Young people across the world are making their voice heard when it comes to complex issues. This recent blog article highlights the power of young voters, and how young people are shaking things up across the world.

But formal opportunities for young people to get involved in the government policy making process are less clear.

What is public policy and how is it developed?

Public policy is one of those tricky concepts that is not easily defined. One way of thinking about public policy is that it refers to everything the government decides to do, and also what it decides not to do. Public policy captures the policy decisions made by politicians, as well as the day-to-day actions of government officials. We can also think about public policy as problem solving.

The most widely-used representation of the policy making process is as a cycle with various stages: governments decide what they want to prioritise, develop the policy, implement and then evaluate it. In reality, the policy process is a lot more complicated and doesn’t always follow a step-by-step process.

Regardless of how you break it down, young people are not always considered or consulted as governments make policy decisions, mainly due to our age and perceived lack of political engagement. The average Australian politician is around 51 years old.

Youth engagement in Australian policy-making

There are a range of different ways that governments can engage young people in the policy making process. The best ways include young people in the design and governance of how it works, have clear links to key decision makers, and ensure that there is a clear purpose with defined outcomes for the engagement.

Here in Victoria, the YMCA runs a Youth Parliament with support from the Victorian Government. Young people research, develop and debate Bills. More than 25 have become law in Victoria after being considered by the Victorian Government. We also have a Victorian Youth Congress, which is an advisory group made up of young people who provide advice to the Victorian Government on policy, programs and services. Some local councils in Victoria have also set up youth advisory councils or committees.

When it comes to the national level, engagement of young people in the policy making process is significantly less. It wasn’t always like this. Back when the Australian Labor Party were in power from 2007 to 2013, we had a federal Minister for Youth and a few different ways young people were involved in the policy making process. A key mechanism was the Australian Youth Forum.

While it’s encouraging to see that the Australian Labor Party has committed to funding the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition to represent the views of young people and create opportunities for youth participation, it’s important to think about how youth engagement would actually work. The impact and success of the former Australian Youth Forum is unclear.

My research project

As the Global Voices National Scholar for 2019, I am researching and developing policy recommendations for how the Australian Government can engage young people in policy making at the national level. I’ve been reaching out to experts, practitioners, youth organisations and young people to help me think about which options are the best, and how they could be implemented and evaluated.

At the moment I’m looking into the possibility of a national youth parliament and a national youth advisory group. I’m also thinking about the roles that a federal minister for youth and online engagement could play. I’ll be sharing my final recommendations through YACVic in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out!

A key part of the Global Voices National Scholarship is that I will be representing Australian youth with another delegate at the Y20 Summit in Tokyo, Japan at the end of May. The Y20 Summit is one of the only officially recognised ways that young people can make policy recommendations to leaders of countries. The Y20 Summit is an engagement group of the G20, which is a group of 20 countries and the European Union, that together make up around 86 per cent of the world economy and two thirds of the global population.

I will join youth representatives to debate and agree to policy recommendations that will be delivered to leaders of the G20 members to consider when they meet at the end of June. You can follow along my journey to Japan via Instagram, I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences and the outcomes of the Y20 Summit. Stay tuned!

Rose-Anna Selhorst is a 25 year old Master of Public Policy and Management student at The University of Melbourne. She is an Australian Delegate to the Y20 Summit as the recipient of the Global Voices National Scholarship for 2019.