The youth of Australia have become more visibly active in the political sphere, their voices booming through the streets of our major cities demanding action on climate change, refugees and LGBTIQA rights. While some may contend it is a part of a growing activist culture, representing the attitudes of a minority and sending children to the “dole queue”, it is rather evidence of the malcontent with the major parties social platforms.
The hardest hit by this is the Liberal Party. While a traditionally conservative party, its roots have not always been in a hardline moral conservatism, but rather political conservatism – respect for existing institutions, evidence-based policy and scepticism of sudden change.
In recent years, these core elements of the party have been tested, and its image of social rationalism shattered. As Kelly O’Dwyer stated to her colleagues recently, they are seen as “homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers”.
Young Australian’s struggle with these growing elements of the party, and are more vocal than other groups about this. Only recently, thousands of students across Australia took part in a rally to make the government embrace renewables and stop the commencement of the Adani coal mine. One of the students present was the past Liberal member for Hawthorn, John Pesutto’s daughter. While still a committed supporter of the party, the issue of climate change was worth standing up for. She was not alone though regarding party members on the ground, with many young members taking part in, or supporting the rally.
From my own experience, young people still have an ingrained image of the Liberals as the party of sound economic management, yet, it is the growing social conservatism of the party that is pushing young voters away.
As we saw with the same-sex marriage postal survey, the youth turned out, with 18-19 year- olds having the highest turnout of any group under the age of 45 (despite not knowing how to post mail according to some commentators). Going even further, according to the 2015 HILDA survey, there was 79% support for same-sex marriage amongst 15-39 year-olds, a figure likely greater if focused on an age bracket of 15-29 year-olds.
Finally, speaking with other younger votes all appear to agree on one fact – women are equal to men. They don’t just think it though, they also stand up for equal rights based on this fact. Issues such as the representation of women in parliament, domestic violence and the wage gap appear to be more widely accepted as areas in need of progress that are worth fighting for.
Thus, the party faces an issue for the coming years. As they cede more ground to the strong moral conservatives, they breed a generation of voters who have never voted for the party, making it harder to convert them into the future.
But for now, saying you voted Liberal will rouse a shudder among the young, a desire to shout expletives at our leaders during rallies will continue, and the once strong Liberal brand will suffer many electoral defeats as the electorates shift with time.