What young people are saying about politics in Australia

What young people are saying about politics in Australia

In the past 11 years, Australians have had six leadership changes. No Australian under 30 has ever voted for a PM who has lasted a full term.

The latest leadership spill has had many ramifications, including former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s resignation from Parliament, resulting in the Liberal government’s loss of its majority. Because of the time being spent figuring out who should run the country, work was paused and critical bills were tabled.

But perhaps the most serious implication is the impact on young Australians’ views of their political representatives and system.

Young people are often categorised as disinterested in politics. In fact, they have regularly been engaged in politics throughout history. There are plenty of examples globally, and in Australia. In the past two years, we’ve witnessed a surge in young people engaging in the women’s rights movement. In Australia last year, 65,274 young people registered to be able to have their say on marriage equality of a total surge of 98,000, an issue that they clearly cared deeply about.  

Despite young people’s increasing engagement with political issues, they are severely underrepresented in our political system with only three out of the 224 senators and members of parliament under 34 years old.

According to Triple J’s recent What’s Up In Your World survey, of 11,000 Australians aged 18-29, only 7% believe that Australian politicians are working in the best interests of young people. In 2017, 80% of respondents felt politicians didn’t have their best interests in mind.

Canberra also hasn’t done itself any favours amongst young voters by sidelining the Minister for Youth portfolio, as well as the lack of dedicated attention to youth issues across the remaining ministerial portfolios.

In general, 73% of Australians feel that politicians are too focussed on short term gains rather than the long term interests of the country, and 66% believe politicians are not good at representing their communities in decision making.

So how do young Australians feel about the latest game of musical chairs? We asked five young people across the country for their thoughts:

Masyn – 16, Melbourne, yet to vote

“It seems like it’s bad that we keep getting a new prime minister, especially when they should be around for four years. I feel like there is something going wrong and they’re not doing their jobs properly… I’m definitely worried because a lot of prime ministers say they are going to do a lot of work for the country to get into the job, but they never seem to end up doing it. I think we need politicians to keep their promises, and we need to do more good and help those less fortunate.”

Caleb – 21, Adelaide, voted in one federal election

“It’s a mess. It feels like our politicians are more focused on having their time in the sun as prime ministers rather than creating change and contributing to our society. I feel, if you were really dedicated to governing Australia, you wouldn’t change prime ministers six times in 11 years, and that it seems politicians are in it more for personal gains rather than Australian values. It’s all really disappointing. Maybe in five to 10 years after less spills, and after seeing more longevity and success in government, we might heal from this all and restore the trust we need.”

Elisa – 26, Brisbane – voted in two federal elections

“I feel like it is all over the place. I think the current government has really lost the faith of the people. They’re acting in their own self interest rather than governing and I don’t have any confidence in them. Personally, I am looking forward to the next election. I do think there is hope for the future of politics in Australia and there are a lot of good young politicians and young intellectuals that are engaging in the public discourse. They’re the voice of Australia, and future of Australia… with more of these young people entering politics we can turn things around.”

Jarrad – 27, Perth, voted in three federal elections

“I don’t really engage with it. It feels like they’re playing game of thrones with each other: less getting stuff done and more personality politics. But, I feel really hopeful. I can’t wait for my generation to take over from these old and outdated politicians. Right now it feels like we’re living in the past, of how life used to be for these older politicians. When this younger generation takes over, I think we will really spark change and we will bring different values and lifestyles with us.“

Madeleine – 30, regional Victoria, voted in four federal elections

“Honestly, I’m utterly disillusioned. I am usually very passionate about politics and have been very engaged for a long time, but at the moment I feel I can’t vote for any party in good conscience because none of them represent my values. With all these spills, I don’t really think it’s a generational issue, it’s a systemic issue, and indicative of the fact that our system has a problem, not just the individuals who run for politics. If we keep trying to solve our problems with the same answers, we will repeat the same mistakes.”

Across the country, young Australians are critical of the political games that have played out in Canberra over the last decade. But they remain hopeful for rebuilding the trust lost, and for creating a better future. Increased representation of young people in government is high on the priority list for young voters, along with a desire for stability in leadership and an end to recurrent spills.

Now more than ever, we need to create pathways for young people to engage in politics beyond voting and reading the news. We need two-way conversations between young people and their representatives, we need the voices and ideas of young people reflected in parliament, and we need to rebuild the fractured relationship between young Australians and their older counterparts.