Young Australians’ understanding about democracy, government and the political process has implications for how they receive, retain and process information about the decisions of their government as well as the broader political debate.  Those who understand how their nation’s system of politics and government functions are better able to appreciate how decisions that affect them are made. They are also better equipped to vote with confidence and keep decision makers accountable.

Building young Australians’ knowledge about politics and government has been a focus of successive national governments since the 1990s. Recent national testing results suggest, however, that many young Australians may not possess the fundamental political knowledge required to cast an informed vote. Data collected as part of the 2016 National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship (NAP-CC) shows that young peoples’ knowledge about the political system is at a record low with just 38% of Year 10 students achieving the proficient level. These results were described by the then Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, as being ‘woeful’ and indicate that the majority of young Australians nearing voting age do not understand how their nation’s system of parliament, judiciary and politics works.

Preliminary findings from a pilot study recently undertaken by Ghazarian, Laughland-Booÿ and Skrbis confirm this. Interviews undertaken with young Australians who have recently left school suggest that, while they want to become more engaged and have their opinion heard, they feel they have neither the knowledge nor confidence to vote at a state or federal election. Moreover, the young people themselves have said that more could have been done to better prepare them for this responsibility.

This workshop will feature and draw on the work and experience of scholars and practitioners from a range of fields including sociology, political science, media, and youth studies to review the skills and knowledge young Australians require to be informed voters.  It will canvass the views of these experts about how to improve the capacity of young people to engage in the electoral process.

First, the workshop will involve presentations from invited speakers who are currently working in the field in either a practical or research capacity. The presentations will explore three main themes:

1) The Young Voter

This session will consider current trends relating to the voting behaviours of young Australians. First, it will review theoretical arguments as why this topic is important and why young people should be encouraged to learn about the democratic process and participate in it. This will be followed by the presentation of empirical evidence relating to the voting behaviours of young people in Australia and the factors that might impede their participation.

 2) Young People and Political Knowledge

The papers presented in this session speak to how young people are currently being educated about the democratic process in Australia. This will include an explanation on how The Australian Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship is being delivered in Australian schools. In addition, the role of national and state Electoral Commissions in educating and informing young people about the political system will be explained. Suggestions for improving the political knowledge of young people will be discussed.

3) Engaging Youth in Politics

The session considers how young people might be encouraged to become more engaged and empowered in the electoral process. Here, the rationale behind reducing the voting age will be discussed. The role of new media and new technologies in increasing youth engagement will also be explored.

Presenters will be asked to produce a 2000-word discussion paper prior to the workshop. These papers will provide the basis for the discussion sessions,summary documents, and an edited collection of papers.

The final session of each day will be used to discuss and summarise core points raised by the presenters. This will be led by discussants who will summarise the presentations and then lead an open floor discussion on the issues raised.  The first day’s discussion, The Young Voter: Identifying the Issues will consider the factors that limit young people’s understanding of Australian politics and the electoral process. The discussion on the second day, Building the Capacity of Young Voters will focus on the practical steps needed to improve the political knowledge and skills of young people in Australia so that they can confidently and effectively engage in the electoral process.

After the event a summary document will be produced outlining the findings of the workshop. This will be distributed to the workshop sponsors as well as the attendees. At this stage, journals will be approached to gauge their interest in publishing a special edition on this topic. If this bid is successful, presenters will be invited to expand their original submissions and submit an article for consideration. These papers will undergo the standard peer review process.