Record Youth Voting Enrolment Figures Show Politicians Must 'Pay Attention'

Nearly 90 percent of young people have enrolled to vote this election, a figure that should make politicians stand up more for youth issues, a campaigner has said.

A short but intense advertising blitz to encourage Australians to enrol or update their details on the electoral roll seems to have paid dividends.

After rolls closed on April 18, just seven days after the federal election was called, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) announced that the 2019 poll would feature the most voters in history.

"A record 16,424,248 Australians are enrolled to vote in the 2019 federal election. This follows almost 100,000 additions to the roll in the week preceding the close of rolls, which has pushed the national enrolment rate to an extraordinary 96.8 percent," the AEC said in a statement.

Another 385,000 updated their details, after moving house or changing their name.

Rolls close a week after the election is officially called, but in just seven days, nearly 100,000 Australians added their names to the roll -- including 70,000 people aged 18-24.

"Enrolment for this youth cohort at 88.8 percent is now even higher than it was for the marriage postal survey when it was 88.6 percent," electoral commissioner Tom Rogers said.

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This is the highest ever number of young people to be eligible to vote, and should be something the major parties note well -- according to Katie Acheson, CEO of Youth Action NSW and chair of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition.

"We expected the enrolment number to be high, but not that high," she told 10 daily.

"Young people have been clearly involved in politics in recent years, they never disengaged, but they disengaged with politicians and found other ways to engage with politics. Now, they're coming back."

Acheson noted the marriage equality postal vote was a crucial factor in a sudden influx of young voters to enrol since the 2016 federal election, saying the issue and campaign had activated and engaged younger Australians.

In contrast to some claims that young people are not interested in politics, she said the marriage vote and recent large-scale climate change rallies as examples of how younger voters are engaging with politics -- rather than politicians -- in a way different to their parents.

"They were engaging in quite public ways with politics. They had been moving away from that, because politicians weren't really talking about young people, so young people thought politicians weren't paying attention," Acheson said.

"Now young people are saying 'you haven't been paying attention to me, but now you have to pay attention to my vote'."

Photo: Getty Images.

Acheson said young voters could be an important "swing" demographic in the May 18 election, and that their large numbers should encourage the Coalition and Labor parties to speak more directly to issues concerning Australian youth -- such as climate change, unemployment, tertiary education costs and access, welfare, and equity issues such as around poverty and refugees.

So far, Acheson said there had not been much from either party specifically for young people.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has trumpeted budget commitments to create 80,000 new apprenticeships and to expand youth mental health programs, as well as sprinkling money around schools, sport and the music industry.

Labor has talked up its changes to negative gearing as beneficial to first homebuyers, has promised a review of Newstart payments, and announced more rounded policies on climate and schools.

NSW State Election
Image: AAP.

"We have seen more than last election so far," Acheson said.

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She also raised the fact that, while Labor's Terri Butler had been named the party's Shadow Minister for Young Australians and Youth Affairs, the Coalition did not have such a spokesperson in their ministry list.

In 2013, then-PM Tony Abbott junked the youth minister position from his team. Despite a 2017 push from crossbench MPs to encourage Malcolm Turnbull to return the position, it has remained absent from ministry lists.

Labor's Terri Butler. Photo: AAP

"Both majors are talking about retirees and older Australians, but on young people, they're both still a bit cagey and don't seem to have a clear plan to address issues young people are facing," Acheson said.

"I think it'll be fascinating to see how quickly they see young people as a demographic they need to talk about. Young people are the swing vote."

Elsewhere in the voting sphere, nominations for candidates to stand for election have now closed. Information on candidates will be posted on the AEC's website from Wednesday. Early voting will begin on April 29, ahead of election day on May 18. For more information, see the AEC's website.

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