Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Dismal understanding of democracy

Joanne Tran

19 February 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

The apathy young Australians have for our democracy can be traced to dismal knowledge of essential civics and citizenship.

According to the National Assessment Program – Civics and Citizenship, only 38% of Year 10 students (15-16 year olds) have sufficient knowledge of the importance of democracy and national values.

The report shows that it is not that students are disinterested — it is the call to action that’s evolving. Rather than understanding the implications of their choices at the ballot box, they’re more enthusiastic about joining social movements. They’re passionate about fashionable, progressive causes and influenced by social media rather than traditional sources.

The lack of basic understanding of our democratic system might help explain why the latest Lowy Institute poll on the importance of democracy shows that a significant 45% of Australians adults under the age of 30 would prefer a non-democratic government or are indifferent to the system of government they live under.

It’s little coincidence that young peoples’ declining knowledge about our democracy and nation is matched by diminished appreciation for it. This doesn’t bode well for the health of Australia’s liberal democratic society.

The results of the poll combined with the dire results of young people nearing the voting age proves exactly why we should reject calls to lower the voting age to 16. While it may be motivated by a desire to engage more voices in issues affecting them, it would simply worsen — rather than alleviate — existing problems. Ultimately, this means disenfranchising the rest of the electorate and would likely result in an explosion in protest votes.

Millions of young people will be voting for the first time in the upcoming election. The education system’s civics and citizenship results provide an early detection system for the health of our democracy. The apathy young Australians have for our democracy as shown in the results can be traced to dismal knowledge of essential civics and citizenship.

Having a democratic system of government is envied in many parts of the world. All the more reason that the responsibility is taken seriously as we are to live through the effects of the policies the elected government implements.

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