As the government scrambled together to understand their own directions for the plebiscite, 16 and 17-year-olds began to see the chance of voting in the upcoming same-sex marriage postal vote. Thanks to Stephen Murray’s tweet questioning whether or not the 47,000 16 and 17 year olds were to vote in the plebiscite, the public began turning their heads in inquiry. It was only a short lived golden age for the ‘soon-to-be-adults’ of Australia, until all hope was crushed by Australian Electoral Commission claiming “the normal enrolment processes apply – 16 and 17 year olds are not added to the Commonwealth electoral roll until they turn 18”.
Being a 17-year-old keen advocate for the cause myself, I was left feeling unable to change something that would affect so much of the community that surrounds me. It was the hope of possibility that disillusioned not only me, but many of my classmates in regards to the voting system that we constantly put our trust in. When the Coalition released their ‘Vote No’ advertisement, it was the first time many young people understood that voting yes wasn’t something that all of Australia wanted. The media craze that stemmed from this campaign, whether that was for or against the cause, left the youth population of Australia feeling hopeless. Whilst we like to preach against our common ‘lazy’ trait, it was here that many of the young people advocating for the cause dropped out, as it was no longer a question of voting yes or no, but rather asking what we could do for our community. The prevalence of the current plebiscite in high schools across the country was instrumental in building the excitement to have a voice in our government, but as it turns out, we will remain stagnant in our judgement as a result of our age. So what are we to do, keeping in mind that this plebiscite, as well as future votes, will be decided on an outcome that we cannot affect? This is the question on the minds of Australia’s youth.
When asking a group of Year 10 students about how they would act on their beliefs, 23% claimed they would do nothing because they were “too lazy”. Others responded with ideas on how they could help; making posts on Facebook, signing petitions and attending and assisting school social justice groups. The lack of role models in this area for under-18 advocates is astounding; hence this building up of communities on a local level is an integral part of establishing real change. This debate has disengaged many of us as it demands something more that many are not willing to give, but this debate has also inspired a fight. A young girl, extremely invested in the debate commented, “I am gay so this plebiscite affects me, but I can’t affect the plebiscite … and we’re allowed to drive, but not vote? We do the one that could kill, there is no sense in that”.
Whilst many younger citizens are eager to vote and would love to see the voting age lowered to 16, it is still generally accepted that at the end of the day, the voting age should remain, because so many of us are uneducated on politics or still have not formed a stance in regards to the bureaucratic structures of our nation. However, this inability to provide direct change on an issue that many young people form one coherent argument for, same-sex marriage, leaves us bereft of true motivation. We understand that voting is not the only way to help, so the solution to this problem is to educate early on these methods. Young people are essential tools in this fight for equality, but at times we need some guidance. It is us, the under-18’s of Australia that will be leading the rallies, signing the petitions, because this plebiscite is not the only way we will see change.
We do not want to stand around. We will prosper in ways that many did not even know were possible. And we will go against our stereotype that aligns us with apathy. It’s time for change and we are not voluntarily going to sit on the side-lines letting others take the reins.
Written by Lara Pagola, Images by Kristen Daly.