Lazy, Disengaged and Apathetic?

Is the future of democracy safe in the hands of the under-30s?

In a stable, prosperous country such as Australia, it can be easy to take democracy for granted. However, democracy has become a somewhat dirty word, especially with the ‘Millennial Generation’ (born 1982-2003). In 1999, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) disbanded its door-knocking function to check voters were correctly entered on the electoral roll. By 2010, about 1.5 million adults were not registered to vote, 70 percent per cent of them under 25. Changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 2012 slowed this trend, particularly as online enrolment is now allowed. However, of the 1.2 million people currently not registered to vote, the AEC estimates 46 percent per cent are aged between 18 and 29. Lowy Institute 2013 research shows that less than half (48 percent) of Australia’s 18- to 29-year-olds think democracy is the best form of government, yet most care deeply about democratic ideals such as equality and human rights. The Lowy Institute researcher, Alex Oliver, asked the same question in India, Indonesia and Fiji and concluded that “Australian young people of that age group were the least wedded to the idea of democracy”. Millennials make up a third of the earth’s population yet feel ignored by those making decisions that will impact their future. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, they are the largest generation in Australia, representing 30 percent of the population. Baby Boomers by contrast represent only 20 percent. The Millennial Generation don’t trust, and are fed up with, politicians and formal institutions but are open and interested in political ideas. They eschew political parties but support issues and causes. Those that do participate are largely doing it online. According to MTV’s research, Australian Millennials are typically tolerant, open-minded and happy, but only three percent trust and six per cent are inspired by, their government. The main influences on the under-30s are family, friends, themselves, celebrities and sports stars. Traditional media has less influence because Millennials curate their own content from many sources and share, recreate and customise media their way. Peer review is a key source of information and analysis for Millennials. Almost all (97 percent) of Australians aged under 25 use Facebook, making young Australians the highest users of social media in the world. The emerging “sharing economy” is being powered by Millennials. Success stories such as Airbnb and SeeClickFix (to fix problems such as potholes) are examples of this. Personalisation, crowdfunding charitable causes and apps to run their lives are central to how the Millennial Generation operates in the world. They operate sideways to their elders, rather than obey the hierarchy. Why are we failing young people in making a connection to the fundamentals of our society? How do we re-frame democracy outside of voting and bring the focus back to equality, human rights, access and inclusion? There is clearly a communication, branding and participation gap between how Australia’s youth see the world and their perception of democracy. The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E) was conceived to encourage national conversations about what democracy means in the 21st century, inspired by the events at the 1854 Eureka Stockade. Young people – aged 16 to 27 – fought injustice about the conditions on the goldfields and won some of the first democratic rights in the world. The diggers on the goldfields of Ballarat had tried a range of democratic measures to get the cost of the gold licence lowered and to reduce the rough treatment they received from the police – largely made of up of ex-criminals. They held regular public protest meetings, formed the Ballarat Reform League, drew up a set of demands and finally fought for their rights. Thirty people died as a result of the Eureka Stockade but that drove the colonial administration to agree to the diggers’ demands. Victorian men over 21 (without property) were given the first male suffrage in the British Empire. They were also able to stand for Parliament and be paid to be a Member of Parliament. M.A.D.E has gone back to the original Greek word – people + power = democracy. The focus is about each individual finding the issues today that they think will improve the lives of their family, friends and community. Interestingly, this is the way the future generation – the Millennials – see the world. We knew that many of the Millennial Generation cared deeply about societal issues, yet a large number had disconnected from formal political processes. So how were we to reach out to the Millennials? How could we hear what they think and learn from the ways they are enacting democracy differently from their parents and grandparents? We came to the conclusion that part of the answer lies in going where the Millennials already are: pop culture, online and social media. We thought about suitable partners that we could work with. MTV Australia was an obvious choice. MTV recently conducted a 24-country research project on the Millennial Generation. They are seen as easily distracted, bored and wanting instant gratification. They see themselves as curious, tolerant, sharing, flexible and optimistic. Being authentic and real is a priority for the Millennials. 84 percent see that they have the potential to make the world a better place and 73 percent think that the way they connect to the internet changes the way they see the world. Happiness for this generation is being part of a loving family and doing a job you enjoy. Key issues for them are dealing with the economy after the Global Financial Crisis, world hunger and finding a cure for cancer. M.A.D.E and MTV Australia launched MOVEMENT: Search for the Millennial Leader, on September 15 – the United Nations International Day of Democracy. MOVEMENT is M.A.D.E’s first major foray into the national conversation – it’s an innovative way to give a platform to youth and promote wider, deeper and different discussions about what democracy we want. We formed an extraordinary alliance with two corporate partners – MTV Australia and Deloitte Digital – who are very much in that space, with support from some of the nation’s largest youth and social action groups – Australian National Development Index (ANDI), Australian Youth Climate Coalition,, Collabforge, Deakin University, Foundation for Young Australians, Foxtel, Global Poverty Project, High Resolves, House of Representatives (Australian Parliament House), National Centre for Indigenous Excellence, Oaktree Foundation, OurSay, Pro Bono Australia, Reach Foundation, Ruffin Falkiner Foundation, Young and Well CRC and Youth Without Borders. Australians aged 15-30 can nominate themselves as a Millennial Leader candidate by uploading a video of up to 60 seconds in length and answering four questions at The questions are based on their view of leadership; the issues they care about; what they have done; and what they would want to address as leader. Then, data analysis of the level of influence generated by each contender will give us the most popular 30. A ten-person panel of their Millennial peers will determine a shortlist of the top five candidates, who will then campaign during a three-week public voting period to elect the Millennial Leader. People will have to register to vote. OurSay will hone the questions to be answered in the election campaign. (OurSay is an independent organisation started by a team of young people passionate about harnessing the power of social media to revitalise participation in Australian democracy.) The elections will finish on November 13 and the inaugural Millennial Leader will be announced on November 14. The Leader will be “in office” until September 15, 2014, next year’s UN International Day of Democracy. The Millennial Leader will have experiences that money can’t buy, including MOVEMENT at the House – up to two weeks being hosted by Parliament House in Canberra to meet politicians, media and lobbyists and report on the parliamentary session (with support from an MTV producer). The Leader will have access to a brains trust comprising 29 of Australia’s creative thinkers. They are available to discuss contemporary leadership and effective social action with the new Leader. The Brains Trust comprises sports stars, media figures, business people, social justice leaders, entertainment industry figures, entrepreneurs, health specialists, youth and wellbeing experts, innovators and policy specialists. MTV is offering to mentor the Leader, who will produce a blog, monthly TV news items, three video diaries and manage the MOVEMENT social media account. We hope MOVEMENT will become a platform for many Millennial voices and potential leaders. All generations have a lot to learn from each other so it is really important that younger people feel they can be heard and have the potential to change things for the better. The launch of the MOVEMENT campaign coincides with the first 100 days of the new government; how great would it be if more Millennial views were taken into account during the crafting of policies that will affect their future? There are promising signs, with entries coming into MOVEMENT in the first two weeks and more than 3500 likes on Facebook. We are expecting a rush of entries at the end of the period! Key themes so far from the entrants are the importance of happiness, family, friends, helping others and giving a voice to those who are not heard. Mental illness and health is another important theme. Interestingly, 56 percent of the entries so far are from women and 44 percent from men. Material from the Millennial Leader campaign will be used for wider public education use, including for teachers of the new Australian Civics and Citizenship curriculum, due to be introduced in 2014. The Millennial Generation is the first completely connected generation. They see the world as their canvas and want to use the technology to make the world a better place. There are lessons for older generations to learn how the Millennials’ savvy and energy can be used to campaign for important social issues and create a different kind of democracy. Jane Smith is Director, Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka Images 1) Jane Smith 2) Jane Smith, Keiynan Lonsdale and Rebecca Batties

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