The perception of young Australians as apathetic, lazy, and unlikely to engage in political discourse is inaccurate, mad and dangerous according to the authors of a new study on Australian democracy.
The study, undertaken by the University of Canberra's Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis in conjunction with the Museum of Australian Democracy, compared how different generations perceived our political system and what they would change about it.
Max Halupka, a research fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, said the survey indicated a "changing of the guard" with young people feeling disenfranchised with politicians but still supporting democratic values.
"A lot of people see political party membership and engagement as the hallmarks of democracy but what our study did was ask a broader repertoire of questions to see what other ways people engage in politics," he said.
"We found that Gen Y [born between 1980 and 1995] comes out really strongly in other forms of political engagement as they have moved away from tradition party politics."
Mr Halupka said Australian youth were more likely to engage in politics via social media and online petitions and these trends should not be seen as temporary fads but fundamental changes.
"These mechanisms are a by-product of the internet and an aspect of the everyday so the political system has to adapt to them otherwise we may see an even greater disconnect among younger demographics," he said.
Lead author Professor Mark Evans said negative stereotypes of younger generations were "mad and dangerous for the health of Australian democracy".
"Our research shows that young Australians passionately believe in democratic values, possess strong political views and are actively engaged in democracy – they simply do not like the current politics on offer," he said.
The study found 19 per cent of Gen Y respondents were dissatisfied with the workings of Australian politics making them the most dissatisfied age demographic.
But the frustrations of young Australians were also shared by many older demographics who supported changes to our democratic system.
Almost a third of survey respondents and 24 per cent of Gen Y and X respondents said our political system would be improved by introducing a "none of the above" option on voting ballots, which would do away with the donkey vote.
"Rather than people throwing their vote away at elections this would effectively allow them to vote no confidence in their politicians and better reflect their engagement in politics," said Mr Halupka.
Close to 40 percent of respondents believed allowing MPs a free vote in Parliament would allow them to better reflect their constituencies.
"The support for allowing MPs a free vote – more popular among the builders [born between 1935 and 1945] – tells us many people feel their politicians are not representing their interests as they often vote along party lines following the broad ideology of party leaders," said Mr Halupka.
The right to recall MPs was also a popular choice among all demographics with a total support of 36 per cent.
"This right of recall would allow people to tell their MPs they don't feel they are being representative and allow them to be called back for another election," said Mr Halupka.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom with many respondents expressing their appreciation of democratic life as distinct from our political process.
"When people think of democracy they often automatically think of our politicians and not the values of democracy itself and our way of life, said Mr Halupka.
The majority of respondents said they valued Australia's stable political history, free and fair elections, access to education, health and welfare, and the opportunity to participate in discussion if willing.
Mr Halupka also said the survey found the views of men and women in contemporary politics were "remarkably similar with very few margins of error".
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