Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) welcomes the release of a new report in the Parliament of Victoria concerning civics and electoral participation in Victorian state elections. If the recommendations of this reports are realised, we believe more young Victorians will engage meaningfully in civic life and elections.

YACVic made a submission to the inquiry (which can be read here), and with the Youth Disability Advocacy Service, supported young people to present to the Electoral Matters Committee. The committee’s final report focuses on many of the issues we raised.

Young people and Victorian elections

The report by the Electoral Matters Committee recognises that a healthy democracy needs engaged young citizens whose voices are heard. As the Committee observed, young Victorians are often passionately keen to make changes in their communities – but they are less likely to vote in elections than other age groups, and are often disengaged from formal political processes. This disengagement was attributed partly to how young people are – or are not – supported to understand and get involved in electoral and civic life.

The report outlines directions for change, including the following:

Connect civics education to ‘real world’ politics

The Committee noted that some good resources exist to teach Victorian students about democracy and elections, notably ‘Passport to Democracy’ by the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC). The Committee recommended more widespread provision of ‘Passport to Democracy’ resources to schools, an annual performance target for increasing schools’ participation, and greater professional development for teachers using ‘Passport to Democracy’ in their classrooms.

Moreover, the Committee suggested gradually introducing ‘parallel elections’ as part of citizenship education for Victorian school students. This should be informed by models developed overseas, notably in Canada. Parallel elections for students operate at the same time as an adult election is occurring. These models support students to learn about political issues and party platforms, discuss politics with their family and friends, and vote for real local candidates in a simulated polling place environment. In Canada, the Student Vote program has developed a reputation amongst political analysts and the media for ‘predicting’ electoral results, and 90% of parents reported that their own knowledge of politics improved as a result of their children’s participation. Since the program began, more than 1.2 million ballots have been cast by students parallel to five elections. Similarly, the Kids Voting program in New Zealand more than doubled the proportion of students who talked to their families about local elections, and during the 2017 New Zealand general election, 148,000 students took part.

YACVic would strongly support engaging students in such models, if they were delivered in a way that meaningfully engaged all students and their families – including students in specialist schools and flexible learning settings, who are often at high risk of exclusion from civic and political life.

We would also welcome opportunities for students to take part in a ‘Student Budget Consultation’, as discussed by the Committee. This model (also Canadian) supports students to learn about government revenues and expenditures, discuss political issues, and offer their insights directly to government on the priorities of the upcoming budget. More than 10,000 students have participated in the program since 2013.

Bring young people together with MPs

The Electoral Matters Committee noted how valuable it is to build genuine rapport and relationships between young people and the members of parliament who are there to represent them. In particular, the Committee recommended that the Parliament of Victoria make training available for its Members on how to organise and run a youth council, and establish a Representative Day when Members can voluntarily visit Victorian schools.

In Canada, it is common practice for elected representatives to run youth councils from their offices. Canada also developed the successful ‘Rep Day’ program, where students take part in classroom discussions about political issues with their local elected representative. In contrast, Members of the Parliament of Victoria are not trained or supported to do this sort of work, despite the fact that many would welcome the chance to hear more from young people.

YACVic would strongly support such moves, and we would be happy to assist in developing opportunities for MPs to meet with young people. We urge that any school visit program also involve specialist schools and flexible learning settings.

Create jobs for young people in electoral spaces

By working in electoral and parliamentary spaces, young people can build their income and work experience, while becoming more involved in civic life. The VEC expects to hire 25,000 casual election officials for the 2018 Victorian state election. Many young people are interested in this work once they learn about it, but historically the workforce has been made up mostly of older people.

The Committee recommended that the VEC’s program to boost young people’s involvement (‘Election Millennials @VEC’) be re-established and expanded, and that VEC improve their marketing of job opportunities to young people through social media and university spaces. The Committee also recommended the Parliament of Victoria consider engaging student tour guides from universities, inspired by a successful program in the Parliament of Canada.  

YACVic would support strategies to create employment opportunities for young people in electoral and parliamentary spaces. We would urge that such strategies have a particular focus on engaging young people who have faced higher barriers to engaging in civic life, such as young people with disability and young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

YACVic is keen to continue discussion about young people’s role in civic, electoral, and political life, especially with a state election approaching. This topic will be prominent in our policy platform, #vicyouth2020, due for release very soon.