Same-sex marriage: Will young people send postal votes?

Same-sex marriage: Will young people send postal votes?

SBS World News Radio: Amongst the various dicussions emerging since the federal government's announcement of a plebiscite on gay marriage is how younger Australians will react to it.

Gay marriage is an issue that engenders strong emotions on both sides of the debate.

The federal government says it's giving people a chance to voice those emotions in a non-binding national vote.

But for younger voters, it's a poll that could generate more than its usual share of issues and problems, according to Dr Philippa Collin, a Social Scientist at Western Sydney University.

"We know that about a quarter of people who are not enrolled to vote on the electoral roll for the last election were 18- and 19-year-olds, so certainly getting on to the electoral roll for first-time voters is an important issue. We also know that young people are among the most mobile, they're twice as likely to be moving house as any other member of the population, which of course has implications for their registered address. So there are a number of ways in which a postal vote could present some challenges for young people wishing to participate."

The Sydney-based service Youth Action is the main association for youth services in the state of New South Wales.

CEO Katie Acheson says gay marriage is a massive issue for younger voters.

She says the support amongst young people for legalising the practice is such that the plebiscite is a waste of money.

"We've seen really high results when polls are done of young people. There tends to be over 80 per cent support of marriage equality. And I think this $120 million that's going to be spent on a postal vote is just a complete waste of money to find out what we already know, which is that the Australian population supports marriage equality."

Ms Acheson claims attitudes to gay marriage held by some in the political establishment are symptomatic of a wider problem when it comes to politicians engaging with younger voters.

She says politicians aren't raising issues that actually matter to these voters, and cites the 2016 federal election as a key example.

"When you don't hear the issues that affect you being spoken about by the politicians who are asking you to vote for them, it's really hard to care about what they say, so marriage equality, climate change, asylum seeker policies at the last election came up as the three top issues for young people, and we didn't see politicians speaking directly to those. And actually what we saw is a lot of people avoiding subjects that were really important to young people."

Ms Acheson says this plebiscite could help politicians better engage with young people and encourage them to vote, but lots more needs to be done.

"I think it's really time in the next election that's coming in the next year or two - I'm sure the plebiscite and the postal vote will probably push the issue forward - but I think we need to see more young people and their issues being talked about."

Assuming this plebiscite survives proposed legal challenges, the nature of this vote has young people talking.

The declining use of the conventional mail system in favour of internet and phone-based communications makes a vote via Australia Post something quite strange to many younger Australians.

"I haven't sent a letter for like, six years."

"I'm sure I know how to send a letter any more, to be honest! It's gotten to that point!"

"Yeah, don't think I've bought a stamp in a while. I think young people will do it just because they know it's important. But it is also kind of a bother, because you have to go to so much effort to do it. So, I guess it's like half-and-half."

How many young Australians go to that effort - and what difference their views will make - offers an interesting subplot to a polarising national debate.


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