorates for the federal election. Results of the simulated election will be released on August 15.

The project was endorsed by Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, as well as Greens leader Bob Brown, in speeches delivered to the project's launch on July 28. Liberal member for Bradfield Paul Fletcher spoke on behalf of opposition leader Tony Abbott.

But why stop at a mock vote? Why not lower the legal voting age to 16?

At 16, young people are old enough to work and pay taxes. At 17, you can get your drivers licence. Yet 16-and 17-year-olds are denied the right to vote and help decide how their taxes are spent and who makes the laws that affect them.

Decisions made today will shape the world years to come.

In this election, both parties seek to deny action on climate change, have used refugees as scapegoats and put profit before people and the planet. Yet young people aren't given the chance to reject business-as-usual politicians and vote for real change.

The big decisions about how society runs, however, are made outside of parliament. They are made in the boardrooms of banks and multinational corporations.

Our political and economic system has helped create oppression, wars and climate change. So long as our system is based on capitalism, young people’s voices will continue to be ignored.

However, students around Australia have experienced a different idea of democracy in recent times. Resistance and Highschoolers Against Homophobia have initiated a high school referendum against homophobia and for equal marriage rights for queers, which will be held during August. Students are being asked whether they support the federal government's ban on same-sex marriage.

For young people, homophobia and bigotry are matters of life and death — on high schools more than elsewhere. The federal Labor government has worsened homophobia. The same-sex marriage ban, implemented by the then Howard government in 2004 and retained by Labor, sends a clear message that queers are second-class citizens.

Resistance is a socialist youth organisation affiliated to the Socialist Alliance. SA supports the lowering of the voting age to 16 as one step towards extending the democratic rights of young people.

However, Resistance also seeks to involve young people in political struggle outside of elections. History has shown it is mass action by ordinary people, especially youth, that drives social change.

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