Young people eye bigger picture

The older I get, the less I know, which is not to say I knew anything when I was young.

I’m not sure the same can be said for the youth of today if a new survey released on June 9 by Youth Action and the Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth is anything to go by.

The survey, conducted nationally during April and May, quizzed 3369 Australians aged from 12 to 25 on the issues of importance to them ahead of the federal election to be held on July 2.

Now 12-year-olds can’t vote, of course, which is a good thing. Otherwise we’d have the National Lobby for Going to Bed at Midnight and a movement to offer political asylum to Zane Malik and things are crazy enough already.

But before you dismiss the demographic out of hand, consider the upper end of the range – those who can vote – and then consider that more than 90,000 young Australians joined the surge in electoral enrolments last month, bringing the number of voters under the age of 25 to a record 1.66 million. That’s a lot of youth power.

So what’s on the minds of these youngsters who, as the survey press material says, will “have an unprecedented role in determining the outcome in dozens of electorates across the country”?

Hint: it’s not replacing the national anthem with something from Tame Impala.

Before I reveal the results, take a moment to answer this question: what do you think are the three most important issues according to this demographic?

The survey presented this as an open-ended question – you could write whatever you wanted to – in order to avoid any bias that could arise from giving people a list of predetermined categories.

All in all there were 360 unique issues identified, so you’ve got a lot to work with.

Ready for the top three?

Better treatment of asylum seekers, marriage equality, and climate change.

Way to go, kids. You rock!

In WA, the order is marriage equality, asylum seekers, and climate change, but the same top three hold.

You may have expected to see a greater level of self-interest at work, but apparently you have to be a bit older before that kicks in. The youth of today are looking at the big pictures of international legality and humanitarian responsibility, social justice and equality, and a safe and healthy ecosystem (on which pretty much everything else is based – climate refugees, anyone?).

That’s not to say they aren’t thinking in more local terms: they want better education policies (number four on the list), lower unemployment (number five) and more affordable housing (number nine) but the survey suggests there’s much more than youthful idealism at work.

One respondent said, “As a young person, I understand that the changing climate and global warming will directly affect my future.”

Too right, and lot of adults don’t seem to get this yet. Ask a farmer if in doubt.

Another said, “I believe that a high-quality education for all Australians is the key to solving many other issues because when you empower people to reach their full potential, they are far more likely to function as productive members of society.”

Dr Dianne Jackson, the CEO of the Research Alliance, said “The majority of many young people don’t see themselves as aligned to a particular political party or personality, rather it is individual issues that they prioritise.”

So how are they voting, those who can?

In WA, thirty-six percent of respondents have decided who they’ll be voting for and just under five percent are not interested in voting at all, which is less than half the national rate (congratulations, youth of WA).

Of those who have decided, 50.7% intend to vote for the Greens, 29% for the ALP, and 20.3% for the Coalition.

Put aside your own political persuasion or gripes about the youth of today. It seems after all that the kids are all right.

– Jem Hedley

Them apples: Premier Colin Barnett with colleagues and friends at a function in Boyanup on Friday. Politicians of all stripes might want to heed the new survey. Photo: JH

Them apples: Premier Colin Barnett with colleagues and friends at a function in Boyanup on Friday. Politicians of all stripes might want to heed the new survey. Photo: JH