An open letter to all student politicians

As sleek Facebook frames are slowly being removed from the profile pictures of university students in their early twenties, and social media feeds are returning to normal from constant ‘vote for me’ content, we can celebrate that another season of student elections has ended.


As sleek Facebook frames are slowly being removed from the profile pictures of university students in their early twenties, and social media feeds are returning to normal from constant ‘vote for me’ content, we can celebrate that another season of student elections has ended.

Around the country, for a few weeks only, university campuses become mini democracies, with their own elections mirroring that of Australia’s state and federal democratic systems. Young people, not too long since leaving high school, can cosplay in fancy politician drag for a few weeks. Just like Australia’s state and federal democracies, these elections have the same amount of factional ineffectiveness and sadly, the same amount of disillusioned and disengaged voters.

The vast majority of Australians are not interested in the outcomes of the political process.  estimated that by 2025, less than 10 per cent of Australians will trust their politicians and democratic institutions, which could have some dire consequences on Australian civil society and our national policy outcomes.

When it comes to young people, the stats are even worse. Recent research by the Foundation for Young Australians found that 60 per cent of young people believe that politicians care more about businesses, corporations, and older people than they do about what young people have to say.  

Young people's interests are simply not properly represented in our politics, and either are young people themselves.

The median Australian age overall is 37, yet in our federal parliament of 226 members of parliament (MPs) in total, only four are aged under 35. For context, there are 8 members of our federal parliament named Andrew. Women, people of colour, disabled and queer people are also significantly under represented. Women make up only 32.3 per cent of our parliament, there are only 9 LGBTQIA+ MPs and only 8 per cent of our parliament comes from a non English speaking background This pattern is just as bad in our state parliaments, and really scary when it comes to local councils. 

At the same time, COVID-19 has flung many young people into political engagement for the first time, as they are the ones experiencing the impacts of this pandemic first and worst. Young people who previously didn’t care about politics at all, are watching the daily press conferences and the news, becoming vocal online about getting vaccinated or even getting a tattoo of Mark Mcgowan’s face. Young people overwhelmingly care about politics and issues like climate change and workers rights, but when it comes to engaging with the democratic and electoral process,  young people hit a brick wall.

Unfortunately, this is often an intentional action by established politicians to systematically exclude young people from the decision making process. The genuine concerns of young people, for their own future, are commonly framed by older politicians as too ‘utopian’ and too ‘ambitious’, often so politicians can appeal to more economically secure, older demographics. At the same time, the practical and real concerns of young people around things like stability of employment and access to housing and education, are sidelined as a symptom of young people's own lack of hard work or resilience. 

On top of this, a common adage exists within politics that young people should ‘wait their turn’ before becoming politically active. The lived experience and genuine realities of young people's lives are diminished as invalid by older people, who believe they know what is actually best for younger generations. Language is used to frame politics as being “adult territory”, and input is only meaningful once a long period of education and economic participation has been completed. Leaving a massive chunk of the population under represented, unheard and gaslit.

With young people so systematically excluded from politics, and their issues consistently sidelined from the national agenda, young people need to start the rebellion. Engaging in electoral politics presents a unique opportunity for young people to play a key role in challenging the dominant narrative and play a key role in finding solutions to the many challenges we currently face.

The election of politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) has been incredibly powerful in increasing young people's engagement with politics. AOC has been able to successfully shift the narrative around real life experience that young people bring to the decision making table. Closer to home, campaigns to support young people for public election have also been successful in displaying the knowledge and power that young people can bring to politics. In 2017, aged only 23, Jordon Steele-John replaced Scott Ludlam in the senate, and has since become a leading advocate for young people, even introducing a bill to lower the voting age in 2018. Last year, Run For It supported over 70 young candidates to run for local government, with over 20 of these elected, effectively more than doubling the number of people under 35 on Victorian local councils.

My suggestion to all student politicians is to take a pause before getting involved in university factions and fights, and think about how your energy could be better used to elect more young people into local councils and state and federal parliaments. Breaking down the dominant narrative around young people in politics takes letting stale, pale and male older politicians know that politics is not only ‘adult territory’. To achieve this, it takes passionate young people to be brave and take the bold step of getting involved in a political campaign.

Student politics does have its strengths—it brings a great deal of young people into civic engagement and plays a really important role in advocating for the needs of students. However, those who have been deeply involved in campus politics, are significantly overrepresented in our politics, whilst a diverse and large cohort of Australians remains critically underrepresented.

So, if you are a young person involved in student politics, please think about how you can not only engage in advocating for the needs of students within universities, but also work to elect more young people. Not only this, being a student politician means it's likely that opportunities will arise in your future to enter formal politics. So, please take a pause, and think, are you really the best person to do it? Or could your energy be better spent on raising the voices of those who are critically underrepresented in our politics.


Ed Krutsch is the National Director of Run For It, and a Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Melbourne.



You may be interested in...
There are no current news articles.