Is Aussie Youth Feeling Left Behind By Politics?
Social media reporter Brie Eyre ponders this question with some experts on the subject, exploring whether that sense of disconnection towards the nation’s politics and government in the digital age is, in fact, a myth to be ‘busted’.
A recent national survey by the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, headed by researcher Max Halupka, reveals that Gen Y contains the most frustrated and dissatisfied people in the country with regard to our Government.
In a story by ABC News, Mr Halupka said that young people are highly engaged in politics, but are not connecting through traditional actions.
Young people are not joining political parties or organising street protests, but rather are engaging with politics through innovative ways such as social media.
“Clicktivism and online engagements are legitimate forms of political participation,” Mr Halupka said.
Senior Lecturer at Griffith University, Dr Paul Williams, said that today it’s easier than it has ever been to become involved in politics as a young person. However, there is a lack in motivation.
“The motivation doesn’t seem to be there to engage in formal politics or parliamentary politics,” he said.
“There is no doubt that young voters feel disenfranchised and disillusioned with party politics in general, especially major party politics at state and federal level.”
The Australian National University’s Professor Ian McAllister told ABC News that statistics reveal high numbers of young people not enrolling to vote and low numbers of people joining major political parties.
“The health of democracy depends on the largest number of people engaging in it. If we have significant groups who don’t engage, then potentially, if there’s an economic problem or a threat to democracy, this can be a real problem,” Professor McAllister said.
In the Australian Electoral Commission’s annual report, in June 2014 1.2 million Australians eligible to vote were still not enrolled. This was down from 1.4 million in June 2013.
Dr Williams said non-enrolment is a significant problem that is most pronounced for the under 30s, especially among 18-25 year olds.
“They feel party politics isn’t for them. It’s either boring, irrelevant or difficult to understand,” Dr Williams said.
President of Gold Coast Young Labor, Alex Dickson, said young people are not feeling detached from the work of the Government, but rather the process of policy.
“I think young people have a high regard for Government services, what the Government does, what the Government can do for them, and supporting democracy,” he said.
“Young people feel disenfranchised from how our policy is formulated and then propelled, projected and translated into political discussion. I think that’s where the battle is lost.”
The lack of young people holding a seat in the Australian Government can also deter young people from entering politics.
Dr Williams said it has always been difficult for young people to break through either at a representative level or just to make a political difference.
“But given this digital age that we live in, and now that we’re all armed with lots of information, or at least have access to a lot of information, there’s lots of ways to have your voice heard,” he said.
“It’s probably easier now than it’s ever been for young people to have a voice or to be a representative of their group.”
The future agents of change
Former Tasmanian Labor minister Mr David O’Byrne said that it is challenging for young people to get involved in politics, but when they do they bring a new dynamic.
“What sometimes is really refreshing about young people trying to effect change is that they’re not as cynical. They come a little bit more idealistic, with fresh views and a lot of energy,” Mr O’Byrne said.
It’s not all bad news for young people. For the future agents of change, there is always a way forward.
Alex Dickson is also optimistic about young people’s ability to create change.
“I think there is a perception problem, but if you’re young, intelligent, ambitious and you don’t see politics as the end but as the means to achieve something good, then you will go far.”
Disillusioned, yes! Disconnected, no!
I think the myth is busted!
Australian youth may be disillusioned with the current state of politics and the political parties, but with so many means to connect and have a say through social media, young people won’t be going quietly.
We may need more young leaders and more effective media products like the ABC’s Q and A or Network Ten’s The Project — with their active social media communities and digital exchanges — to help make discussion on politics and culture more relevant to youth culture, and to find ways to engage us.
Illustration by Nicole Clowes – ‘Student & Politics’