I remember my 18th birthday very well , which isn’t common to hear nowadays. I was so insanely excited for my 18th, not because I wanted to go out clubbing, not because I wanted to buy alcohol at the bottle shop, not even because I could finally became a Qantas Club member — but because I could vote.
I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly emotional person, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear or two at Turner School the very first time I cast my vote in a federal election — my voice would finally be counted. The most empowering feeling in a democracy is being able to vote.
I do not live in a swing seat. Whether I turned up to vote or not would make little to no difference on the outcome in the Lower House. There may be some impact of my vote in the Upper House. So why take time out of my Saturday once every couple of years to vote? Aside from the fact that it really takes hardly any time at all, the fact I could get into trouble if I didn’t do it and the fact I would miss out on democracy sausage if I abstained from voting, our entire political system rests on my vote. And yours. And everyone’s. If we all made the choice not to show up to vote, then we all would be saying goodbye to democracy.
Therefore, I believe everyone who is eligible to vote should vote. One of my favourite quotes of all time is by Joan Kirner. It reads, “There is no such thing as being non-political. Just by making a decision to stay out of politics, you are making the decision to allow others to shape politics and exert power over you. And if you are alienated from the current political system, then just by staying out of it, you do nothing to change it; you simply entrench it.”
While I believe everyone who is eligible to vote should do so, I also believe there should be a quick online survey that everyone should have to fill-out before being deemed eligible to vote — sort of a political IQ test with the following questions.
- Who is the leader of each of the major parties? (Liberal, Nationals, Labor, Greens, One Nation, NXT)
- What is one policy of each of these parties?*
*The recount of these policies would have to be apolitical, such as tax reform as opposed to tax breaks for the wealthy, or increased Medicare security as opposed to Mediscare.
All voting-aged Australians should be able to answer these questions as the decisions made in politics affect all of us, but that is not the case. There are, however, tens of thousands of young people across the country who can answer these questions and who care passionately about the issues facing us in today’s economic, social and environmental climate but who can’t vote. I’m talking about the large number of 14 to 17 year olds who I meet who are able to form more cohesive and reasonable arguments than some 20 to 30 year olds.
I was one of these young people. Politically, my views haven’t changed too much since I was 14. And let me make myself clear that despite this fact, I don’t believe there should be any changes to laws to let people younger than 18 be allowed to vote. There is still plenty of time for them to form their opinions and be able to have their say in the future.
However, this doesn’t mean young people should feel politically disempowered. While you may not have been a voice at the previous election, you may be a voice at the next election; you may be a voice at the one after.
Recently, I was speaking to a group of 14 to 17 year old students at a Canberra high school who asked me how can they have a say now if they can’t vote.
“The next [ACT] territory election is in 2020,” I explained. “Most of you will be able to vote by then. Additionally, most of our territory politicians won’t be retiring by the next election, so they’re going to need your vote to get back into Legislative Assembly. You can start emailing them, sending letters and arranging meetings with them now to see them act on the issues about which you are most passionate.”
It is important for young people to care about politics because it is their future we are shaping today. I meet so many people who are in their 20s and over who complain about decisions made in politics but who don’t vote or don’t take their voice to the appropriate people. Politicians are very accessible; they have to be as part of their job. A well-written email to a local representative can allow citizens to have their say outside of the election period and actually get some answers about their concerns. Creating this attitude in young people will lead to a well-informed and participatory society where the concept of democracy will actually be able to bloom and flourish.
There are many young people who care about political issues. And the good news is that politicians care very much about the opinions of young people. This next generation are the future voters; they are the future CEOs of large companies which influence our society. It is time that young people not only engage with and begin forming opinions on political issues but actively participate in making their voice heard.
I love working with young people to help them understand their opinions and beliefs, develop them into mature and reasoned arguments and share these views appropriately with like-minded and sometimes not-so-like-minded peers. It gives me hope for the future of not only our country but our entire world.