6. every young person needs
A real voice in decisions
“It would be wonderful to set up a council for young leaders in the community to join forces and discuss [innovations] that we want to start.”
“As a young person I don't know much when it comes to Australian politics. I would like to see this change within Australia.”
– Young people telling YACVic what matters to them
Young people should have real choices about what happens in their lives and their communities. Being involved in making meaningful decisions builds young people’s skills, wellbeing and sense of citizenship. With their fresh ideas, young people can help make our services, schools, governments and businesses work better.
Young people are keen to make a positive difference. For example, 53.8% of young Victorians do volunteer work and 42.6% get involved in student leadership.
However, many young people are still missing out on having a say in big decisions that affect their lives. Although young people are pushing for social change and taking political action in new ways, such as supporting issue- or cause-based campaigns, they are still not well included in the traditional political structures that maintain most decision-making power - only 8.3% of young Victorians aged 15-19 are involved in political organisations, and less than 11% of young adults take part in political or civic groups, like political parties, unions, or civil rights or consumer rights bodies. Currently, only 86.9% of young Australians aged 18-24 are enrolled to vote, well below the general rate of 95.2%. Unfortunately, young people are not represented well nationally – the Australian Government has no Minister for Youth Affairs, no national youth strategy. The Government also cut funding for the national youth peak body and National Youth Week.
The Victorian Government has set a good example of hearing and engaging with young people. We have a dedicated Minister for Youth Affairs and Office for Youth leading a government youth policy, funding for youth forums and Victorian Youth Week, and a regular Youth Summit and Youth Congress. Victoria now has an opportunity to further demonstrate how good governments engage with and involve all young people.
All young people understand, value and can take part in our democracy.
First steps by 2020
Strengthen education about elections and politics, in ways that are interesting and relevant to all young people. To do this, work closely with students, teachers, schools and flexible and vocational settings – and with the Victorian Electoral Commission, who produced the Passport to Democracy resource. As recommended by the Inquiry into civics and electoral participation in Victorian state parliamentary elections, also strengthen electoral engagement outside of education, by working with peak bodies like YACVic.
With the support of young people, widen the franchise to permit voluntary voting by young people aged 16-17, as has occurred at various levels of government in Scotland, Germany, Austria, Norway, Brazil and Argentina. Any such change must be accompanied by evidence-based campaigns to encourage enrolment and strengthen citizenship education. Once proper consultation with young people has taken place, we suggest that Victorian local government and/or state elections would be perfect places to trial and evaluate voluntary voting from 16 years.
Foster young people’s understanding of the different levels of government. Local government can play a leading role. Recent examples include the Australia Day Study Tour through the City of Casey, which connects young people with elected representatives in local, state and federal governments, and the youth policy platform developed by City of Whittlesea to help young people connect with federal candidates.
All young people can take part in their local communities.
First steps by 2020
Review and strengthen the way the Victorian Government funds local youth participation. For example, the popular Engage! program supports young people to participate in their communities, while the Youth Engagement Program supports young people to get involved in decision-making in rural areas. These programs are highly valued. However, it is time to assess:
The adequacy of funding levels. Victoria’s youth population has grown by approx 9% since 2011, while Engage! funding has stayed the same. Grants must also reflect the real costs of rural, regional and interface delivery.
The evolving and diverse needs of young Victorians, and how to ensure application, planning and reporting processes address these.
The need for guidelines and targets that reflect local needs and circumstances. At present, many rural communities must run programs with guidelines that were developed for metropolitan areas or larger regional centres, which may not align well with communities where the population is smaller and geographically isolated.
The potential benefits of embedding resourcing for youth engagement securely in communities for the long term (especially under-serviced rural communities), rather than relying on competitive grants of three years or less.
Consultations should involve local government youth services and other youth service providers, as well as young people and YACVic.
Recognise local government youth services as experts in youth participation, youth leadership and youth decision-making at a community level. Work with these services to develop regular, strategic mechanisms, using their connections with young people to inform Victorian Government policy and program development.
Every Victorian school supports students to make decisions about their learning and drive positive changes in their community.
First steps by 2020
Commit to progress the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC) policy platform of priority issues identified by students from around Victoria. These include:
Ensure all Victorian schools are supported to have two student representatives on their school council/board.
Ensure every school has a range of ways to involve students in decision-making, such as consultations, focus groups, surveys, and student representative councils.
Support all schools to develop and implement strategies to embed student voice and action in all areas of decision-making.
Support all schools to access VicSRC’s Teach the Teacher program.
Ensure all students can study topics which interest and inspire them, and which are relevant to their lives.
Train students as 'technology leaders' in their schools, with real-world skills.
Support student leadership that is representative of all students, including student representation on school councils. Especially support participation by students with disability and/or additional health and developmental needs, and students experiencing disadvantage.
Continue to support and grow VicSRC as a world-leading platform for student voice, helping to shape government policy and program development.
The Victorian Government always engages with diverse young people to inform its decisions.
First steps by 2020
Evaluate the youth engagement process that began in 2015, leading to the Victorian Government’s Youth Policy and Youth Engagement Charter (2016), and the annual Youth Summit and Youth Congress. Commit to approaches that show success in shaping government decision-making and building young people’s skills, connections and confidence. Evaluation should involve young people, government departments, youth services and YACVic.
Support original, community-based research to give a meaningful platform to young people facing disadvantage, so they can have their voices heard and shape advocacy and policy-making. (A recent example is the Koorie Youth Council’s Justice for Koorie Youth project, which showcases the stories of Aboriginal young people in the justice system.)
How you can take action
Ask your local candidates these questions in the lead up to the 2018 state election:
1. What will they do to make sure all students have a real voice in their own education? How will they strengthen the involvement of students in school decision-making?
2. Would they consider lowering the voting age on a voluntary basis to include young people aged 16 and 17?
3. Will they increase funding to programs like Engage!, which involve young people in decision-making in their local communities?