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Thousands Of 18-Year-Olds Will Miss Out On Voting In The Marriage Postal Survey

"This is something that needs to happen."

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Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale.
William West / AFP / Getty Images

Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale.

The Greens will try to enfranchise 16- and 17-year-olds in the same-sex marriage postal survey, after the government last week moved to quell speculation teens would be allowed to take part.

The move comes after the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that thousands of teenagers who turn 18 during the period of the postal poll will be barred from taking part.

Since the government announced its postal survey on same-sex marriage last Monday, it has faced numerous questions about who can and can't vote, and what legal protections the vote would attract.

The government is negotiating with Labor and the Greens to pass some legislation that would see various protections in the Electoral Act — including rules around deceptive advertising — covered in the postal survey.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said on Monday that his party would attempt to amend that legislation to include a vote for 16- and 17-year-olds.

"If you can get married at 16 or 17 surely you should have the right to vote on whether people can get married regardless of sex or gender," he said.

"This is something that needs to happen. We need to make sure that those people right across the community who are old enough to decide whether they want to enter a relationship have the opportunity to reflect that in their vote."

If you can marry at 16, why can't you vote for #marriageequality? Join the Greens in making this postal vote as inc…

On Q&A on Monday evening, Labor senator Sam Dastyari said the postal survey is "a joke" but that he supports enfranchising teens.

"I would love to see 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds be included," he said. "I don't understand why we're not even doing it online or using other methods to get young people to engage."

The call to enfranchise the teens comes at the same time the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) clarified that even some 18-year-olds would miss out on a vote in the survey, as the electoral roll will be closed at midnight on August 24.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds can register to be on the electoral roll so they can automatically vote on their 18th birthday, even if that birthday comes after the last day to enrol.

But in the postal survey, if you're not 18 by August 24, you can't take part — even if you've applied to be on the roll on your 18th birthday.

Greens senator Janet Rice took aim at the government, telling the Senate on Monday: "It is every Australian [who can have a say], they claim — except, however, for the more than 50,000 18-year-olds who won't be able to vote.

"These are the people who will turn 18 between 24 August and 7 November. In this postal plebiscite, two-and-a-half months will go by where people will turn 18 and they won't be able to vote."

Aaron Bunch / AAPIMAGE

On Friday the government was forced to clarify that 16- and 17-year-olds would not be able to vote in the postal poll after eagle-eyed Twitter users spotted some vague language in treasurer Scott Morrison's directive to the ABS.

In the directive to the ABS, Morrison defined an "elector" as a person who:

(a) enrolled on the Commonwealth electoral roll at the end of 24 August 2017; or

(b) who has made a valid application for enrolment on the Commonwealth electoral roll before the end of 24 August 2017.

Some argued that 16- and 17-year-olds have made valid applications to be on the roll, and while legislation clarifies they cannot vote in elections until they turn 18, there is nothing dictating they cannot vote in a postal survey.

However, the government has the final say on who can vote in the postal survey as it is an executive, not parliamentary, order.

"There has been speculation that 16- and 17-year-olds will be allowed to participate in the marriage survey," said finance minister Mathias Cormann.

"This is not correct. The survey instruments will be sent to those who are on the roll, 16- and 17-year-olds are not on the roll."

Do you have questions about Australia's upcoming postal survey on same-sex marriage? Same. Here's a list of everything you need to know, and more.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at

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