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a real voice in decisions

Young people have a right to a real voice in decision-making that affects their lives and their communities.

By making meaningful decisions with other people, young people can build their skills, wellbeing and sense of citizenship. Many young people are eager to make a positive difference in their communities. For example, 53.8% of young Victorians aged 15-19 do volunteer work and 42.6% get involved in student leadership. With their fresh ideas, young people can make our services, schools, governments and businesses work better.

Youth workers are experts in supporting young people to have a voice and make decisions. In particular, local government youth services place a strong emphasis on youth leadership, decision-making and consultation. When we scoped recent local government youth strategies from around Victoria, we calculated they were based on engagement with over 23,000 young people altogether. We urge that the Victorian Government develop strategic mechanisms to work regularly with local government youth services, to make sure their connections to young people are informing Victorian Government policy and program development. 

Other barriers must also be addressed to make sure all young people have their voices heard. At present, many youth engagement mechanisms are funded on a short-term basis, and cannot always meet the full needs of their local communities. For example, the popular $12.3 million Engage! program is essential to youth engagement – many rural youth services could not function without it – but its overall funding is the same as in 2011, despite the fact that Victoria’s population has grown by 11.5%, with approx. proportionate growth of young people. Moreover, the structure of this (and other) programs does not always reflect the demands of service delivery in rural, regional and interface areas. We must reflect on how to embed youth engagement securely in all communities for the long term.

More work is also needed to address young people’s relatively low involvement in civic life. Despite the passion many young people feel for social change, only 8.3% of young Victorians aged 15-19 are involved in political organisations, and less than 11% of young adults aged 18-24 participate in political or civic groups, such as political parties, unions, professional associations, or formal civil rights or consumer rights bodies. Their participation rate is the lowest of any cohort apart from the over-75s. This means young people are missing out on influencing some of the most powerful mechanisms for decision-making in Australia, a situation which disempowers them and has concerning implications for the whole community in the long term. Meanwhile, 86.9% of young Australians aged 18-24 are enrolled to vote; while an improvement on previous years, this is still below the general enrolment rate of 95.2%.