Can young people influence government?

Level

Middle secondary

Curriculum links

Links to the Australian Curriculum

A question of influence

Australians under 18 are citizens without a vote. Can they possibly have any influence on governments? Kate, a student in a high school in Victoria, says no:

We influence the world more through our tastes in fashion and music than our ideas on politics and human rights. And this isn't because we don't have ideas on politics and human rights and many other 'grown-up' issues — it's because more often than not we are not listened to or taken seriously. (Quoted in Connect 112, 1998)

But is it because they are young, or because ordinary citizens of any age do not have any influence? John Hirst, author of Discovering Democracy: A Guide to Government and Law in Australia, believes that citizens do have an influence:

It is very easy to reach the view that citizens exert little influence over modern government. We commonly complain that governments ignore us or that the parties are too much alike or that politicians break promises. In fact our governments are still very responsive to citizens' pressures. Think of some of the issues which concern governments today — the environment, heritage, equal opportunity, child care. Thirty years ago governments took little or no interest in these matters. They have been made important by citizens' efforts. (page 93)

Debate

Working as a whole class, you will think about and debate the question of influence. First, there will be some group work then a class debate. The question for debate is:

Can young citizens have any influence on governments?

Stage 1: A straw vote
A straw vote is a vote taken before any discussion of an issue. It gives an idea of where people are starting from. For this issue, the class votes on each of the opinions quoted above. A vote for Kate's opinion supports the idea that young citizens do not have an influence. A vote for John Hirst's opinion supports the idea that all citizens have an influence.

Stage 2: How do citizens influence governments?
Work in pairs or groups to use the checklist below. This checklist has 20 methods people can use to influence governments. Print the list and tick the things that you think can be used by citizens under 18 to influence government. If you prefer, you can just write down the things from the list that apply to citizens under 18 years old.

Government influence and citizens under 18 years old

Tick the items that people under 18 years old can do to influence government.

 Organise a petition
 Sign a petition
 Speak at a public meeting
 Organise a public meeting
 Design leaflets and posters
 Distribute leaflets
 Put up posters
 Vote at national elections
 Vote at state government elections
 Vote at local council elections
 Vote at a referendum to change the Constitution
 Go to see a member of parliament or council about an issue
 Wear a badge, ribbon or T-shirt supporting a cause
 Write letters to newspapers
 Go on talkback radio
 Join a street demonstration
 Perform street theatre
 Write to parliamentarians or councillors
 Join a political party
 Stand for parliament or council

When groups have finished discussing the items, make one list. Working in groups, make a quick list of the things that prevent young citizens from having a say. Make a combined list to share with the class.

The last word

Now that you have discussed what's involved in participating as a citizen, vote again as a class on the question:

Can young citizens have any influence on governments?

Is there any change from the straw vote? How would you explain this?

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