Young people are disillusioned with the Australian government. According to a survey conducted by triple j in 2016, four out of five respondents don’t think politicians are working in the best interests of youth. The proof is in the problems we’re facing: youth unemployment is at the highest it’s been in four decades, mental illness is on the rise, we’re met with an uncertain jobs market and shrinking tax breaks, and the likelihood of buying a house feels like an elusive dream. Unfortunately, in this country, young people are seen as a resource rather than an asset.

The reality is, the next three generations are going to carry the entire economy into the 21st century. Yet, only 11% of the current parliament is under 40 years of age. Why are there no voices representing youth, the generation directly affected by the social contracts that are being established in parliament today?

The voice of youth has power. We are seeing it in full effect in America, watching children take to the streets, confronting the NRA and lobbying politicians to change gun laws, to save young lives. We saw it, as well, in Australia during the marriage equality vote, when 65,000 18-24-year-olds enrolled to vote, eager to participate in the democratic process — eager to change this country. We have seen it in full force in social enterprise: the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) was founded by a 19-year-old in 2005, and now operates out of Australia, South Africa and Uganda, boasting over 25,000 graduates. Hireup, an organisation that gives people with disabilities the power to find, hire and manage their own home care and support workers was founded by a 23-year-old in 2011.

So why, in 2013, did the Abbott government scrap the minister for youth after 35 years? Why did the Labor government follow suit and sideline the shadow youth portfolio as well? Why, in March last year, when Rebekha Sharkie moved a motion in the House of Representatives calling for a minister for youth — one that was echoed in the Senate the following day by then-NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore — did these motions go unsupported by the government and opposition?

Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians believes Australia needs “unfettered thinking, new ideas and generations of young people who will rethink and redesign the systems of the past; protect our quality of life; and help build a more sustainable country and world.”

Other countries have recognised the need for a youth representative in parliament. In 2016, the United Arab Emirates created a Youth National Council that “will include an elite group of young men and women to advise on youth affairs” according to a tweet made by the Vice-President (and Prime Minister and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai) Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. The council is led by 23-year-old Minister for Youth Shamma bint Suhail Faris Mazrui, who is believed to be the youngest government minister in the world.

“We invest in them and empower them precisely because they are our future. We believe that they are faster than us in acquiring and processing knowledge, because they have grown up with tools and techniques that we lacked at their age. We entrust them with driving our country to new levels of growth and development,” writes Sheikh Mohammed.

Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, appointed himself Canada’s Minister for Youth in 2015. For the first time in Canadian history, youth is part of a prime minister’s portfolio. Despite not being a young person himself, it’s a step in the right direction.

The youth vote was credited to play a large role in Trudeau’s victory, largely due to a four-day pilot project which brought advance polling stations to offices on student campuses and at community centres. Engaging youth proved to be a successful forward-thinking approach, and Trudeau’s new youth policies reflect the PM’s understanding of the role of youth in shaping not only Canada’s society but the world.

Young people are clutching the pen that writes history. Young people are going to be the ones grappling with the aftereffects of environmental abuse and outdated education systems, sweeping up the mess of the current government, which doesn’t believe Australia’s future leaders are worth listening to in the present.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey