|Issue No 109||31 August 2001|
Ben Heraghty on Disenfranchising Youth
The recommendations of the Pyne Committee Report on the integrity of the electoral roll will disenfranchise thousands of young people in our democracy.
I was always taught at school that one of the basic principles of our Australian democracy was the right to vote. It seems that the Howard government doesn't see things as clearly as the majority of Australians. The Report on the Integrity of the Electoral Roll chaired by Liberal Member Chris Pyne was an attempt to strike a blow at the ALP and the Labor movement. It failed dismally in that attempt. But it has recommended some disturbing measures for democracy which the Howard Government seems increasingly keen to put into law. The most concerning aspect for young people is the recommendation that the electoral roll should be closed as soon as writs for an election are issued - that is, the day an election is called.
At present young people are given 7 days to enrol or to change their voting address. Under the proposed changes first time voters will not be able to enrol once an election is called, and young people will only have 3 days to change their address. It's clear that young people are more likely to miss out on exercising their democratic right to vote under these changes.
First time voters will be hardest hit. Many first time voters do not know that they need to enrol to vote before an election, especially if they have turned 18 since the last election. Many assume that once an election is called they can fill in the form and enroll to vote. If the electoral roll is closed straight away as recommended, then young people who want to vote may miss out altogether.
The measure will also unfairly discriminate against students and those in rental accommodation. Many students and young people in rental accommodation have to change their address each time they move. If young people are not provided with adequate time to change their electoral address, then they may not be able to have their say in the democratic process.
The Australian Electoral Commission has estimated that reducing the time for electoral enrolment to zero days for first time voters and 3 days for those changing their address, will mean a minimum of 200,000 people will miss out on voting. This kind of disadvantage is unacceptable in our democracy where the right to vote is protected and valued. The measures also severely restrict the voice of young people in our democracy when young people are struggling to be heard at all. It is hardly a surprising move by the Howard government, especially given its total disregard for the issues that matter to young people, such as education, the environment, reconciliation and youth unemployment. It is commendable that any government launches an enquiry into cleaning up our democratic voting procedures. But when the outcome is that thousands of young Australians will be denied their democratic right to vote, you have to wonder at the motivations of such an exercise.
Ben Heraghty is President of Australian Young Labor
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