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Youth and politics

Politically cynical? Maybe. Apathetic? No way.

The idea that young people are apathetic isn’t new. Thankfully though, it’s an idea that doesn’t go unchallenged.

Just a quick look at some of the facts shows that many of the classic cases made for Generation Y’s disinterest are far more complex than they seem.

Take living at home. Some see the increasing number of young people still living with Mum and Dad as fully grown Wifi mooching layabouts - but it’s not that simple. The reality is that housing prices are growing far more than wages, which means it isn't as easy as it once might have been for young people to leave the nest.

There is one area of Australian society where young people are noticeably absent.

At Federal Elections, Australians aged 18-24 are around 10 percent less likely to be enrolled to vote than the rest of Australia.

254,432 eligible young people were not enrolled to vote in 2016, including half of all 18 year olds. And in 2010 a survey revealed that if voting was not compulsory 88 percent of Australians would still vote, but only 78 percent of 18-29 year olds would.

 Source: Pew Research Centre 2017

It’s unfair to say not voting equals not caring, and it’s reductive to see voting as the only measure of political engagement, with social media radically redrawing the lines when it comes to participation. But the fact remains that the ballot box still matters. So why does it seem to matter less to young Australians?

Part of the answer might be that young Australians don’t feel represented in politics.

31 percent of Australian society is aged between 18 and 34, but only 3.1 percent of Australian Parliament is. Compared to this, 94 percent of the House of Representatives and 85 percent of the Senate respectively, are in the 35 to 64 year old bracket.

Of the 226 seats in Parliament, only 1 is filled by someone under 30

 But more worryingly might be notion that politicians aren’t looking out for the interests of young people.

The vast majority of young people want meaningful action on global warming, but Australia’s energy and climate policies seem stuck in the fossil fuel mud.

An overwhelming majority of people under 30 support same-sex marriage, as does the majority of all Australians, but Canberra still lacks the political will to make it happen.

Young people care about the issues facing them. It might just be that politics doesn’t seem like the answer for many.

It’s unfair to see lower rates of voting as apathy. Rather, it’s scepticism about the political system that drives low turnout, a system young people feel increasingly voiceless in. Young people have been without a Youth Affairs portfolio for four years now, and in 2014 the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition was defunded.

Instead of seeing politics as an avenue of representation, those looking back on the last decade of Australian politics could instead see a revolving door of leaders and inter-party squabbling.

But while young Australians can be increasingly vocal online and outside the political system, it’s only through engaging with politics that concrete democratic change can be made. And this is especially relevant with a marriage equality plebiscite just around the corner. Although the result will be legally non-binding, youth participation in the process will be crucial for achieving a yes vote.

There will always be a section of society for whom politics has no appeal. This undeniably includes many young people, but we can’t misrepresent this as evidence that young people don't care, because that's just not true.