Top voter issues for young Australians



Image: Shutterstock – GillianVann

Election campaigns are already gaining momentum while the date for the next federal election is yet to be determined.

One demographic all parties will need to appeal to is young people.

As it turns out, young people, between the ages of 16-24, enrolled to vote account for almost 10% of the nation’s total, according to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

The number of eligible electors enrolled to vote has continually exceeded the AEC target on a quarterly basis.

Source: Australian Electoral Commission | Created with Flourish

Kate Munro, Chief Executive Officer of Youth Action, said the upwards trend is a result of young people understanding the significance of their vote as there have been many close elections.

The notable spike in June 2016 may have been sparked by possible cuts to tertiary education, concerns about school safety and a lack of climate change awareness under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The second highest peak in September 2017 was linked to the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey regarding same-sex marriage. Several of the leading Australian youth media publications also launched a campaign urging young people to enrol ahead of the postal vote.

The rates continued to rise as the AEC announced a youth enrolment rate record of 88.8% in the 2019 federal election.

The Global Climate Strike for Future in March 2019 fueled this unprecedented uptake. The demonstration was held across the nation as students called upon the Federal Government to abandon fossil fuel projects, commit to renewable energy and fund industrial job transitions.

Ms Munro wasn’t surprised about the high enrolment figures, she said: “Young people are very aware that their voices need to be included in decision making so [they’re] active in society.

“They’ve got strong views about different issues that are important to them.”

Declining Trust

Growing dissatisfaction with policies is also driving young people’s participation in civil society and politics.

According to PwC Australia’s Citizen Survey 2020, only 22% of respondents aged 18-24 expressed a high level of trust in the government.

That’s a staggering 14% decline since the survey was last conducted four months prior.

An even lower proportion of participants believe government institutions are exceeding expectations.

Source: PwC Australia Citizen Survey 2020 | Created with Canva

An increase in youth voting enrolments could happen again due to declining levels of trust with current government policies.

Capturing the youth vote will require politicians to actively engage with them as young people have the greatest stake in the nation’s future.

But what issues matter to young Australians the most heading into the election?

Top 3 Issues

The Mission Australia Youth Survey is the largest annual assessment of young people’s attitudes nationwide.

In 2021, 20,707 respondents aged 15-19 years were surveyed to identify the concerns of young Australians. The results show that COVID-19, the environment and equity and discrimination are the key issues that need to be addressed.

Source: Mission Australia Youth Survey Report 2021 | Created with Flourish

Since the 2019 election year, the environment and equity and discrimination ranked among the top five issues of national concern. Unsurprisingly, concerns around COVID-19 have grown.

The survey indicates a direct link between the pandemic and the undermined health, mental wellbeing and education of young people during enforced isolation. A lack of climate action by politicians was also reported as a major psychological burden. Similarly, most participants experienced unfair treatment.


Source: Mission Australia Youth Survey Report 2021 | Created with Canva

The survey reflects a high level of youth civic awareness as younger generations continue to express their concerns about issues that impact society at large.

Ms Munro says it’s extremely important for policies to be developed in partnership with young people as “they are an asset in our community.”

The top three most pressing issues identified suggests that younger generations are more invested in social and environmental issues, over economic concerns. 

This trend is consistent with the findings of the Australian Election Study on the voting patterns and behaviour across different age groups in the 2019 election.

Source: The 2019 Australian Federal Election | Created with Flourish

Voters below the age of 25 are more likely to cast their first preference vote to Labor, followed by the Greens and the Liberal party.

In contrast, older voters aged over 65 heavily favour the Liberal party as they consider economic management as the most important issue. 

But what are the policy proposals by the major political parties around the three issues that matter to young people the most?

COVID-19 Policies

The global pandemic was nominated as the most pressing issue due to struggles with social isolation, mental health, education.

The Liberal Government’s COVID-19 response focuses on comparing Australia’s relatively low mortality rate to other nations, the vaccine rollout and mental health support.

Meanwhile, Labor criticises the Coalition’s handling of the crisis due to issues around vaccines and quarantine outbreaks. Labor plans to boost vaccine supply and introduce an effective contact tracing app.

The Greens have adopted a people-centric approach to address the social and financial impact of COVID-19. Importantly, the party highlights rising wealth inequality as a major issue which the other parties failed to address. During the pandemic, corporations were generating profit, while most Australians were excluded from the JobKeeper program. 

Environment Policies

Young people have continued to express their concerns about climate change publicly and will expect action from elected officials. 

Parties are pledging to outdo the others on climate targets with plans to invest in renewable energy, support new jobs and reach a net-zero emission. 

Ironically, major political parties receive their largest donations from energy and resources corporations, despite proposed talks for new environmental initiatives.    

Coal, oil and gas companies have gained significant political influence according to the 2019-20 Political Party Returns released by the AEC.

The largest contributions from fossil fuel companies were received by United Australia, Liberal, Nationals and Labor.  

Fossil fuel industries provided $731,534 to the Coalition, while Labor received $598,220 in donations alone. 

Many senior ministers who are responsible for implementing sustainable energy policies claim there is a plan to tackle climate change. 

Yet their voting stance on the matter suggests otherwise. 

According to They Vote For You, Angus Taylor, the Liberal Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction has consistently voted against several environmental policies.

Source: Angus Taylor – They Vote For You | Created with Canva

Politicians’ unfulfilled promises only feed into young people’s growing frustration about the lack of action to mitigate the climate crisis. 

Equity & Discrimination Policies

Equity and discrimination have continually been nominated as one of the top national issues, primarily in relation to gender inequality.


The Liberal party has outlined a commitment to achieving equitable outcomes by increasing women’s workforce participation, economic security and the passing of the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021.

However, the members of parliament who voted against increasing workplace protections for women were all representatives of the National-Liberal Coalition, according to They Vote For You.

Source: They Vote For You | Created with Flourish

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash was one of the politicians who consistently voted against increasing workplace protections for women, despite stating the significance of the legislation in a media release.  

Therefore, the Government’s promise to eliminate gender discrimination and inequality must be questioned by voters.  

A Vote for the Future

Young people will bear the consequences of the decisions made by elected officials for years to come.

They’ve persevered in the face of a pandemic, rising inequality and the existential threat of climate change.

While these problems affect everyone, the greatest impact will be on young people’s futures.  

Reece Moir, Project Officer at the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, said: “youth political engagement as a phrase and as a metric is generally quite high.

“A lot of young people want to be engaged and want to be involved.” 

Voting is one way for young people to express their views on policies around the issues they’ve nominated as a concern nationwide.