Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Ms Amy Carpenter, Education Coordinator, Victorian Electoral Commission, My Vote My Voice 2019

In my role as an electoral educator, I sometimes hear about how pointless voting is, how politics is dull and irrelevant at best, about how voting doesn’t make a difference anyway. I hear about the “wasted votes” of young people and how “my vote was cancelled out by my parents’ vote”. And that’s just from my hairdresser, uber drivers, and bumble dates who inevitably ask about what I do. While all those statements rankle me because they are all wrong in so many ways, the statement I hate hearing the most is that “young people are so apathetic now, your job must be so hard”. Because out of all the wrong statements I hear, that is the most wrong and despite my crippling fear of confrontation, I just cannot let that lie.

Young people are some of the most passionate, engaged and capable people I know. Young people today are more and better educated than ever before. They know their rights and they know they can't take them for granted. They know that they need to both walk and talk the talk. I meet young people every day who are working towards a better future for their world.

A few weeks ago, I met a group of students who were passionately campaigning for a canteen overhaul - not just for cheaper food as many might expect, but for healthier food, for food without plastic wrappers, and for food which is culturally relevant for their diverse school community. In March, I met 3 students who created posters encouraging proper use of preferred pronouns to hang around their school and local community. And consider the thousands of students who have campaigned and marched on the steps of this very building, knowing that their right to peacefully and passionately do so is protected and respected by those who sit within. I hardly call that apathetic.

There does, however, seem to be a disconnect between this passion and voting. While protest, personal activism, volunteering and fundraising seem to be on the rise – voting in an informed way for people who believe in similar values to what you do is becoming more rare - and not just in young people.

I understand that in many ways that politics seems like it doesn't listen to young people. And somethings which politicians talk about seem meaningless - like what even are franking credits? I understand that sometimes, politicians seem too busy fighting within their own party to get much done. Sometimes, the way media presents the interactions that take place within these chambers fails to inspire trust in the system. The media needs to do better, and so do the parties.

But the facts are that voting and using this system is vital to voicing your grievances and having your say. Voting, the long and hard fought for privilege that it is, is one of the most effective ways of communicating with the people making the big and little decisions which impact you from the minute you wake up to the minute you take the hint from Netflix and finally go to sleep.

It’s easy to think that voting, politics, is irrelevant, but who here goes school? Who wants to go to university or TAFE? Who catches public transport? Who has or is hoping to get a driver’s license? Who rides a bike? Who goes to the Doctor? Who uses the internet? Who has ever played in a playground? Who works? Who watches the ABC? Who breathes our air and drinks our water? All of these things, plus most other things in our lives, are in some way, governed by the people who get voted in by those who do vote.

Let’s take the micro example of a school. The State Government, people who sit in these hallowed chambers, influence all of the following things:

· The curriculum

· The health services available at schools

· The funding your school gets for buildings and facilities

And most importantly, the amount teachers get paid.

Voting in Australia, in Victoria, gives us real power over the services that we use. In Victoria and in Australia, voting is designed to enable the most voices to be heard. Here, in a preferential vote, even if my first choice of candidate doesn't get in, my vote still matters- it still contributes to the overall result.

Voting means that I can send a clear message to politicians and it means I can use that ballot paper as leverage in conversations I have with MPs. Ultimately, voting means that I'm honouring those who fought for the right to vote long, and for some, not so long ago. If you are anyone but a landowning white man of nobility, someone had to fight for your voting rights. White women in the room, we only got the right to vote in 1902 federally and if you’re an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australian, you only got the right to vote in 1962. That’s the year my mum was born. Less than 60 years ago. Hardly ancient history.

A couple of years ago I worked and travelled through South East Asia and while I was there, I met young locals who would sometimes talk with me about the politics of their nation and upcoming elections. What struck me the most was not necessarily the specific things we talked about, but the hope they placed in their vote - a hope for change, even though in many cases the system and elections themselves were corrupt.

It made me appreciate how lucky we are in Australia that our electoral system is the most transparent, impartial, and fair system possible. We can, absolutely, place our hope for change in the ballot. We can trust the electoral systems in Australia. Of course, numbering those boxes is not the end of your role as an active citizen. The protests, activism, the letter writing, the art, the sit-ins, the strikes, the music, poetry, the boycotts, the choices that you make every day for example to bring a keep cup with you, even the choice to go vegan - these things don’t replace voting - they’re where the vote leads, what it points to and reflects, where your vote continues to have power. Your actions, your choices, your voice - these things are given weight in the casting of a ballot paper.

When my Bumble dates, my Uber drivers and my hairdresser start talking about how hard my job must be, I want to make sure they understand that it really isn’t. I want to be able to tell them that young people are not apathetic. It’s what I want to help politicians understand too. But to do that, young people need to start speaking a language that politicians understand—the language of the ballot paper. I cannot wait to hear how the young people gathered in this Chamber propose we encourage such behaviour.

Frankly, it doesn't matter how much I insist that young people are passionate, we need to prove it and one way we can do that, in partnership with all of the other amazing stuff young people do, one quick, easy and proven way to make people listen, is to vote and vote in an intentional, history honouring, informed and powerful way.

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