There’s been a lot of commentary in the lead up to this year’s federal election campaign about how younger Australians aren’t engaged in politics. A big proportion of young people aren’t enrolled to vote and research shows that younger voters don’t trust politicians or political parties.
But do these generalisations really capture the nuance and multitude of feelings young Australians have to the political process and important social issues? And even if younger voters feel disengaged with democracy and politics can we really blame them?
Firstly, I don’t subscribe to the idea that young people are inherently politically disengaged. In my experience, younger voters care deeply and passionately about a whole range of political issues. Issues like equal marriage, climate change, education funding, and many more. Numerous studies show that younger voters care deeply about these issues but they are regularly let down by political parties who fail to act in their interests. Is it any surprise then that young Australians turn away from official politics, choosing to engage through campaign groups like GetUp, or not at all?
This week more than a hundred young Victorians will descend on to Parliament House in Melbourne to take part in the YMCA’s Youth Parliament. They’ll be debating diverse (and ingenious!) policies like the state provision of free sanitary items for women, universal mental healthcare access, pill testing at music festivals and the introduction of medically supervised injecting centres.
That’s a whole suite of progressive, visionary policies that are, unfortunately, absent from the political agenda this federal election.
Younger voters care deeply and passionately about a whole range of political issues.
It’s not just at Youth Parliaments that the political passion of young Australians is on display. During election campaigns the actual party campaigns, who wake up at the crack of dawn to hand out party material at train stations and stay up all night affixing posters and placards to telegraph poles, are overwhelmingly young volunteers.
When you look outside the major parties young Australians are coming up with new ways to engage with politics. The “Vote Flux” political party was born out of disenchantment with the current political system. I don’t necessarily agree with its approach, and I think that there are a number of technical and political barriers to it working successfully, but it is an example of young people seeing a broken system and responding in a unique way.
My own involvement with politics is pretty unique. My mum is a politician. She’s a Greens MP in the NSW Legislative Council. When I was growing up she wasn’t in Parliament, she was an academic, consultant and a public servant, though she was politically active on a range of environmental and social justice issues.
She was, and continues to be (she is my mum, after all), a pretty strong influence on my life, and encouraged me to be politically active when I was younger. In the town that I grew up in, on the mid-north coast of NSW, very few people my age cared about politics and current affairs. I understand why and don’t begrudge them at all. They didn’t think that politicians represented their interests and were busy figuring out how to make a living and what to do next to engage deeply in the arcane vagaries of Australia’s deeply broken political system.
The answers to the big social and political questions facing us will need to be met my generation.
I count myself pretty lucky that I had a mum who, through her involvement in politics, encouraged me to be politically active and aware. Her political career has involved fighting for marriage equality, introducing the first bill in NSW history to decriminalise abortion and fighting to protect the environment. I’ve been lucky enough to have a first hand insight into how important our political system is, and how something has mundane and ordinary as voting can change the lives of millions of people.
I understand why so many people my age don’t respect or engage with politics. I don’t blame them. I don’t know what the answer is to make politicians more representative and accountable. But I think however young people get involved, whether it’s through official politics, running for election, volunteering on campaigns or starting their own parties or joining independent campaign groups, it’s a good thing for our society. The answers to the big social and political questions facing us will need to be met my generation. The fact that our politicians aren’t coming up with the answers themselves is more reason for us to develop solutions. After all, we’re the ones that are going to be left facing the problems.
Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @oz_f
Not sure how your vote works? SBS News explains: