Just over a month ago, Australian Newspapers almost pulled their scorn muscle over “Gen Y’s lack of faith in democracy”. Obviously, not only is Gen Y “superficial” and the “laziest generation”, but they don’t know how good they have it! The snooty derision of the pundits was fuelled by the latest Lowy Institute Poll, which, for the second year in a row, found that less than half of Australians aged 19 to 29 see Democracy as “preferable to any other kind of government”.
But, before the obligatory rehashing of the tired Winston Churchill quip about how democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, and before all the geriatric pundits threw their backs out looking down their noses at the youngins (after all they never saw the worst excesses and abuses of the other kinds of governments!); did anyone stop to ask why my generation could be so disenchanted with democracy?
Well, The Australia Institute released a survey yesterday of the top five issues that matter to Australians aged 17-25, so maybe we can now get an idea. The survey found that the top five issues were (in order): youth unemployment, rent and housing affordability, university funding, same-sex marriage, and climate change. Now, considering that the “youth vote” is generally considered to make up around 30% of the electorate (or the potential electorate), and considering the scorn heaped on the youth’s suspicion of democracy, we should see a lot of these issues addressed, right? After all, democracy is awesome cause politicians reflect the will of the people, Gen Y is just being unreasonable, right?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, June’s seasonally adjusted youth unemployment rate was 27.3% (of those looking for work), an increase of 2.8% from this year January, and 5.7% from last June. In other words, Australia is facing the same “lost generation” problem so long lamented in Greece. So, where is the attention on youth unemployment? Could the major party leaders take off the high vis vests and hard hats for five minutes to talk about it? The government has found another couple hundred million dollars to prop up Australia’s doomed car industry, but what about Australia’s youth? Could we get some federal TAFE funding to train our youth to fill skills shortages, or to retrain in the case of terminal unemployment? For that matter, could we get University funding restored (also its own issue) to address youth unemployment and the transition into the “knowledge economy”?
What about same-sex marriage? With Kevin Rudd there is finally a major party leader who supports same-sex marriage, so why isn’t it on the agenda? Australia has historically been out front on social/equality issues, the majority of Australia’s public support same-sex marriage, and there is almost universal support for it in Gen Y, so why aren’t we talking about it? The same can be asked of climate change. Labor had a swing at an Emissions Trading Scheme and then implemented Carbon Pricing (now back to an EMT), but they are running away from their policy as fast as they can. As far as the Coalition is concerned, they have a policy but are more concerned with using it as a wedge issue than standing on it as a genuine part of their platform. These two issues are obviously important to the youth, but can we say the same about the major parties?
Gen Y has entered politics in a time of hyper negativity, extremism, and brinksmanship. Furthermore, Gen Y makes up a significant proportion of the electorate, but can anyone truly say they are receiving proportional attention? Are their problems being addressed? Are their concerns being noted? For that matter, have they ever been? In light of all this, can anyone blame Gen Y for being disenchanted with democracy?