NB I wrote this piece last weekend to send to a few political blogs, to no avail, so I have decided to post it here instead! (Which should explain why I may seem a little slow off the mark, plus doesn't really fit with the usual tone of this blog).
Gen Y Has Spoken
Sometimes I forget that not everybody is like me. It is hard for me to grasp the fact that most Australians my age do not read The Drum religiously and tweet frantically during Q and A. The truth of the matter is that the majority of them don’t actually care very much about the 2010 election. Some are not even aware that we are currently facing a hung parliament. So when we political freaks launch into philosophical tirades about how the voting public has turned the Australian political climate on its head, intentionally crippling both major parties in order to convey their disillusionment, we are not really getting to the crux of the issue.
You see, most people I have spoken to over the weekend have no interest in politics whatsoever. It is a reality that I have been faced with on numerous occasions during my election fever.
- Two politically-aware sisters I know were at a 21st birthday party on Friday night, chatting about immigration policy. “OH MY GOD!” an obnoxious fellow guest screeched at them. “We are at a PARTY. Why the hell are you talking about POLITICS? Nobody CARES.” Murmurs of agreement filled the room, while my friends rolled their eyes and continued with their conversation.
- After excitedly exercising my civic duty on Saturday, I walked into my retail job to start my shift. One of my colleagues was on her mobile phone, trying to get hold of her sister. “I forgot to vote this morning so I’m going to get her to do it for me,” she divulged casually. “Who are you going to ask her to vote for?” I queried, curious. It’s a rude question, according to my mother, but one to which Gen Y seemingly takes no offence. “Oh, I don’t know. Whoever she voted for. Greens, I think? I really don’t care, to be honest. I just don’t want to get fined again.”
- That night, my boyfriend arrived at my house after work. “Who did you vote for?” I asked him. He grinned cheekily. “Well, I voted for the Sex Party on the white one,” he told me, a decision he had made after watching a YouTube video of the debate between Fiona Patten and Wendy Francis on Sunrise. “And on the other one, I did the dick-tation tag.” My eyes widened, disbelievingly. “You know, the one Jonah does on Summer Heights High?” he explained, assuming that I didn’t understand. I did. I just didn’t want to believe it.
- He and I met old friend from high school for drinks on Sunday evening. I asked him how he felt about the looming hung parliament. “I am so sick of hearing about the bloody election,” our friend groaned, yawning to express his boredom. “I don’t even understand it. All I know is that we have to choose between a wing-nut and a ranga. They’re both shit.” I asked him who he voted for. “I just did one, two, three, four, five on the green one,” he said, flourishing his hand in a downward motion on an imaginary page. “And the other one, I did Shooters and Fishers. Awesome, aye?”
Now, you may be thinking that the people I associate myself with are just a tiny cross-section of society that is unusually apathetic. I know that is what I would like to believe, and I often fool myself into doing so. It’s easy to become embroiled in our own like-minded circle of friends (twitter followers included), and make the assumption that they represent the views of Australian society at large. Unfortunately, that is not the reality of the situation. We have to come to terms with the fact that many Australians regard voting as not a privilege, but a nuisance. To them, an election is not an opportunity for them to have their say as to which government they would prefer to see leading country, but rather an irritating obligation that tarnishes their television screens and half an hour of an otherwise free Saturday every four years.
I don’t mean to be at all condescending. Each to his own, and all that. It’s just that I think political commentators are looking too deeply into this election result, assuming that “the people have spoken” with all the deliberation and passion that they put into their own voting decision. Annabel Crabbe tweeted: “Seriously, I love the Australian people. This result is really the only possible honest response to that campaign”. Dominic Knight expressed the view that: “"None of the above" is a pretty fair outcome in this election, I reckon”. In a twitter conversation with Mia Freedman, Latika Bourke said: “It's like the country said, 'you're both not good enough.' I hope beyond hope the factional players realise people want ideas”. What these commentators are missing is that the apathy they have witnessed is not an intelligent, united response to a lacklustre campaign. It is not a political statement. It is just that most people could not care less about politics, regardless of the candidates’ performance.
I can only speak for Gen Y here. (My mother forbade me from asking people over thirty to disclose their votes, you see). According to my unofficial poll, approximately 90% of young people I know voted for the Liberal Party or the Greens, and the split between those two choices was quite even. Is that surprising? Not to me, because I know what Gen Y really wants: freedom. The Greens represent social freedoms, which appealed to my university attending friends who live with their parents, earn less than the tax-paying threshold and care about gay marriage and climate change. The Liberal Party represents economic freedoms, thus enticing my working friends, who are saving their money to buy houses and cars and don’t want to relinquish any more of their pay check than they already do. It’s simple, really.
So, in my humble opinion, that is where Julia Gillard and the Labor Party failed in attracting votes from Gen Y – because, let’s face it, this was their election to lose. Those swinging voters of Generation X and the Baby Boomers who were seduced by Kevin Rudd’s hyperbole in 2007 have swung right back to the Abbott-led Liberal Party after realising that the promises Rudd made, with Gillard by his side, have far from eventuated; then along came autonomous Generation Y, who closed the gap between the major parties. The disenchanted youth isn’t concerned with sustainable population, broadband or the “real” Julia (boat-phones either, for that matter). This indifference, partly a reflection of the inherent nonchalance of Australian culture and partly due to Rudd’s ineffectual reign, has reached the stage where the Australian electorate just wants a government that will leave us the hell alone.
And therein lays my advice for Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. Their attempts to woo the electorate with grand promises of how they will protect and take control of Australia are futile. In fact, those assertions have been the downfall of their campaigns. Instead, perhaps they should try emphasising what they will let go. All Generation Y want is the freedom to live our lives, unencumbered by the guilt of social injustice and the hindrance of more government control. To win our votes, I propose that both leaders should shut up about boats, scrap the proposed internet filter, stop imposing their personal views upon us by upholding the prohibition of gay marriage, take action on climate change (or at least appear to) and avoid increasing taxes or prices at all costs. Oh, and one final tip: never utter the phrases “fair dinkum” or “moving forward” again. Ever. That one is for me.