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Greens Want 16 And 17-Year-Olds To Vote In The Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite

That's 600,000 extra voters.

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A typical Australian 16 year-old can get married, sign a lease, pay income tax, enlist in the defence force, be tried as an adult, fly a plane and shoot a gun. But they can't vote.

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Katie Acheson, CEO of advocacy group Youth Action, thinks that's hypocritical and is is calling on the government to look at lowering the voting age for the upcoming plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

"Australia should not be divided by those that can vote and those that can’t on key issues," Acheson told BuzzFeed News.

She argues lowering the voting age has the potential to change the outcome of the plebiscite.

"Young people have told us that marriage equality is in their top three issues, so empowering those 600,000 extra voters to have their voices heard in the upcoming plebiscite is essential in making this a productive, definitive and democratic process."

The federal Marriage Act allows 16-year-olds to marry in certain circumstances, and Acheson believes locking them out of the same-sex marriage debate is disrespectful because it's an issue that directly affects their lives.

Lowering the voting age is not unprecedented: Austria, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, the Philippines, Argentina, Nicaragua, Brazil and Ecuador all allow 16-year-olds to vote. Scotland gave 16-year-olds the right to vote in the 2014 plebiscite on independence, and the former Rudd government considered a similar move in 2009.

Youth Action research shows that the younger people are when they first vote, the more likely they are to continue voting throughout their lives.

Before the election, opposition leader Bill Shorten promised a Labor government would reduce the voting age to either 17 or 16, arguing that young people deserved the right to vote for laws that will change their lives.

Shorten estimated in 2012-13 more than 17,000 Australians under 18 paid around $41 million income tax (plus GST), or a quarter of the cost of the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

"My message to the Liberal party is: let's trust our young people because they're the people who are going to have to deal with the decisions that we're making right now," he said in a 2015 speech.

But Labor hasn't declared whether or not it will support the plebiscite when the legislation enters parliament, and it doesn't have a position on lowering the voting age.

Greens leader Richard di Natale is in favour of lowering the voting age because he thinks young people should have a say on a policy that affects their lives.

Dan Himbrechts / AAPIMAGE

“It’s longstanding Greens policy that 16- and 17-year-olds should have the same voting rights as other Australian citizens, because there are many younger people who want to have a say in the parliamentary politics that impact their lives now and into the future," di Natale told BuzzFeed News.

"However, the Greens want to make marriage equality a reality through a vote in the parliament, not an expensive and divisive plebiscite."

The plebiscite bill is currently being drafted by attorney-general George Brandis and will be ticked off by cabinet within weeks before being voted on in parliament.

A BuzzFeed News analysis has found for the first time in history there is a clear majority in support of same-sex marriage in both houses, which could clear the way for a parliament vote.

Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm told BuzzFeed News he doesn't think there's a need to lower the voting age, but he would vote for the amendment if it meant Australia could introduce same-sex marriage "before Saudi Arabia beats us to it".

A record 1.66 million young people voted in the 2016 federal election.

Australians enrolled for the election by age. 18 YO participation up from 51% to 71% since end of April #ausvotes

The participation rate of 18- to 24-year-olds on July 2 was the highest in history - up from 81% in 2013 to 86.7%.

58% of Australians agree that people of the same sex should be allowed to marry, according to a July Essential poll.

The biggest support comes from young Aussies. Polling by the Marriage Equality Alliance suggest as many as 81% of 18 to 24-year-olds would vote to legalise same-sex marriage.

Lyle Shelton from the Australian Christian Lobby believes politicians should not "cloud" the marriage equality debate with questions of lowering the voting age.

Anna Mendoza / Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

"They're separate issues. They're both important discussions, but a proposal to lower the voting age needs to be considered separately on its own merits and not brought into the current plebiscite process," he told BuzzFeed News.

"It should be left to another time so the issue isn't clouded."

Shelton believes there isn't enough time to hold a national debate on the voting age, as the government plans to push through a plebiscite as soon as possible.

Instead, the government should be focused on making sure the plebiscite "resembles as closely as possible a normal election or referendum", he said.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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