Tuesday, 5 September 2017
For far too long, conservatives have suggested that Australia's young people simply aren't politically engaged, that they are apathetic and that they don't care about politics. We're told that they can't set a stamp and they don't know how to post a letter. This suggestion was reinforced by the fact that around 400,000 of Australia's 18- to 25-year-olds weren't enrolled to vote at the 2013 election. And around 130,000, or half of all 18-year-olds, were not enrolled to vote at the last election in 2016. This means that they couldn't have had their say even if they'd wanted to.
Two weeks ago, I spoke at Northcote High School, a prominent school in my electorate, about the importance of political participation. I spoke to 16- and 17-year-old high-school students, who are on the cusp of adulthood and on the cusp of being entitled to vote. Many of them were frustrated with the democratic process, but I discovered that they were very interested in enrolling and in shaping the democracy and society in which they live. Here I must pay tribute to the coalition, because the coalition are great mobilisers of our young. The coalition's policies have brought young people into the enrolment in unprecedented numbers. The coalition, in recent days, have proven to be a more powerful volunteer mobilisation organisation for Labor than even some of our own efforts. From the numerous conversations I have had with youth leaders over the last few years, I know that the conservative government's attacks on their rights, their ability to go to university, their penalty rates and their work, or simply its ignoring of climate change, are regarded as the biggest threat to their generation and have played a remarkable role in bringing them on to the electoral roll in unprecedented numbers. Instead of giving in to a feeling of powerlessness, young Australians are fighting back. They are fighting back in a traditional and old-fashioned way: they are enrolling and getting ready to vote. They are getting ready to vote for a change of government.
The result of the upcoming postal survey on marriage equality will be shaped by young Australians. We know that an extra 90,000 of them have added their names to the electoral roll, a remarkable 90,000 from a younger generation who have the potential not only to choose a future government but to make policy right now. Participating in the democratic process is their way of translating their ideas and values into outcomes. They are enrolling to support marriage equality. They are enrolling because they want to vote yes. Tribute has to be paid to Malcolm Turnbull for his capacity to mobilise these extra tens of thousands onto the roll to make sure there is a change of government.