JSCEM 2022 election report released


The federal parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters yesterday released their report into the 2022 federal election.

I won’t try to summarise every point covered – the report covers matters to do with election funding and Indigenous enrolment.

But I wanted to mention a few points that I have touched on during this process, through this website, in my submission and when I attended a hearing of the committee.

  • The committee recommends an expansion of the number of senators representing the territories to four each, with all four elected for a three-year term at every election. This was something I supported in my testimony.
  • The committee was also positive towards expanding the number of seats in parliament more generally, but the specific recommendation is to hold a further inquiry into the topic.
  • The committee doesn’t make any recommendations about introducing proportional representation in the House of Representatives, but does consider the issue and presents the arguments in favour of such a change.
  • The committee recommends that postal vote applications can only be sent back directly to the AEC (not via parties) and can’t be sent out with other election materials.
  • The committee also quoted myself in discussing the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16.

We’ll now need to wait and see how much of this stuff is taken up by the government in the form of legislation. A broad expansion of the parliament will need to wait for the next term of parliament – an expansion would trigger redistributions in at least five mainland states, and it’s too late to pull that off before the next election.

It is plausible that expanded territory Senate representation could happen before an election – it wouldn’t have any knock-on effects on the electoral administration beyond seeking nominations for four seats in each state, and electing a larger number of senators. And there are numerous other recommendations that could take place in time for a 2025 election.

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  1. i bet the greens would love people being able to vote at 16. nothing more then political gerrymandering. labor and the greens stand to directly benfit from these recommendations

  2. @ john, the flipside to that argument is that it’s political manipulation NOT letting 16years-olds vote. From the commentary I’ve seen on this, it seems the main reason some people are opposed to letting 16-year-olds vote is that they don’t like their (assumed) politics, which is pretty undemocratic. You shouldn’t stop people from voting simply because you don’t like the way they’ll vote.

    Assumed politics aside, I think there’s a solid case to be made that 16 year should be able to vote – if you’re able to work and pay taxes, you should be able to vote and have some say on how the government taxes & spends.

  3. I’d argue that it’s more important for 16 year olds to vote than it is for retirees. They have their whole life ahead of them and decisions made by government will impact much more of their lives and futures, so they should have a say in it.

    If a 70 year old gets to vote and have a say on a housing policy, for example, that may benefit them but not benefit the next generation, then why shouldn’t a 16 year old who will be directly impacted by it.

    And like some guy said above, if they are able to work and pay taxes, they should also be able to vote.

    The only thing I would suggest is that perhaps it’s optional rather than compulsory for 16-17 year olds.

  4. Only adults should vote and there is no greater political immorality than enfranchising children. The only fair way for 16 year olds to vote is to lower the age of majority to 16. So if you think that 16 year olds should vote, remove all their protections and restrictions. They should have the right to leave school and if they break the law, go to adult prisons.

  5. John makes a good point – 16 & 17 year old’s can’t smoke, drink or gamble. If we don’t let them do those things because they are not mature enough, and I think that is fair enough, why do we think they are mature enough to vote?
    Personally, I think the changing nature of our society, where kids are expected not just to complete year 12 but to go on to some further full time study (Uni, TAFE, private training colleges etc) means there is substantially less arguments for reducing the voting age, and actually quite a good one for raising the voting age to 21. I do tend to find the arguments for lowering the voting age basically come down to ‘younger people vote for us so lets get more young people voting’.

  6. Agree in principle Labor voter and John. Perhaps voting for young people in the 16-21 range should be made voluntary rather than compulsory, and have restrictions such that those with any criminal convictions will not be allowed to vote.

  7. The prospect of allowing voluntary voting for under-18s was raised at JSCEM and I’m quoted in the report on that topic. In short, I think it might be dangerous for the generally high levels of voting if a person’s first experience of it is as a voluntary exercise.

    If you’re 16-18, at most you will be required to vote in a single election at each level of government, maybe not even that. It’s not a big burden.

    I also think there’s a lot of cherry-picking by picking those three measures of adulthood that kick in at 18.

    We let people drive at 17 (they can get behind the wheel at 16), the age of consent for sex is generally 16. And I believe that compulsory schooling usually ends at Year 10 which is roughly around the age of 16. We allow people to work (and thus pay tax on that income) even earlier – I believe it’s usually around 15.

  8. I agree with Ben and think that those particular things – especially the age you can finish school and the age you can work & pay tax – are more relevant than when you can smoke, drink or gamble.

    What it comes down to is that so much government policy will impact 16-17 year olds for a very long time, moreso than it will impact older generations in many cases, so I think they should have a say in it.

  9. @ charles i dont mind the increase but it should be that 2 senators are elected every election for a 6 year term rather then having 4 elected every 3 years. this way the blance is maintained and it doesnt beenfit one party over the other and they still get an overall increase in senators. otherwise why dont we just elect 12 senators every election for the states as well. having all senators elected at once lowers the % required. and will benefit the left of centre especially in the act.

  10. This is actually what I mean. 60 years ago I would have agreed with you, because it wasn’t just the law but the norm that people did the minimum amount of schooling then went to fulltime work. Today, most kids go to at lest year 12 if not further education, and suddenly the argument works away from lowering the age towards possibly increasing it as most kids are now not really going into adult life until 20 or 21.
    But if your sole idea is to increase the Greens vote (which is what this is really all about), then you need to find a justification for it, even if it is not really relevant to todays society.

  11. Labor Voter, I do agree with Trent’s justification that certain issues like Education, access to transport (both private and public) and employment conditions affect young people just as much as older adults, so giving them having an option to vote in elections (voluntary voting) is a valid argument, not just to increase the green vote.

    What you argue is that these voters may be less informed, but that is due to their age and lack of experience in some areas.

  12. Actually, I am arguing that these voters are not adults, and the goal was always ‘universal adult suffrage’, not ‘universal suffrage’. Otherwise, why have any lower limit at all? Those issues you mention issues apply to kids <16 as well.
    The 'kids can work at 16' argument is actually extremely weak, as most kids are still at school to 18 these days, so that seems a much better cutoff.

  13. I am not arguing for votes at 16 because of any particular threshold of adulthood. I think it’s nonsensical to suggest that young people spending more people in education means there is less of a reason to give them a right to vote. My point is that there is no single threshold of adulthood, but rather a range of ages we use for various rights of adulthood, ranging from 14 to 18. I’d also point out that a large proportion of high school students then go on to university and study for years to come. Most of them work, as do many high school students. It is not a sensible basis on which to restrict the franchise.

    I think about this in terms of whether someone has the capacity and the interest in casting a vote. Children of all ages are citizens and obviously have an interest in governmental policies. So then it becomes a question of capacity. And there is no doubt in my mind that 16-year-olds are capable of casting an informed vote. Of course some 16-year-olds have no interest in politics and may not be the most well-informed voters but I think any criticism you can make of 16-year-olds’ capacity to cast a vote is just as true of 21-year-olds or 50-year-olds. So if they are capable, I don’t think we have a justification for denying them a say.

    I also think “casting a vote” is quite different to a lot of the other rights that we restrict under-18s from accessing. We restrict access to alcohol, ability to consent to sex, the ability to drive because it can cause quite specific and significant harm to that person or another person if that right is handled poorly. That is not how the right to vote works. Of course young people are more likely to have particular interests and opinions that others might disagree with, but again this is just a question of relativity. I don’t think anyone can seriously argue that 16-year-olds wouldn’t have a genuine basis on which to express a political opinion and base their vote on their interests and political opinions.

  14. @John – Yes, electing just 2 territory senators each time for 6-year terms would remove the political advantage in adding the extra senators, which is presumably the govt’s main reason for pushing it. I don’t have a strong feeling either way on that; my problem is with the additional senators, which add to the existing unfairness of the system for no good reason.

  15. On the Senate…

    Would any increase in territory senators be more proportional if it were made at the same time as an increase in state senators? If so, let’s do both in the next term of parliament?

    Also, based on Ben’s comment in a previous discussion that an odd number of state senate seats is preferable to an even number, could a more proportional Senate consist of 3 territory senators each (all single terms) and 14 state senators each (7 elected every normal election)?

    I agree with Ben that 2 territory senate seats each election is too binary.

  16. On lowering the voting age…

    This is written from the perspective of 20 years spent working with children and youth in both professional and volunteer capacities.

    1. Our youth are overwhelmingly mature and responsible, especially when given opportunities (eg. caring for elderly, volunteering, etc.), so they’re as ready and able to vote as adults.

    2. The JCSEM recommendation to increase civic education is especially important in the context of lowering the voting age. If I understand it correctly, current civic education is mostly at primary school level. Ideally this should remain in place for children, and a secondary level civics program should be added to go into further detail when it becomes most relevant for adolescents.

    3. While I would welcome mandatory voting being lowered to age 16, I wonder if there might be an even better option…

    What if we considered the right and responsibility of voting separately?
    * The right to vote at age 16
    * The responsibility to vote at age 18 (this remains essential for the health of our democracy).

    This can be done by opening enrolment at age 16. Adolescents ages 16+ could choose to enrol when they are ready, with voting becoming an *obligation* for those who do enrol from that point on. This whole approach could be explained in civics education.

    @ Ben, would the message that voting becomes an “obligation” from enrolment onwards help to reduce your concerns? The idea is that youth enrolment is voluntary, but voting remains mandatory.

    Ultimately, I think that no matter what new age threshold or whether it’s mandatory or optional for youth to vote, any change that enfranchises our youth to shape our future (and especially their future) would be worthwhile.

  17. Agree Ben and a rebuttal to Labor Voter, part time work (which many late teens and young adults do in addition to school/uni) is just as valid as normal full time work that older adults engage in. Therefore, it is wrong to dismiss these people as not having sufficient ‘life experience’.

  18. What effects, beyond enfranchisement, would occur *any* minor could declare themselves a legal adult by passing a civics test? Set the standard of the test as you see fit.

    Allow for a separate legal concept of a physical adult, for the purposes of restricting various drugs, sexual relations.

  19. It’s obvious why the coalition oppose these recommendations, because a larger parliament is against their smaller-government and their less-accountability style.

    They wouldn’t oppose an increase on territory senators because the maths would be against them due to the political leanings of the territories.

    I remember reading about in the USA before Alaska and Hawaii became states, Democrats wanted Alaska to be admitted as a state if Hawaii was to, because Hawaii was expected to Lean-Republican and Alaska Democrats, but that’s completely opposite of what ended up happening. But my point is perhaps a compromise could be reached if the issue is “Giving an unfair advantage”

    By electing 4 senators. You would allow territory senators to serve 6 year terms and every 3 years the other pair of senators would be up.

    I don’t see how this gives Labor an advantage because if there are only 2 seats up every cycle (Outside of DD) then the Liberal party would be expected to win the 1 seat they usually win in the NT uninterrupted, and ACT uninterrupted until 2022.

    These recommendations should be taken seriously and put to a referendum and let the people decide (like fixed 4 year terms was put in QLD)

    I am sick and tired of these electoral reforms reaching a dead end in the senate and other bodies, It’s as if the politicians want us to think they are considering them but in reality they just want to make it look like they are taking a serious look at them.

    I admire your advocacy Ben for electoral reform and many others on here who have been calling for a change. I don’t think we can be ignored forever on matters such as electoral reform such as expansion of parliament or giving territories more senators.

  20. Regarding 4 senators per territory, I’ve been arguing for this for a while given that NT/ACT have grown rapidly compared to Tasmania over the past 100 years. This goes to the principle of fairer representation. The aim isn’t to have the number of senators proportional to population size. There is good reason why NSW and Tasmania should have the same number of senators, all proportionally elected by their respective states.

    Having 3 or 4 senators may not rectify the malaportionment but it is a correction and I do believe that the constitution should be modernised to reflect social, political and demographic changes. A party can get 20% of the primary vote in a state and score a seat and yet there’s no guarantee of getting a seat in ACT/NT. This actually ensured a duopoly until 2022 when David Pocock won in ACT.

    Before David Pocock’s win, I’d say the LNP were against expanding the senate. This is because it would most likely create a 1 Labor, 1 Liberal, 1 Green scenario in a 3-seat contest. This means that it would dilute the LNP’s influence with an extra Green or Labor member per territory. One Nation and other smaller parties are against the increase in the senate size, for a similar reason – it dilutes their influence and power and they know they have zero chance of scoring a territory seat.

  21. There is no legitimate reason to expand the senate in the ACT and NT as it would weaken senate representation of Australian states that already have populations of over millions of people. The same committee also want the voting age lowered to 16 is nothing but a powergrab from the Labor and Greens. The committee is not bi-partisan and has strong interests towards one side

  22. @daniel t the current proposal is 4 senators elected every three years. In the act this would deliver 3 of the left and 1 on the right most likely atm Pocock a green Labor and a 1 coalition

  23. @Peter, that is at odds with what I am getting from the teachers I know, who find a lot of students today are less prepared for life than at any time in the last 20 years. But that might be a different cohort of students, different curriculums etc.
    I just find that the reasoning comes after the decision here, so 16-17 yo’s will vote for the Greens, we must extend them the franchise, so we must find a reason. However, I am pretty sure 18 was eventually chosen as most people will have left/be about to leave school at that age and Uni was seen as part of being a young adult, whereas today Uni/TAFE/other training colleges are really an extension of the school system and the argument goes to increasing not reducing the voting age. But I know I am not going to get many on this forum to agree.

  24. It is compulsory for 94 year olds with dementia in nursing homes to vote. My sister was working at one when the mobile voting team came through, and one woman – who had probably been a Liberal voter her whole life – said “Ooh the Sex Party sounds fun! Put that!” Because she really had no idea what was going on, didn’t even realise she was voting or that it was a political party.

    The idea that somebody who is no longer of sound mind, no longer at all independent, and not one policy will ever impact their lives again, should be more entitled to vote than a 16 year old who is politically engaged, working part time, paying taxes, planning their future, and every government decision will impact their entire rest of their lives, is quite preposterous I think.

    Voting isn’t a right you need to “earn” by having paid taxes for 80 years or something, it’s about having a say in how your own future will be shaped.

  25. @trent people like that can be removed from the roll. you get to vote when your an adult and your an adult at the age of 18. case closed.

  26. By the way I’m not suggesting there should be a cut-off age for people to vote, by any means. I’m just illustrating that arguments that a 16 year old is not equipped to be able to make an informed vote are rendered completely irrelevant by the fact that many adults are really not informed, or in some cases even of sound mind.

    Yes, not all 16-17 year olds are equipped to vote. But not all 18+ (or 21+, or even 40+) year olds are either. In fact, many aren’t. All you need to look is look at social media commentary, especially from a lot of the disaffected Boomers & Gen X’ers who ran to alt-right parties, who don’t even understand how the system works.

    Could anybody really argue that the kind of people who bang on about things like “Why wasn’t Pauline Hanson on my ballot? IT’S RIGGED!” (I’ve actually seen this from a Victorian talking about their lower house ballot), or “Don’t use a pencil because the AEC will change your vote!”, or claiming that it’s rigged every time somebody who doesn’t get the highest primary vote wins off preferences, are actually better equipped to make an informed vote than a highly intelligent, politically engaged 17 year old who plans to study political science, has a full understanding of how the system works, has researched all their candidates and their policies, and perhaps even volunteers for a local candidate?

    I would argue there are probably *more* politically engaged 16-17 year olds than there are 40-50 year olds these days (I fall in the 40-50 age group myself but it’s astonishing how many people my age just don’t understand how the system works and are completely disengaged).

  27. Trent,

    I agree with a lot of what you said, although I tend to think that
    a) a lot less 16-17 year olds are politically engaged than people think, and
    b) being politically engaged doesn’t mean you know what you are talking about.

    I would be comfortable by the way with an upper age limit on voting as well, provided it was somewhat past the average age – say 90?

  28. @mostly labor voter you cant set a maximum age that would be discrimiatory people who are no longer mentally competent can be removed if they are no longer of sound mind

  29. On the senate…

    I’d be happy to see an increase in the size of the house.

    However, trust in government would need to be improved if the argument for this change (“more politicians will increase their ability to serve us”) is to have any chance of success against the argument against it (“the fewer politicians the better”).

    @ Votante,

    That’s a reasonable suggestion to focus on fairer representation rather than population proportions. I don’t mind 4 senators per territory.

    I think the territory peoples’ interests in having 4 seats every election for better proportionality reasons outweighs the senates’ interest in giving territory senators the assurance of being elected for 2x terms like state senators.

  30. On the voting age…

    @ Josh,

    A suggestion for a new voter test is kind of like suggestions for voter ID – neither are going to achieve very much, but both will likely disenfranchise some people whose access to support is more limited than most.

    @ MLV,

    Education appears more challenging nowadays, especially with rapidly advancing technologies. Teachers also need better conditions. So while we can and should improve our education system, in the meantime, our youth take whatever preparations they can make for life. This is part of the reason why my preferred model is for youth to be able to choose to opt-in to enrol, but ultimately I don’t mind what the precise model is.

    On the political dimension, perhaps consider “how will each party adapt to this change?”. Giving women the right to vote changed the political context. Youth voting could be a similar contextual change, albeit far smaller in scale, due to the tiny size of the youth cohort relative to the number of existing voters.

    On the specific voting age, it’s always going to be somewhat arbitrary – a line has to be drawn somewhere. But why should it be at the precise point where education stops and everything else begins? And how can such a single point possibly be defined? The trend towards more tertiary education is, more broadly, a trend towards *lifelong* learning. Future generations will be increasingly dipping in and out of education to meet their needs, so there’s no need for youth to wait for an even longer time before they’re considered ready for the right to vote.

    I would strongly oppose both raising the voting age and a voting age cap. Youth, young adults, and seniors all deserve the right to vote.

    @ Trent,

    I agree with all you’ve said. Your comments remind me that secondary school years 7-9 are the last time that we have most of our youth in a national comprehensive system before they each start taking their separate journeys onward. This is the perfect time for a second round of civics education, especially to prepare for the opportunity to vote, no matter what that age threshold is.

  31. Agree Peter, I would argue tertiary education (university and/or Tafe) are as you indicated more lifelong learning rather than mandatory and thus are very arbitrary in nature. Whilst studying at uni, I also did voluntary work to gain more ‘life skills’ and this is true for many other young people.

    Also, to your point Labor Voter – I would argue that young people are increasingly questioning the state of the world and the reasoning behind why some things like ‘economic models’ must be the way they are. That’s not to say they don’t know how the world works, just that they see that there are better ways of doing things and this in turn contributed towards their increasingly leftward shift.

  32. Peter, you make a good point about the political dimensions of lowering the age and how parties should adapt to that.

    It shouldn’t just be assumed it will benefit the Greens. Yes, right now it would probably benefit the Greens because their policies appeal to the youth.

    But what’s stopping even the Liberal Party from then overhauling their policy platform to appeal to the youth, and focus on things like climate, educational opportunities, training programs, job security and housing affordability?

    It’s a choice to tailor your policies to a particular demographic over another. When you consider that demographic trends are already moving away from the Liberal Party, they are already arguably in a position where they need a complete policy overhaul and rebranding to stay relevant as their core voting demographic is dying out and being replaced by a younger one they are seen as out of touch with. The power is in their hands alone to change that.

    And those 16-17 year olds are going to turn 18 soon and probably vote against them anyway, unless they do adapt.

  33. @ John,

    Your argument for maintaining the status quo is so unconvincing that you resort to vilify Australia’s youth by misrepresenting them as terrorist supporters?

    What an awfully mendacious comment you have made.

  34. Moving on… Yes, parties across the full political spectrum could benefit from considering how their policies relate to young people. A slightly larger youth voter cohort could also improve policy making on longer-term issues.

  35. That’s a bit over the top John, but it does get to one of the issues. How much do 16-17 yo’s vote for themselves as opposed to what others tell them.

    And, yes, I know as Trent pointed out above that is true of a lot of voters, but youths are particularly vulnerable to this.

  36. Agree Peter. Also, to expand on your misleading argument John – the Israeli-Palestine conflict is not clear cut with both sides at fault in some regards for continuing to use inflammatory remarks. Sure, Hamas probably uses more violent methods compared to the Israeli side but Palestinian citizens who join and are involved with Hamas are likely in a severe state of despair having witnessed the opposing side continue to pursue policies that actively target and weaken their side.

  37. Would it though Peter?

    I suspect that young people are just as attracted to selfish short term concerns as their elders (rent freeze, free uni, higher youth allowance etc) which may not actually be good long term policy.

    Not saying they are or aren’t, just that they are short term policies that would appeal to the youth.

  38. Legitimising conversations on who should be restricted from voting will be the end of democracy, especially because political expediency always influences such decisions. Once this conversation is started, people will feel legitimised in claiming that certain groups of people shouldn’t be allowed to vote, be it the unemployed, the poor, the young, the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, the uneducated, and so on. No doubt there are some who think (or are willing to contrive an argument) that their political opponents are in some way unworthy of the right to vote. This is debate that will end democracy. The right to vote is sacred.

  39. So you are happy for toddlers to vote Nicholas?

    I know that sounds silly, but that is logically what you are saying.

    As I said earlier, it has always been ‘universal adult suffrage’, all we are doing is trying to determine whether 16 and 17 year olds count as adults for the purposes of voting.

  40. @peter no if you watch the school strike for palestine interviews you will see them clearly supporting a terrorist organisation

  41. Labor Voter, I think 16- and 17-year-olds are ‘classed’ as adults in some circumstances. Especially for public transport as you must pay adult fares if over 16 in most states, with exemptions if you are a student or have other concessions (disability or claiming Centrelink benefits).


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