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Lowering the voting age will empower young people, says law student

One Sydney-based law student has argued for Australia to lower the voting age and the regulatory considerations surrounding the issue.

user iconJess Feyder 29 May 2023 Politics
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Recently on The Protégé Podcast, host Jess Feyder spoke with Niki Nojoumian, a law student at the University of NSW, about her views on why Australia should lower the voting age to 16.

Ms Nojoumian discussed the essay she wrote on the topic titled “The Case for Lowering the Voting Age in Australia”, which has recently been published in the UNSW Law Journal Student Series.

The essay began as a university assignment, where she was required by her lecturer to write an essay on something related to electoral policy — something she was passionate about and that she thought could change.


“I started researching and looking into election reform and lowering the voting age, but it slowly became so much more as I became invested in looking at the issue,” Ms Nojoumian said.

For the essay, Ms Nojoumian investigated the merits and demerits of lowering the voting age, and the avenues of reform.

“My argument relied on three merits of lowering the voting age, which included that it was equitable — that young people should be able to vote on issues that affect them — and that it would increase political participation, and lastly, that it would incentivise politicians to listen to younger voters,” she explained.

“It would really empower young people.”

“We’ve seen recently with climate change and COVID-19 that young people are feeling very frustrated about matters that are out of their hands and that they have to rely on older people in their lives to vote and advocate for them,” she highlighted.

“We are seeing that a lot of young people are very passionate, and are willing to go out there and protest and speak about what they care about — but some young people have never been told that they should care, and instead have been told to go home and focus on their studies.

“It would really empower them in that capacity.

“But I think the most meaningful benefit is that it really incentivises politicians to listen to young people.

“This is a strategic interest of theirs then, because suddenly, they have an increased voting pool of young people to care and can actively participate,” explained Ms Nojoumian.

“It’s a 3.3 per cent difference, which would make a difference to elections.

“Now it’s in their strategic interest to create policies that will garner popularity,” she noted.

Ms Nojoumian discussed another important aspect of why lowering the voting age would give benefits.

“We would educate young people on how to advocate for themselves and how to actively participate in society,” she said.

Ms Nojoumian also discussed the value that would be seen in the changes accompanying the change in voting age.

“The biggest change would be increasing civic education,” she explained.

“I speak from my experience, and the experience of my younger sister — there is not much voting education that comes once you turn 18 — you’re expected to show up at the polling booth and figure it out yourself.”

“Take a system like Austria,” she said, “Austria currently has a voting age of 16, and they have an independent body called Zentrum Polis, which educates and informs young people on how to vote.”

“The lowered voting age was implemented because of their ageing population, and since they made the shift, they have seen marginal benefits because of increased civic education,” she added.

Ms Nojoumian noted that debates in the Senate inquiry committee focused on the importance of increasing civic education through a co-design system, which means having young people have a say on how they want to be educated on voting.

Ms Nojoumian discussed the most important reform to accompany a change in the voting age.

“Even before legal reform is required, we need to look at perceptions and biases, because what I have noticed in everyday conversations with people is that our perception of young people is that they don’t have the cognitive capacity or political maturity to vote,” outlined Ms Nojoumian.

“This is perhaps not true, especially in what we’ve seen recently in the rise of social media, young people are more educated now than ever.

“They have so much more access to information through their phones.

“Our understanding of how much young people know is quite limited. We need to change the narrative of how capable young people are.

“The biggest reform we need is to increase civic education for young people,” she explained, “and that comes through legal reform”.

“Increasing civic education will change our perceptions of how much young people are interested in politics,” noted Ms Nojoumian.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Niki Nojoumian, click below: