This story was produced by Shannon Tucker, Ebony Miocic and Sahar Foladi
As the upcoming 2019 Federal election approaches, youth enrolment has reached a record breaking all-time high, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. With 88.8 per cent of people aged between of 18 and 24 enrolled to vote, it has never been more important for candidates to appeal to young Australians.
In the Melbourne seat of Chisholm, candidates have been appealing to young people in varying forms, with varying levels of effort.
The 2019 AEC Elector Count shows that less than 3 per cent of voters in Chisholm are aged between 18 and 19. This makes up just 3182 first-time voters in an electorate of more than 106,000.
11.4 per cent of voters in Chisholm are aged between 18 and 24, bringing the total number of young voters to 12,123.
Let’s compare these statistics to the last Federal Election, held in 2016:
- First time voters aged 18 to 19 years: 2.85% or 2781 electors
- Youth voters aged 18 to 24 years: 11.10% or 10,816 electors
With a rise in the number of young people enrolled to vote in Chisholm, their vote will have a clear impact on the results of this election. This report explores youth voting in the Chisholm electorate and nationwide, looking into some of the common trends of voters aged between 18 and 24.
How are youth engaged in politics?
While the AEC is thrilled with the number of first time voters, not everyone feels the same. Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, labeled this as a ‘problem’ to National party members.
“One of the biggest problems we’ve got in this election is the fact that we’ve got a lot of young people voting for the first time … who have probably never known how good they’ve got it,” said McCormack.
However, is the number of first time voters something other political parties should be concerned about?
Senior lecturer in politics at Deakin University, Dr Geoffrey Robinson, believes it should not be.
“It’s not going to be a ‘youth-quake’ election,” he said.
Currently, 85 per cent of young Australians don’t believe politicians are working in the best interests of young people, according to a survey conducted by Triple J.
Dr Robinson said that disengagement in politics is rational based on what little is offered to the youth of Australia. He believes politicians have their part to play in attracting young people into politics.
“We’ve got a shortage of charismatic figures in Australia that fail to attract the youth and mobilise voters,” he said. “The challenge up to political elites is to offer something new and more attractive that can actually engage the youth.”
However, Deakin Senior Lecturer in Politics and Australian Studies, Dr Andrew Vandenberg, disagrees.
“Coming up with a particular policy that addresses young people’s interests is not going to cut through that,” Dr Vandenberg said. “People don’t join parties nearly as readily. But they will sign a petition, they will go to a march, they will buy a t-shirt and show support in other ways … voting is only one part of it.”
A 2018 Youth Survey Report found that only 4 per cent of people aged 15 to 19 are involved in political groups and organisations.
What are young people in Chisholm looking for?
Triple J’s survey looked into some of the biggest issues for Australian’s aged between 18 to 29. The survey spoke to more than 14,000 Australians and found that the most important issues concerning this age group were:
- Environment/Climate Change
- Mental Health
We spoke to some young people in the city of Chisholm, to find out what they were looking for in their candidates.
Like the results in Triple J’s survey, this D*scribe investigation also found that climate change and education were some of the biggest issues for young people in Chisholm. Climate change took the lead with many people demanding to see action from all parties on the issue.
Immigration policies followed closely behind as one of the biggest concerns for young people in Chisholm, though it was not listed in Triple J’s survey. This could be a reflection on Chisholm’s multicultural population, which includes a high amount of residents with Asian backgrounds.
Education took third place, with young voters bringing up a range of issues from proper funding, to teacher welfare.
While mental health was mentioned by one interviewee, concerns for health and housing were not addressed at all. Young voters also called attention to poor public transport services as another issue they would like to see parties take action on.
What are the major parties and their candidates in Chisholm doing to attract the youth vote?
We compared some of the major parties’ policies relating to the issues young people identified in Triple J’s survey. The chart below depicts how many of these policies address the five biggest issues.
Twelve of the 17 policies the Labor Party lists its website targeted these important issues. The Liberal Party falls behind with only seven out of their 25 advertised policies matching youth concerns. The Greens have six out of their nine policies targeted at youth concerns.
Dr Vandenberg believes the Labor party is actively targeting youth voters, while the Liberal party is focusing on their traditional senior demographic.
“It’s guaranteed the Labor party will be targeting their better wages and better conditions at younger people in the electorate. That’s guaranteed,” he said.
“The Liberal would be more likely to be targeting their strengths in the electorate, which would be retirees … people worried about bills, the price of electricity, things going up and wanting a strong and stable economy. So they would be targeting home owners and people above 40.”
After investigating how the major parties’ campaigns align with youth political concerns, we then analysed exactly how each party was promoting this to young Australians.
Labor, Liberal and The Greens, all utilise social media applications such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as a platform to attract youth votes and explicitly target their messages.
After monitoring the Liberal Party of Australia Facebook page, here’s what a typical day looked like:
The Liberal party’s plan of attack is to do just that – attack. At almost 50 per cent, these negative posts often generate the most comments, and encourage those on social media to add their views and opinions.
The economy is the Liberal’s second most targeted social media post theme. While some could argue that economic values are not of concern to young people, the Liberal’s Chisholm candidate argues otherwise.
Liberal Party, Gladys Liu
Liberal’s candidate for Chisholm Gladys Liu acknowledges how strengthening the economy will benefit young people. In a candidate forum held this month, Liu said she wanted to provide “opportunities” for young people.
“Last year alone, we have created more than 100,000 new jobs and 95 per cent of the jobs were full time jobs,” she said. “This is how we get the youth to get ahead and move forward.”
Despite little mention of education on their social media platforms, Liu addressed it as another important issue for the Liberal party. She brought attention to the Liberal’s “60 per cent increase in funding for education”, advising locals of Chisholm to “check the figures” for themselves.
Recently, Liu has been slammed for homophobic comments she made back in 2016. Liu was said to have been speaking on behalf of the belief’s of the Chinese community when she made these comments.
“Chinese believe same-sex (marriage) is against normal practice,” Liu said. “Chinese people come to Australia because they want good … things for the next generation, not to be destroyed … (by) same-sex, transgender, inter gender.
“All the rubbish. To them, they are just ridiculous rubbish.”
This could be detrimental to Liu’s campaign, particularly in attracting young people who care about LGBTI rights. In the 2017 the plebiscite, more than 80% of women and 70% of men aged between 18 and 19 voted ‘yes’ for same sex marriage.
However, Deakin Senior Lecturer in Politics, Amy Nethery, argues that Liu may not have lost already.
“The other thing we know about Chisholm is that it’s boundaries have just been re-drawn,” she said. “Chisholm now includes a part of a neighbouring electorate which was one of the only two electorates in the whole country that voted against same sex marriage.
“The people in the new area of Chisholm might see her statements as a benefit rather than a negative.”
Dr Robinson also argues that Liu’s views may appeal to some of the more socially conservative members of the Chinese population. A 2016 census on Chisholm’s population found there was more than 40,000 people with Chinese heritage in the area, equating to almost 20 per cent of the population of Chisholm.
Labor Party, Jennifer Yang
The below graph depicts the activity of a typical day for The Australian Labor Party’s Facebook page:
Labor also has its fair share of posts attacking the Liberals, at 33.3 per cent. Their next most popular posts are evenly shared between health and education concerns, as well as promoting their youth volunteers.
Labor’s candidate for Chisholm believes that by targeting these concerns, she can create the change she wishes to see.
“I always believe the future belongs to our young people,” said Labor’s Chisholm candidate Jennifer Yang. “If we want to (make) any change we need to start from the youth.”
Stating that education is her second biggest passion in politics, Yang vowed that Labor would be committing $14 million into public education over the next three years. She went on to state that Labor would also invest $1.2 million into TAFE in Chisholm.
“Higher education or TAFE … provides young people a great opportunity to live in their full potential to whatever area they choose to,” she said.
“I want to see them (young people) find their true selves, true passion and be able to freely chase their own dream.”
Dr Nethery, who teaches politics in the heart of Chisholm at Deakin University, said that Jennifer Yang is highly involved with the university and its students.
“Jennifer Yang is doing a lot of stuff at Deakin,” she said. “I run a Women in Politics group for undergraduate students who might be considering a career in politics … and she’s come and spoken with that group.”
Last week Yang and former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, held a round table discussion at the university.
Climate change is also a major concern for Labor, with the party putting forward an action plan which vows to reduce pollution by 45 per cent by the year 2030. Yang is also personally committed to resolving issues on climate change.
“I studied Earth Science, so climate change is something very dear to my heart,” Yang said. “I believe this is a critical time – we need to take action.”
Yang shared a post on climate change with the caption, “There is only one major political party serious about doing something on climate change – Labor”.
Yang also posted a 60 second video to Facebook, discussing plans to invest $5 million into the re-development of the Box Hill City Oval. The investment is, in large part, to promote the participation of women in sports in Chisholm.
“We want to let our young women, young girls, be comfortable in whatever they want to do,” she said.
Dr Robinson believes Yang and Labor may have the edge over the Liberals in this election.
“I would regard Labor’s prospects quite favourably,” he said.
The Greens, Luke Arthur
The Greens party is posting much less online compared to the two major parties, but has a passionate advocate for young people in Chisholm candidate Luke Arthur
Arthur said he was “not that far removed” from young people, being just 26-years-old himself.
“I’m still a young guy,” he told the audience at the recent candidate’s debate.
He also strongly believes that the party he represents is a “party for young people”.
“We don’t discriminate based on age, gender, sexuality,” he said. “By doing this, we are breaking all sorts of boundaries giving our future leaders hope that there are real pathways to having your voice heard.”
Arthur is prominent on social media platforms, advocating for what will affect the youth directly. Climate change, funding for public educational system, increasing wages and promising free University and TAFE are just some of the policies he is offering to young people.
In support of climate change, Arthur shared a 35 second video made by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) which listed the Liberal Party has having only 4 per cent of its policies relating to the environment, Labor 56 per cent and the Greens 99 per cent. “Climate election? You bet it is,” Arthur said.
Another issue Arthur has targeted is youth mental health, promoting more online services and 1000 places for peer-to-peer support, supporting young people in the workforce and also to reduce mental health stigma.
The Greens Party also has a majority of young adult volunteers and support for their party, compared to the Liberal Party, which portray involvement from the elderly and middle aged men and women as campaign volunteers.
What are the smaller parties doing to attract young people?
Rosemary Lavin (Animal Justice Party):
Dr Robinson believes that the Greens’ minimal attention on animal welfare issues will give the Animal Justice Party an edge with young Australians.
“Animal rights issues seem to be mobilising a new group of people – a younger group of people,” he said. “Animal Justice have been sort of a rival to the Greens.”
Ian Dobby (Independent)
“What I’m trying to say to (young people) is, figure out what you believe … talk to your friends around you and stand up for yourselves,” he said. “This is my country at the moment, it’s not going to be in 20 years’ time – this is your country.”
While Dobby says his campaign is centred around young people, he has little-to-no engagement with the youth through social media platforms. Although his policies have been posted on his Facebook page, they have received little attention or reactions from the public.
“Is it something that holds us back? Absolutely, 100 per cent,” he said. “This is part of the problem, people don’t know who I am or what’s happening.”
This D*scribe investigation contacted all Chisholm candidates for comment.
Other Chisholm candidates George Zoraya (United Australia Party), Angela Dorian (Rise Up Australia Party), Anne Wicks (Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party), and Philip Jenkins (Labour DLP) appear to be doing little to attack the youth vote specifically.
None of these candidates appear to have any public social media pages on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, preventing reaching a younger audience online.