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Australia may allow 16 year olds to vote

AT 16, Australian youths can't hold driving licenses or, in some states, drop out of school. But they could make or break governments in knife-edge elections under a draft proposal to lower the voting age from 18 years.

The proposal will be included in a public discussion paper on a range of potential reforms to the Australian electoral system released this year, Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig's spokeswoman Sarah Cosson said yesterday in Canberra.

Some welcome the proposal as a means of engaging young Australians in politics.

Others suspect Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whose center-left Labor Party government is more popular with younger voters than the conservative opposition, is seeking political advantage.

Australian National University political scientist Norm Kelly said the government won't find a strong mood for change among the general public.

"Maybe the Labor government is flying a kite and seeing how it goes and if there's general support, then they can use that support to get an advantage," Kelly said.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world where voting is compulsory for all citizens over the age of 18. The proposal is for voting to be voluntary for 16 and 17 year olds.

The change would take an act of Parliament. But opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said the government cannot count on the Liberals' support in a hostile senate for the change.

Reducing the voting age was one of the top recommendations of a national summit, convened by Rudd last year, of 100 young community leaders aged 15 to 24 years.


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