As thousands of students took to the streets of Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and other centres across the country last month, it seemed that Australian youth today will not sit idly by when it comes to politics.
But how important really is the youth vote when it comes to election time?
Young Australians have been becoming increasingly more involved in the politics of the country. The same-sex marriage postal survey in 2017 encouraged tens of thousands of young people to enrol to vote.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission, in the month before the survey the national youth enrolment rate rose to 88.5%, the highest it had been in years. The AEC defines youth as voters between the age of 18 and 24 and their studies showed that the enrolment rate had been only 81.3% the year before. In the lead up to this year’s election the AEC has announced that 96.8% of eligible Australians have enrolled to vote, a record of electoral enrolment. With that, the youth enrolment rate is at the highest it has ever been at 88.8%, a 0.3% rise since 2017.
Last week’s protest against inaction on climate change showed that Australian youth are taking a more proactive approach when it comes to their political engagement. Many of the protesters were still under voting age but demanded their voices be heard regardless.
Sydney’s #Strike4ClimateChange march, March 15, photo by reporter.
“We are fighting for our future”, said 15-year-old Lily Petrovski. “When it comes down to it, what’s being decided in parliament will affect us. We deserve a say”.
A Protest Heard Across The World
It’s not just in Australia that young people are engaging in acts of activism. Globally, youth are taking to the streets in order to be heard by those that represent them. Following the Stoneman Douglas Highschool shooting in early 2018, hundreds of thousands of students flooded American streets in a March for Our Lives demonstration against gun violence.
“The way younger people are engaging with politics is changing,” said Professor of Political Science at ANU Ian McAllister.
The ever-changing tech landscape has changed the way young Australians can engage with politics, he said.
“Young people are much more likely to engage in protest activities through social media,” said Professor McAllister, who added that many young people are leaning away from traditional modes of engagement.
Due to the expansion of higher education in recent years, moral issues are a priority for young Australians. Topics such as climate change, abortion and gender, asylum seekers and drug legalisation are at the top of many young voters’ lists when it comes to deciding who to vote for.
Protesters at Sydney’s #Strike4climatechange march, March 15, photo by reporter
“Whoever I vote for has to represent me and the issues that I value the most,” said 19-year-old Mia Sommers, one of the thousands who marched in Sydney on climate change.
The Australian Election Study, of which Professor McAllister is a co-director, showed that since 2010 there has been a steady increase in young voters’ interest in the federal election.
Professor McAllister found that many young voters - especially those with degrees – are more informed on the political process and have a higher level of empathy, which guides their voting decisions. (needed a quote from him here.)
Considering people between 15 and 30 years old make up almost 20% of the Australian population, it is essential that today’s politicians work to engage with the country’s youth, said Professor McAllister.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s recent stance towards pill testing at festivals has prompted demonstrations in protest. Earlier this year thousands of young people gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park to protest against the NSW government’s live music regulations.
Politics Newest Weapon
Social media creates the ability to have an interactive relationship with political parties and politicians, but it seems many working in politics are still not using this to their advantage. (slipping into opinion here).
The Keep Sydney Open Party is taking an innovative change in direction when it comes to engaging with young Australians. Focusing on issues that are important to the younger generations of Australia, the party is utilising tools such as social media to communicate with potential voters.
The party currently has 65,000 Facebook followers and uses the platforms to communicate with those who may be looking for a more ‘millennial’ political representative. In the most recent election Keep Sydney Open lost the last seat in the upper house to Rod Roberts of One Nation.
So, when it comes to voting time this weekend for the NSW state election as well as the upcoming federal election expected in mid-May, will the “youth vote” be enough to tip the scales?
“We are sick of being ignored and under-represented”, said Miss Sommers “our opinions matter and when it comes down to it so do our votes”.
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