The right to vote is possibly the most sacred tenet of democracy, yet increasingly, young people are shunning their ability to enact social and political change.
The Australian youth vote has long been something not quite attainable by the major political parties. With no consistent ideology uniting them, securing the support of young people has been difficult at best and completely random at worst.
With eighteen to twenty-four year olds making up 30% of eligible voters, young people represent the single largest untapped resource in the Australian political landscape. Unlike older demographics, this potentially powerful group experiences the lowest level of voter participation in the nation, with 25% of young voters not enrolled for the 2013 federal election (AYCC). Even more alarmingly, 48% of eighteen year olds were not enrolled to vote at the beginning of 2016 (ABS), effectively handicapping the voice of a key portion of voters.
It would be easy to dismiss this disturbing trend as the result of political inadequacy, but the issue runs deeper than that. Whilst the post-Howard era has seen few enticing political options, it is the lack of visible policy that has created a political atmosphere of inactivity amongst the youth. Characters like Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull are immediately discernible, with most major news outlets providing considerable coverage. Yet despite possessing figureheads, the major parties have failed to effectively communicate their policies to the youth. Most young people do not know the Labor party’s position on negative gearing, or the percentage of renewable energy usage they have committed to. Many youth have some nebulous idea that the Greens support climate action and asylum rights, yet Greens leader Richard di Natale is somewhat anonymous to hundreds of thousands of young people. The inability of modern politicians to disseminate their views and provide appealing leadership has resulted in the disengagement of youth the country is now experiencing.
The result of this is far darker than mere disinterest, however. The lack of effective channels for political communication to this audience has culminated into a largely ignorant youth population. This trend is not unique to Australia with the European Union, Great Britain and the United States experiencing low youth votes. This is an issue of an incredible magnitude, as democracy relies on two-way communication for optimum efficiency. Politicians – Labor, Liberal or Greens – will continue making laws which affect the youth, but with no reciprocal communication.
It can be assumed that high percentages of youth voting translates to their interests being represented in parliament, but low turnouts can have disastrous consequences. Perhaps the most significant example of youth interests being compromised was the Liberal government’s decision to rescind massive amounts of funding to tertiary education and attempt to deregulate universities in the 2014 Federal Budget.
However, there are encouraging signs that youth voting will see an uptick. Following the 2014 budget - thousands of young people took to the streets to protest, and it is this united front that is at least partially responsible for the Liberals’ promise of new education funding and the temporary withdrawal of the deregulation proposal. This proves the ability of the youth to make a positive change. Increased electoral participation would usher in a future where youth interests are represented, without resorting to protest and direct action; democracy would once again be restored.
Concerns over equality, the environment and the asylum situation are dividing the nation, but a strong youth voter turnout could give these issues the support they need. The Liberal government’s reluctance to address significant moves towards renewable energy and LGBT rights has quite rightly rankled many of the youth, whose futures are set to be affected by this inactivity. With more young people supporting environmental reform and gay marriage than any other demographic, increasing youth participation in the democratic process is vital to usher in these changes.
Perceptions of Labor’s snug relationship with the Unions, and the Liberals’ propensity to support those with established wealth has left many youth disenchanted. This despair at the available political options has devolved into ignorance, with too many young people lingering on the periphery of the electoral discussion. This self-silencing of one of the nation’s most powerful voices is a detriment to every Australian, but those who don’t vote hurt themselves the most.
Whilst no large-scale political disenfranchisement is present in this ominous situation, it is undeniably a crucial issue. The youth of today face an incredibly uncertain future, with rising housing costs, increasing off-shoring of jobs and new technologies hurriedly altering the relatively placid realm in which their parents and grandparents operated. This uncharted territory makes it crucial that the youth voice is heard so that the transition into the vagaries of the future is as smooth as possible. A strong footing now is essential to ensure that young people do not reach their primes already at a disadvantage.
Facing the worst employment prospects of any generation since World War II, this generation of young voters is feeling the pressure to secure their financial futures. Wage growth for people in their twenties has been half of what people in their fifties have experienced over the last twenty three years, and this issue won’t be corrected by inactivity. Simultaneously facing the most dire environmental situation of the last several hundred thousand years, environmental action is also a crucial ideological concept of the youth.
The Liberals have damaged their reputation with the youth because of their education and asylum policies, and their environmental inactivity, while the scars from Labor’s bloody leadership coups remain fresh in the minds of young voters brought into political consciousness by Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership. The Greens remain appealing to many but the perception that they lack substance as a party continues to hurt them. All the major parties possess significant flaws, which provide an opportunity for the minor parties to find an avenue to the youth community.
Political divisions exist everywhere, and the youth of Australia is no exception. Whichever way young people choose to vote on July 2nd, the most crucial thing is that they do vote. With 400,000 young people unenrolled at the last federal election (Student Edge), the voice of the youth is marginalised. However, with those 400,000 voices informing the next government and their agenda, the potential impact is limitless. Young people have an exceptionally powerful sway in the political world, but exerting it is the first step towards a future that represents the current and future leaders of Australia.
Dante Boffa is currently studying a Bachelor of Communication (Public Relations) at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). He begun writing at an early age, and has an interest in current affairs and classic literature, his influences are varied and ever expanding. For more, follow Dante on Instagram @thedoontsboff
Here at DRAFT we believe it's important to be well informed on the key leaders, policies, values and beliefs of each party before voting. Click on the thumbnails below to learn more.