Politics and the young 37



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The recent Mission Australia survey of young people aged 15 to 19 showed that only 8.5 per cent have any level of involvement with political groups or organisations.

A total of 13,600 teenagers were surveyed, of which 61.2 per cent were girls, and, unsurprisingly, 93 per cent were studying full-time.

Yes, I concede that the age of this group – the vast majority are under the voting age of 18 and that studying and other activities consume most of their waking hours – makes any political activity problematic if not unlikely, yet the survey clearly shows that any belief that young people are passionate about engaging in political debate in any formal way is an urban myth.

When I was a boy (oh how I hate to write that!), we had the Young Liberals which we called the Young Libs, Young Labour which we called Young Labs and the Young Country Party which we called the Young Country Party – at least in front of our parents. I joined the Young Libs when I was 16, not particularly because of any passionately held opinions although my parents were staunchly conservative, but because it was marketed at least by word of mouth as an outfit where you could party, party, party but not necessarily Liberal Party, Liberal Party, Liberal Party.

I had a look at how today’s youth wings of the major parties are appealing to today’s young.

A lingering residual loyalty first took me to the Young Liberals website and what a dismal place that was. It has only 3,643 Facebook likes – I can only wonder how they got so many – and the last news they posted was on 13 May, 2013:The Young Liberals have unveiled the latest weapon in their grassroots effort to oust the Gillard Government in September” . Nothing about how Abbott and the team smashed the hated socialists, nothing about how fabulous the Abbott Government is and nothing about how the Young Liberals are such a force for all that is decent, good and wonderful. The latest edition of The Young Australian appears to have been published in December, 2012.

So, off to Young Labour which proudly announced AYL (Australian Young Labor) has its first official website” on August 4 last but, sadly, not much since. Considering how long the internet has been around, they didn’t exactly feel the need to rush anything. The last posted blog was on 23 November, 2013 and I learned that the last AYL conference was held on 12/13 April last but, I assume, nothing much happened there because there is no further news.

The site features a snap of fresh-faced youngsters – at least one of whom is wearing his Kevin 07 T shirt – looking thrilled to bits to be with the Hon K Rudd Esq but there are none with the Hon Bill Shorten MP or even the Hon Julia Gillard. Another snap shows activists waving signs around for Mike Kelly MP who was defeated in the 2013 election. Not exactly up-to-date or inspirational.

We are told that AYL is the largest political youth movement in Australia but, of course – as with all political parties young and older – the exact membership total is a deep secret.

The Young Country Party is now called the Young Nationals which means we can call them the Young Nats without being rude.

Their “links” section is headed by a snap of Ron Boswell who had been a Queensland Senator since Adam wore shorts leaning against a huge B-double cattle transport – it’s a toss-up to what is the biggest – but good old Ron retired on 30 June last. Presumably, the Young Nats can’t find anybody in their current Parliamentary team who measures up to Ron in the straight-out-appeal department.

Their last tweet was on 28 August, 2013, so they have either been terribly shy about praising the invaluable contribution of their team in the Coalition Government or…well, you work it out.

The Young Greens are rather more active. They even have a “how to donate” section which the others don’t and helpful hints about ”How to Run An Amazing Fundraiser” which surprised me somewhat. It’s all very formal and stresses such things as the need to obey liquor laws and gaming laws (if there is a raffle). I mean this is supposed to be the organisation for the hip, cool, caring kids and they have to be told how to run a party? I don’t recall we needed that advice when I was a Young Liberal.

Always having an eye on raising a dollar, there is a shop where you can order such nice things as T shirts emblazoned with “Standing Up For What Matters” which are bargains at $40. However, be warned, they advise, “These shirts are printed on demand in the US so please allow 10 -15 days for delivery once ordered”. Perhaps the Australian T-shirt industry is not one to stand up for.

All very dreary and I’m reminded of Oscar Wilde’s comment, “Youth is wasted on the young”.


Were you involved in a youth political party? What party were you in? What do you think is the reason why we don’t have youth parties anymore? Tell us below.

Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. I had no interest at all in politics when I was young, my grandmother was a woman born out of her time, she was very intelligent and a staunch Labor supporter and could argue along with the best of them. I have never paid much attention, untill this Abbott Government. But no other Government has targeted baby Boomers before. I must admit I did not like it when John Howard started handing out the baby bonus like he was handing out lollies but I just grumbled a bit and went about my daily life

  2. Kids today are not stupid, they see the mess Governments have made, I suppose they think why get involved and argue, when they are at an exciting stage in life when all is new

  3. I think the youth today are a lot more aware of political issues than we were at the same age & especially the environmental side that governments stand for.

    1 REPLY
    • I can imagine your right Lynn, unlike us, they are bombarded everywhere with it and many of these issues affect them

  4. I was very politically aware in my teens and twenties. I loved nothing better than parliamentary style debates at Mosman Debating Society in Sydney. The Domain on Sunday afternoon was a great place to participate in political debate, although one boyfriend who was punched by a man who really wanted to punch me, was not impressed.

    1 REPLY
    • The Domain always cooked, I used to love sitting and listening, wonder where all those great orators are today?

      1 REPLY
      • I suppose as it’s over 40 years since I’ve been down there Leanna most of them would be over 70 and many over 80, if they are still with us. I agree there were some amazing speakers in the Domain in the late 60s early 70s, wonderful oratory and quick minds. Fabulous way to spend Sunday afternoon, educational and entertaining.

  5. I joined the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in the UK, took part in a sit-in at uni, and mildly protested the Vietnam war.

  6. What I have learnt since my youth about politics is that we would progress better as a nation if we dispensed with politics and employed a business style management team,chosen for their ability to perform their task efficiently,to run our country……IF ONLY.

    1 REPLY
  7. Its my experience that young people of voting age become more interested in politics once they are in the work force and needing to negotiate the results of political decisions for themselves. I must say as a young person in the workforce, I was not too interested in politics until by brother reached the age when he could have been conscripted into the Vietnam war.

  8. The young people I know, rarely watch the news/current affairs or read newspapers “because it’s all doom and gloom”. How can they vote on policies if they don’t know what is happening around them?

    5 REPLY
    • I work with a lot of young people & conversation at lunch time, morning tea time ect is quite different from your thoughts & they all have their own opinion on the government.

    • Oh I don’t doubt they have very strong opinions, as on everything. I just worry how educated an opinion it is for a lot of them.

    • Linda, i think young people are as educated about politics as older people are. Just because you’ve voted many times doesn’t make you politically wise.

    • How strange when people actually change the subject matter to argue their belief. What on earth does my voting many times have to do with the fact that so many under 30’s dislike news and current affairs. On second thought, please don’t bother to answer that.

  9. My sons and daughter watched question time on TVs whilst studying at high school. Their comments ranged from childish to boring. Their belief was that pre schoolers where better behaved

  10. Young adults today are smart enough to know about these changes to University fee’s, Christopher Pynne spent $8 million of taxpayer money on advertising trying to get support for the fee hikes. And they know that until they reach 30 years of age that this LNP Government does not want to give them any financial support for 6 months if they lose their jobs. They also worry about the environment

  11. I think all our politicians are so useless and untrustworthy, that nobody could blame the young (..or anybody for that matter!) for being totally disinterested in politics…. IMHO. 🙁

    1 REPLY
    • Sadly that is probably true, we need to strap a lie detector on them all and when they tell fibs it would turn their face green so we would all know!

  12. What else can you expect when you have a PM who talks with a crocked toung and woffles on to the sound of his own voice and listens to know one but himself.

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