This is the real reason young Australians aren’t voting

Young people came out in force for the 2017 same-sex marriage postal survey. But when it came to the recent federal election, young people failed to turn up. Victorian Youth Parliament’s Cassie Sneikus says there’s a pretty simple reason why.

By Cassie Sniekus

Despite being engaged in social issues, when it comes to our party politics many young people are switching off.

Last year, Amos Washington, the Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations wrote that of the thousands of young people he spoke to, less than one in five felt their opinions were represented by their politicians.

In the recent federal election, a number of ‘young’ seats – median age under 33 – reported back with less than 90 per cent attendance – even after the same sex postal survey saw enrolment increase to record highs. 

There is a clear absence of youth voices in parliament. 

In 2016, only three per cent of our federal politicians were under the age of 34.  

Young Australians simply aren’t there when our politicians debate about issues that directly impact us – or worse, the conversations are not being had at all.

For young people, these issues are being spoken about elsewhere, outside of parliament.

Tens of thousands of young Australians who took part in the global movement “School Strike for Climate.” Students skipped school to send a message to the Australian government that they want serious action on climate change.

It’s easy to be discouraged when you hear from our senior leaders that the youth are too inexperienced to understand “how good [we’ve] got it,” and that we need to participate in “less activism.”

We need age diversity within our parliament so everyone, including our young people, feel like their issues are represented.

Senator Jordon Steele-John is our youngest parliamentarian at 24-years-old. He agrees we need more young people in parliament if we want to make progress.

“The life experience of someone with 20 odd years under their belt is just as important as the life experience of somebody with 60 or 70 years under their belt.” 

He believes the lack of young people in parliament has huge consequences for our nation.

“It is one of the biggest problems facing our democratic concept at the moment,” Senator Steele-John added.

And he is right – young people are too often underestimated.

This month, I spent three days covering the annual YMCA Victorian Youth Parliament, a program designed to engage young people in politics. 

120 young people, aged 16-25, created, tabled and passionately debated their own bills, from pill testing to LGBTQI inclusive sex education to compulsory installation of water tanks.

There were no political parties and no campaign slogans. Just a respectful debate of ideas, taking out all the petty political noise that deters many young people.

In Youth Parliament’s 33-year history, 30 of these Bills have gone on to become state legislation. Young people have contributed to laws such as mandatory bike helmets and over-the-counter availability of emergency contraception.

So, how do we get more of these engaged young people into parliament?

Senator Steele-John thinks more young people need to be elected.

To make parliament work for us, we need to take the bloody thing over and that starts with us.

“I think it’s about the idealism and the energy that we bring as young people and the ability for us as a generation to go ‘I don’t really care how it’s been done in the past, it’s not working, so we need to change it.’”

We know the pressing issues currently hurting our generation and we know that we will be the ones left with the consequences if our ideas aren’t taken seriously.

Young people care about issues, but we need them to be engaged with politics too.

This article originally appeared on SBS The Feed, July 22, 2019.

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