Leaders of tomorrow

WA governor Kim Beazley with Notre Dame and Curtin uni students at Government House. Photo by Stacey Harding ‘Imagine if we never did anything because we thought we were too small or too young? Nothing would ever change’

“THE leaders of tomorrow are in this room,” said WA governor Kim Beazley while opening a Youth Democracy Forum at Government House last month as part of a Youth Week lecture series.

Students from UWA, Curtin, Edith Cowan, Murdoch, and Notre Dame Universities attended the Royal Room with questions and concerns about Australian politics and democracy. 

The guest panel of five speakers began with University of WA political scientist and lecturer Ben Reilly who said there was a decline worldwide of young people’s support for democracy.

Democratic

Prof Reilly analysed which countries were fully democratic versus those with flawed or hybrid forms of government, using juxtaposed photos of Winnie the Pooh and Chinese President Xi Jinping to question students on which image was banned in China.

The forum looked at what Australia’s democracy might look if young people lost faith in politicians and governing systems.

East Metropolitan MLC Samantha Rowe and former chief justice Robert French touched on voting, saying while it was about having accountability for your civic service, politics could seem very complex and muddy people’s view.

Curtin lecturer and ABC broadcaster Glynn Greensmith said it was important for young people to be well informed about political candidates and their policies and not just “click like” on their face value.

One of the youngest people ever voted onto WA local government was Mosman Park councillor Georgie Carey in 2019, when she was just 21 and still studying at university.

 “Youth represents all people,” Cr Carey said, encouraging forum participants to volunteer for local government. “We need more representation in traditional political spaces, there is a lack of trust in political institutions.” 

Cr Carey, who studied marketing at university, said governments had a branding issue and needed their representatives to reflect the diversity within Australian society. 

She argued today’s youth were engaged with political issues, but in a more contemporary way through conscious consumption, online activism, or social media entrepreneurship. She said it was still important for youth to be involved in decision making places and spaces.

“With pressing issues on climate change, the treatment of women in Parliament, the future of employment, and the ongoing strain of the global pandemic, the future could seem bleak for younger generations,” she said.

“Imagine if we never did anything because we thought we were too small or too young? Nothing would ever change!” 

After the forum Notre Dame journalism student Jamie Warnock said it was a great experience: “It gave us good exposure to media and political experts in their field, and they covered a broad range of topics, it was amazing.”

Social justice

Edith Cowan University student Brianna Melville said, “I’m passionate about social justice and broadcasting but some older people just dismiss me when I try to mention my thoughts on politics, the panel today really appreciated what we had to say.”

Governor Beazley’s call to arms was a reminder that youth are the future of democracy. 

“It is not about youth asking us for answers, it’s about ‘what do you think’,” Mr Beazley said.

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