learn from brexit and make your voice heard in this election

With the Australian election looming, we look at how young people are being forgotten and what we can do about it.

by Naomi Russo
01 July 2016, 2:00am

Photography Charlie White

With the election a day away, this long and tortuous campaign has made one fact very clear: traditional politics in Australia isn't listening to, or aimed at, young people. When economic analyst Chris Richardson appeared on ABC'sQ&A earlier this year he expressed that he was personally surprised young people aren't angrier about the way they're being treated by our government. After all, this is a political climate where "the war on young people" has become a common media phrase. When Crikey outlined the multiples ways young Australian are being ripped off by current political decisions in April, they reflected that "The grim reality for young Australians is, there is an intergenerational war being waged against them. And they're losing."

At the heart of this battle is Labor and Liberal's passivity around climate change, economic policy, education policy and housing affordability — issues where millennials will be the ones feeling the consequences long term.

So, what can we do about it? How do we take control of our country and future? Many suggest the solution is for young people to simply turn out and vote. In the shadow of Brexit, the importance of our participation in the election cycle has never been clearer. In Britain, where voting is non-compulsory, the turn-out rate of millennials was fairly low, and some have pointed to this are the reason the vote to leave narrowly won out.

Although voting is compulsory in Australia only 71 percent of the 18 to 19 year old population is currently enrolled to vote. Although thankfully this year things have begun to improve: The Australian Electoral Commission announced that a record 1.66 million under-25s enrolled to vote in tomorrow's election.

But even if you're ready to head down to the ballot boxes, it doesn't change the fact that there is still a serious lack of youth-tailored policies. Voting is the first step to change, but it can't be the last. After all, most failures to vote are realistically less about laziness and more about apathy — it's hard to engage with a political system you feel is disinterested in you or your future.

Rather than asking why youth are disengaged, we need to examine why they're disillusioned. Hack's 2016 survey of listeners found that 80 percent didn't believe politicians were working in their best interest. Even more shockingly, research from the Lowy Institue in 2014 found that 60 percent of young Australians no longer thought democracy was the best form of government. The reasons they cited varied, but tended to include the notion that parties were extremely similar and that the current system served only the interests of a few.

Speaking to i-D, Katie Acheson the CEO of Youth Action reasoned that "young people don't see their issues reflected in what politicians talk about." She asked, "why would you bother engaging with a political system that isn't engaging with you?"

But while we may be sceptical of the current political system, that doesn't mean we've totally given up on it. In 2014, research by the Museum of Democracy found that youth engagement in politics is soaring; we're just doing it our way. Rather than joining up with major parties we're turning to non-traditional measures such as "advocacy groups, or engaging with campaigns or issues by sharing or commenting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram." But whilst these methods can make a difference, they cannot single-handedly ensure that young people are given a voice in the political system. So what do we do to make our voices heard and effect real positive change?

Heath Pickering, political scientist, writes that "the democratic principle of "one person, one vote" is fundamentally flawed." It's a bold claim, but it does carry clear reasoning. After all, the decisions being made are not only about our present but our futures: futures that happen to be longer for younger voters. In short, we're the ones who have to live in the mess the Boomers are making.

In a piece for VICE he explains that "In Australia, the old politicians that hold political power and old voters, who hold the demographic advantage over young voters, skew the system to their favour." His solution is an age-weighted voting where a citizen's vote would be proportionate to their age. In this system it would mean that young people are more heavily represented because "they have to live with the consequences of political decisions the longest."

It's admittedly an unlikely solution, but one that would get people considering the future of the planet and the population far more seriously. What's more realistic is to balance out the representation of young people by lower the voting age to 16. In Australia political support for this idea is growing, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten expressing interest in the possibility in 2015. More recently Senator Sam Dastyari announced he will push for a Senate enquiry into the issue. The issue is also gaining international attention, with some suggesting that Brexit may not have happened were 16 and 17 year olds allowed to vote.

The suggestion isn't without critics; in fact polls have found that most Australians don't support the change. Detractors tend to argue that young people are disengaged or uneducated, and therefore would not vote properly. However, Acheson argues that many 16 to 17 year olds are engaged and reminds that "decisions being made directly affect their future… why wouldn't we trust them to have some input?" She adds that better civic education could increase awareness of the democratic process, not only for those as yet unable to vote, but for new and first-time voters. Why wait to uni to pick up a political subject? It could be part of the high school curriculum, giving younger voters the resources to make up their own mind.

Another, less contentious, option is the re-introduction of a youth minister or funding a youth body. The previous peak body for representing young people AYAC was de-funded in 2014 by Tony Abbott. Despite widespread support for the body by organisations in the area, no political party has yet committed to refunding AYAC.

Coming at the issue from a totally different direction is the Flux Party; they're less interested in who votes, they're concerned that we're voting for parties. They support a modern iteration of the idea of "direct democracy" where votes are passed on issues, rather than parties. As such, the Flux Party are running for the Senate with no policies at all - members of their party would be allowed to vote on each bill in parliament via an App, and the senator would then vote accordingly. The idea may be particularly appealing to young people, for whom research has shown issues are more important to, than parties.

So tomorrow, get out there and vote - after all this is the only system we currently have. But the next day, and in the weeks to come after that, perhaps we need a new national conversation. One that ask not what's to be done about young people, buts what's to be done about Australian politics?


Text Naomi Russo
Photography Charlie White