Why young people say ‘whatever’ to the election.


Young people are the indifferent wild cards in the federal election. If they mobilised, they could make the difference. But indications are many of them won’t bother.

If the last federal election is a guide, 400,000 young Australians aged 18 to 24 did not even enrol to vote, despite an advertising and social media campaign by the Australian Electoral Commission. That’s 25 per cent of the age group.

Two weeks ago, half of Australia’s 18-year-olds, about 130,000 of them, had not enrolled for the coming election. The enrolment deadline is 8 pm tonight. That figure may improve by tonight, but large numbers of young people are not interested in claiming one of the great privileges of turning 18 in a democracy.

Too many young people are disengaged from the political process. It is not until young people reach their mid-20s that enrolment and voting rates begin to reach the levels of older adults.

If they are unhappy and disheartened by the political process, they have enormous power to bring about change.

Research by the Whitlam institute in Sydney shows how important the youth vote has been in the first four elections of this century. When young people vote, they tend to be the most progressively inclined and reject the Coalition.  In the 2001, 2004 and 2011 elections, younger voters voted strongly for the ALP. But Labour’s vote among 18 to 34-year-olds collapsed between 2007 and 2011 when there was a big shift to the Greens.  It is not a big exaggeration to say that the young vote created the hung Parliament.

So why are they so disinterested, particularly when so much of the campaign conversation is about the future of the nation and about education?

The Coalition would be the big loser if more young people voted. If they knew how the Abbott-Turnbull governments had turned their backs on young people, they might be racing towards their computers or local Electoral Commission office with their ID in one hand and a baseball bat in the other.

In the past two years, the Coalition has gone to extraordinary lengths to cut off any mechanism or avenue that young people could use to engage with the Federal Government.

The casualty list from Canberra’s scythe looks like an anti-youth campaign. In the last two years, Canberra has cancelled funding for the National Youth Peak, the National Youth Clearinghouse, the National Youth Week and the National Youth Awards.

Canberra has not made adjustments to the level of Youth Allowance or its equivalent for more than 20 years and has maintained the one-month waiting time for a young person to get Youth Allowance.

The federal Government has made little or no impact on young homelessness and has allowed housing ownership and rental unaffordability to become a national policy crisis.

Labor has done no better in office or during the campaign so far. Neither party has shown any commitment to establishing a Minister for Youth Affairs in Cabinet. Most jurisdictions in Europe and Canada care enough about youth to have a Minister in Cabinet to represent them. But not in Australia.

Canberra has no youth policy or agenda for youth. No wonder young people will be turning the other way when Australia votes on 2 July and uttering ‘whatever’.


Paul McDonald is CEO of Anglicare Victoria