Looking for today’s youth

Posted on August 7, 2010 by


In a speech at his campaign launch last week Melbourne Greens candidate Adam Bandt remarked that the two major parties act as if people under twenty-five don’t exist. Staged at the recently reopened Tote – a rallying point for Melbourne’s music and arts scene – with a large portion of the crowd around my age group, Bandt’s comment received hearty applause, testament perhaps to the overall feeling that young people are generally denied a voice in mainstream politics.

Looking at the most recent policy announcements by the two major parties, one could indeed argue that initiatives effecting the 12-25 age-group are ‘light-on’ – competing parental leave schemes, upfront baby bonus payments, initiatives to keep mature-aged workers in employment and an increase in aged care facilities are some of the major issues that have circulated the airwaves in the past few days. But is it fair to suggest that such proposals are mere stunts, pandering to the ‘status quo’ at the expense of the younger generation? Should young people feel neglected by the apparent lack of concern given to their set of circumstances?

I am naturally sceptical of generalisations in politics, and so I think we should approach anything carrying the ‘youth’ tag with caution. There are of course certain attributes and common experiences that can be broadly attributed to Generation Y, but the idea that there exists a neat package of issues just waiting to be tapped into by our leaders seems to me utterly absurd, as is the assumption that young people should only care about issues directly relating to themselves.

Bandt’s spiel about supporting Australia’s youth focused squarely on increasing the rate of Youth Allowance. While I accept the basic argument for such a proposal – that students forced to live out of home to study, particularly in the increasingly expensive inner-city areas, could well do with a few more dollars – I am not sure that there is a great and dire need for it across the board. I can immediately think of at least four of my friends who are receipt in Youth Allowance without really needing to be, one of whom even made money from his Centrelink payments whilst he completed his study-cum-travel abroad and has, while still studying, managed to buy a house. A great opportunity and achievement, sure, but probably not the type of person most in need of further assistance.

When asked to nominate the most important issues in this year’s election, one of these friends, Alex, pointed to the watering down of the mining tax, positing that the initial proposal offered a possible funding source for addressing the impending burden on aged care. Another was the need to improve infrastructure in our major cities which, although a state issue, he affirmed, requires urgent and co-ordinated action. Faced with the question as to the major issues confronting his generation, his answer was much the same.

A student in philosophy and economics, Alex of course represents a specialised group of university-educated, politically engaged young people. His concern for issues outside of his own set of circumstances almost certainly stems from the fact that he has – by his own admission – had a pretty easy ride, with the financial assistance of Youth Allowance and a supportive family enabling him to complete study abroad. His experience alone should not, of course, signal a lack of need to address issues facing the young people of Australia, but I think a great deal more dialogue is needed to ascertain just what the specific issues are and how they can be addressed through tailored governmental action. A student myself, I am convinced that the Greens’ proposal to increase Youth Allowance, for example, is a good one, so long as it is accompanied by measures to target those most in need.

As intimated by fellow blogger Zach Kitschke, the greatest attribute young people can offer is perhaps a fresh perspective, unburdened by corporate-interest and the tired old paths travelled by the mainstream media. To that end, there should be much more ‘talking with’, rather than simply ‘talking about’ young people – as an undifferentiated mass – in our whole political sphere.

Words – Dylan

Image – Hiphappy.wordpress.com

Posted in: Dylan Bird, Opinion