Dastyari: I think it’s incumbent upon me to begin by addressing the slanderous, offensive and hurtful comments of Senator Paterson moments earlier when he seemed to say that there are young Australians out there who aren’t interested in the social media videos of Australian politicians! I think the senator should take some time to reflect on those comments and perhaps give a personal explanation later in the chamber!
The ridiculousness of the proposition that we’re going to actually look at increasing the voting age in this era is a demonstration of how obscenely out of touch. (Read One Nation Speech) One Nation are with a generation of future voting Australians. Not only are their views on issues like climate change clearly out of the ordinary, not only do their views on issues like marriage equality and other matters set them apart from young Australians, but they go so far as to try to disenfranchise them from participating in the political process. I have a different view than my party has on the issue of voting age. I have consistently had a different view from the Labor Party. And, of my many failures in Australian politics and certainly in Labor politics, one of them has been my inability to convince the Labor Party to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. It’s a position I have had for a long period of time, it’s one I have argued in party circles and it is one lower the voting age from 18 to 16for which I have consistently lost every senior party vote that I’ve tried to win.
But I live in faith and I live in hope. I do believe there is a generation of young Australians that should be enfranchised, a generation of young Australians that can be enfranchised, and I’m sick and tired of this idea that we hear in politics a lot: that young people are not interested in politics or not interested in this and that. I think Senator Paterson was correct when he made the point that they may not be interested in organised politics as we know it but are certainly engaged on issues. They’re certainly engaged on issues that matter to them. Have a look at the amount of energy and excitement involved in the postal survey, a survey that many of us believe shouldn’t happen and doesn’t need to happen. We kept hearing reports that young people weren’t going to vote, that they weren’t going to participate, that they weren’t going to show up, and every bit of anecdotal and empirical evidence—that’s right, empirical evidence—that we have available to us shows that they do care, they are interested and they want to engage.
Housing affordability is an issue across Australia. In particular it’s an issue in our capital cities. Within our capital cities, perhaps in Sydney more than anywhere else, it is a huge issue. It is another issue where a generation of young Australians does care, is passionate and is interested. The notion that we will change our voting age in this vibrant, successful democracy for the sole purpose of disenfranchising more people is a ridiculous assertion. Frankly, I’d like to one day be in a position where we could be voting to lower it rather than to increase it.
On the issue of lowering it, I want to make one observation on the record. I note that, in cases like the Scottish independence referendum and at other times, there have been trials where different nations have been looking at 16- and 17-year-olds participating in the democratic process. I note that there is a slight misconception that younger voters are necessarily more progressive. I think an interesting observation—there’s quite a bit of data that shows this—for those of us on the left of politics who may look at an age group of 18 to 24 and say, ‘Well, 16- to 17-year-olds are likely to vote that way,’ is that the data that exists actually shows they’re disproportionately more conservative and less left-wing than their counterparts who are a little bit older than them. There seem to be a lot of conspiracy theories that, when everyone talks about lowering the voting age, it’s simply an attempt to put on more centre-left voters with the objective of stacking the system. Frankly, the data proves that it’s not.
There is issue after issue that we need to be dealing with as a nation. There are long-term decisions on issues like climate, education, equality, simple economic sensibilities and the burden that will be placed on future generations if we have either debt growing the way it has been or increasing inequality and the consequences of that. To say that in this day and age the response to this should be excluding people from participating in the process, I think, shows just how out of touch One Nation is. Those who are 18 to 21 are making big decisions about their lives, and they have a big role to play in the future of this country.
But I tell you what makes it even more outrageous to be having this debate: today is the day that the New South Wales HSC has started. Can I just say to the many students who are going through the HSC today: it’s not as big a deal as you think it is, but I’m glad I never have to go through it again. Still, 15 years later, I will occasionally wake thinking I have a HSC exam that I’m late to.
I admit I don’t come to this with the best of records when it comes to attendance. In my final year of school I dishonourably graduated with 100 unexplained absences. That’s right: I failed to show up to school on 100 different occasions, which, considering 12 weeks of leave and weekends, is quite an achievement in itself. How I was never expelled remains a mystery, and I’m using the Senate now to thank my year 12 principal, Tony Fugaccia from Baulkham Hills High School, for either having faith in me or realising the paperwork of expulsion wasn’t worth it. I went on to university, where I failed at med school. I got kicked out of Sydney Law School by the dean, Gillian Triggs herself, unfairly for the sole transgression of not having shown up to five years of classes. This is the same Gillian Triggs who came on to become Human Rights Commissioner. I say to those in this chamber who speak ill of her: if you think you have a problem with Gillian Triggs, consider what it’s like to be kicked out of law school by her. Finally, I finished my studies at the amazing Macquarie University.
My message is that we live in a land of better chances. Even though I wasn’t good enough for high school, med school or law school—a decision that Gillian Triggs re-endorsed when recently launching my book—the good people of New South Wales, in their great wisdom, decided that they were going to give me the toughest punishment of all: they’d send me to the Australian Senate to be with you lot. Kids, good luck and best wishes. If you truly, really mess things up, I look forward to welcoming you to the Australian Senate.