The young, restless and modern democracy

Lyons MHR Brian Mitchell last weekend told me that the declining belief in democracy among Australia’s youth remained one of our society’s greatest challenges. “Other systems have been tried and failed. Democracy is what works," he, like many politicians before him, said. He feared that this could push some youth towards extremist ideologies. We were discussing why young people- almost exclusively white males of privilege - were being drawn to the alt-right, A movement that derives ironic pleasure from genocidal ideologies like Nazism and white supremacy. Clearly this is a disturbing-democratic trend that has been proven to end in mass-murder, like in Christchurch. In this instance, society can never be too vigilant. But this is a separate issue to the countless young Australians who truly are suffering, despite living in a liberal democracy. Are young people losing faith in our democratic methods, as Brian Mitchell suggested - that is, the physical act of voting in a Westminster parliamentary system with proportional representation - or is it the realisation that democracy, as a means to an end, is not actually working with their best interests in mind? This issue was highlighted by the Lowy Institute in 2012 when a poll found that only39 per cent of Australians aged 18 to 29 felt that democracy was the most preferable form of government, and more than half simply didn't care either way. It’s unlikely that these findings would have changed much since. Our public discourse certainly hasn't improved, even from the days when Tony Abbott was opposition leader. Some might point to perceived failures of education in civics and modern history but that underestimates the independence of thought among high school students. If anything, knowledge of the world around them is greater now than it ever has been, and they are far better at discerning real news from fake news than older generations. One conclusion drawn from the Lowy study was that young people could be becoming disillusioned with political discourse. That is almost certainly the case. They are being forced to observe, and soon inherit, a system mired in corruption where what passes for debate in Parliament is little more than a charade of political point-scoring, and where powerful, unelected interests are king. Federal politicians appear completely unaccountable for their actions, a trend that has been exacerbated since the election of

Donald Trump in the US. No scandal is ever too big anymore, the truth is no longer the truth. Corruption in plain sight is nowhere near enough to bring down a government MP. And, importantly, our democracy is portrayed as a choice between just two parties- one that purports to protect worker’s interests, and the other that says it's for business interests. To many young people, their policies are interchangeable and regardless who is in power, the poor remain poor, the environment continues to be degraded and political machinations take precedence over genuine reform. Even with proportional representation -allowing minor parties and independents some role - the partisan game of politics wins out. And Australia's Parliament is among the most partisan in the Western world. It's not hard to see why young people would be put off by this. Fortunately, in recent years, the youth have increasingly found their voice by using one of the most powerful tools available in a democracy: mass protest. Through the School Strike 4 Climate movement, and by watching the growing youth support behind US senator Bernie Sanders, there is a view that, together, their voice is powerful. But at the same time, the most powerful in politics - whether in Australia or the US - actively oppose these movements. When I was in high school, there was a collective push to organise against the invasion of Iraq. That movement, too, was disregarded and the disastrous consequences are plain to see. For the sake of our democracy, let's just listen to them for a change.