Young politically engaged Australians care passionately about key issues, but don’t feel represented or listened to by our political leaders, according to a new report from The Australian National University (ANU).   

Led by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL) at ANU, the research shows young voters aren’t confident the government will act on their biggest policy concerns, and don’t see politics as a viable career choice.  

“Only 28 per cent of survey participants see politics as a career and 75 per cent view it more as a series of actions to take in their day-to-day lives,” lead researcher Dr Elise Stephenson said. 

“We also find concern about the safety of political workplaces and frustration with the lack of diversity in politics are key barriers to political participation among young Australians. 

“We surveyed a group that is more likely to be more proactive and politically engaged than the broader age cohort they represented, so we refer to them as ‘changemakers’ in our research.” 

Despite local council being seen as the most representative level of government, young changemakers are least likely to want to run for politics at that level. 

But, while they might not be in a hurry to enter a career in politics, the vast majority of respondents – 85 per cent – feel motivated to pursue further political action in other ways. 

This has seen them turn to alternative avenues like social enterprise, social media and volunteering to create change.  

The report is based on a survey of participants at GIWL’s inaugural Youth Summit, which was led by trailblazing sexual consent activist Chanel Contos, who joined GIWL at ANU in 2023, and attended by young gender equality advocates. 

Among the survey participants, 92 per cent are women, with an average age of 25. The group includes a range of gender and sexuality identities, cultures and ethnicities, experiences of disability, and urban and rural backgrounds.  

“Despite being a highly engaged cohort, just one per cent have run for politics and only eight per cent say they’d definitely run sometime in the future, which is lower than some of the existing studies out there,” Dr Stephenson said. 

The overwhelming majority of those surveyed – just over 86 per cent – also say the federal government is “definitely” or “probably” not representative of their perspectives or values. 

“Our results clearly show that young people do not feel represented, or listened to by members of parliament,” Dr Stephenson said.  

“And young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders feel even less represented by people who look like them or share their values.” 

Climate change, First Nations rights and gender-based violence are the leading policy concerns for young changemakers, but they don’t feel government is effectively addressing these issues.  

Just one per cent of survey respondents feel that federal government is adequately dealing with their leading policy concern, with a similarly small proportion saying the same for their state or territory government or local council.  

The survey was conducted one week after the 2023 Voice referendum.  

According to the report’s authors, the referendum changed the way young Australians feel about politics. As a whole, they feel less trust in government, more pessimistic about the opportunities for government to enact meaningful change and more aware of differing political views in Australia post-referendum.  

“In spite of all this, many are still passionate when asked about what they want the future of politics to look like,” Dr Stephenson said. 

 One survey participant said: “We need politicians who reflect the younger generation, are well versed in modern age technology, popular culture and understanding.  

“Making time to actually listen and reflect the concerns of younger generations to a changemaking body so that their genuine concerns can be heard and not assumed.”  

The full report is available online. 

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