Why should you care about voting?

14 May 2019

Written by: Sean Carroll

Why are young people underrepresented in Australian politics?

“Mostly because I thought my vote really isn’t going to make a difference,” RMIT student Taylah Lambert told upstart.

Lambert spoke about why she didn’t place much value on her vote in the 2016 federal election, which was her first opportunity to vote.

“Like, I was one in how many voting? I thought, who cares?” she said.

Lambert still voted in that election, but only to dodge the fine she would have received. Many people in her age demographic [18-24] had not even enrolled to vote for the 2016 election.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), in 2016, 254,432 Australians who were eligible to vote failed to enrol. That’s two-and-a-half times the capacity of the MCG.

Monash University student Sean Conlon enrolled on his seventeenth birthday and voted at his first opportunity, also the 2016 federal election.

“I thought, we’re lucky enough to live in a democracy and we’re taught in school that voting is a privilege, so I figured I should use that privilege,” he told upstart. “It did feel insignificant, but it was important to me that I did get to vote”.

Although Lambert and Conlon share a belief that their vote is unimportant and won’t make a difference, the significance of their vote increases when you consider youth participation in elections. Youth involvement in voting is at 86 percent, which is nearly ten percent lower than the national average of 95 percent, according to the AEC.

This underrepresentation of young people, in terms of voter turnout and enrolment, means they are not being represented in proportion to their population; this is often considered an essential element for a democracy to function effectively.

This is because it may cause a disconnect between what the younger demographic want from their government and the message the government receives at the ballot box.

Skye Riggs, Director of Y Vote, a non-partisan movement, dedicated to encouraging young people to vote in Australia, summarised to upstart why this younger demographic should vote.

“Because it’s one of the simplest and quickest opportunities to influence every aspect of your life at a structural level,” she said.

The idea for Y Vote began when Riggs was unsure about her own vote in the 2013 election.

“I was feeling like there would be no point in voting. I realised that if I am feeling this way, probably a lot of other young Australians are too… So, I decided to start something to change that.”

Riggs sees voter participation as just one aspect of “broader elements of democracy”, and believes more must be done to engage young voters in democracy.

“There is a lot of work to do there in terms of improving access and influence on power and decision-making processes for young Australians,” she said.

“We address this in a range of ways, including through media campaigns, consultancy, providing digestible and trustworthy resources and through our training programs.”

Y Vote will continue to deliver information for the upcoming 2019 federal election including covering key issues for voters to consider, and explaining topics such as “climate change, education and mental health, and how to spot fake news”.

Ged Kearney, current Labor MP for the Cooper electorate in Melbourne, spoke with upstart about how she and her party engage with young voters to increase their turnout.

“People get engaged in politics when there is an issue that really affects them. So, you have to be aware what the biggest issues are for young people,” she said.

She believes the most valued topics for young voters currently are insecure work and tertiary education.

“As long as we are talking about those things that they value, and they care about, like any other aged voter, they will be engaged,” she said.

Kearney also believes that younger voters are more likely to engage when they “see themselves reflected in [politics]”.

“I’m so lucky that I have a lot of young people to campaign for me and for Labor in Cooper,” she said

Kearney won the 2018 by-election in her electorate [named Batman at the time] with 54.4 percent of the vote, confirming it as a marginal seat. She outnumbered the runner-up Greens candidate, Alex Bhathal, by just over 3,000 votes.

The Cooper electorate had approximately ten-thousand voters aged between 18 and 24 enrolled to vote by March 2019, according to the AEC – more than enough voters to have influenced an election outcome.

In some cases, only a few hundred votes determine the difference between a party winning or losing an electorate. A party winning an electorate might make the difference for them to win a majority and take control of the government.

Conlon and Lambert, along with many other young voters, might have thought their vote was insignificant. But the youth vote can be large enough to determine who runs the country.

So this election, if you’d like to have your say in Australia’s government, head on down to the polling booths and make sure to grab yourself an overcooked democracy sausage (with onion on the bottom) or veggie patty while you’re there.



Sean Carroll is a third year Bachelor of Media and Communications (Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter @seanNESPN

Image from pexels.com.