Abbott vs Youth: Complacency not contentment

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The unpopular Abbott Government is unfairly targetting young Australians in its policies, writes Mardi Wilson, so why aren't more young people becoming activists?

THE CURRENT AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT does not impress the youth of this country — but you wouldn’t know it by examining their presence on the ground.

Tony Abbott and his lackies are complained about on a regular basis and there is many a meme to be shared on social media, but if their decisions do not threaten the immediate existence of an individual, a certain degree of complacency prevails amongst Australian citizens. Perhaps the national attitude of "no worries, mate" is turning on us as we sit back with a coldie and watch our country regress, one ill-made decision at a time.

Recently, I attended a Labor Party information rally in Tweed Heads. Apart from a handful of middle-aged mothers and nurses, my 23-year-old friend and I were the youngest there by about 40 years. The majority of the audience was made up of retirees — seemingly the only people in this community who took interest in governmental affairs. This could have been owing to the topic of discussion as it was highly centered on the $7 co-payment for doctor visits, which would significantly impact the aging community, but it is also due to the epidemic of political apathy that plagues Australia’s younger generations.

Activism is present amongst youth in this nation, but not in the way it used to be.

Societally, we have arrived at a point where the goals we were fighting for in the 60s and 70s – such as equal access to education and employment – have apparently been met and we have dusted off our hands with a "well, that’s that" attitude.

Unfortunately, although those goals may have been met legislatively, that does not automatically alter the collective national mentality to one free of prejudice. Although large-scale progress was made on paper – Indigenous people got the right to vote, for example – change was still reliant on the individual to alter their personal prejudice, and when this does not occur, access will remain limited to certain demographics of the population. There is no arguing that this is not a major problem in our country that apparently "embraces" multiculturalism, while locking humans away like prisoners for the legal act of seeking asylum and cultivates fear surrounding ‘imminent terrorism’.

The activism that does occur in Australia is centralised in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

The Gold Coast saw some when the cruise ship terminal was threatening Kirra’s shore, but if that terminal were proposed to pop up in Surfers Paradise, would there have been such an outcry? Probably not, because Surfers Paradise is already ‘lost’ in the imaginations of many Gold Coast locals. Kirra, on the other hand, is territory worth protecting, as it is part of the more underdeveloped end of the coastline. Surfers Paradise was claimed by the gaudy tourist a long time ago, and locals will fight to prevent this occurring in the more ‘chilled-out’ environment of Coolangatta and Kirra, as would surely be the case with the addition of a casino-ridden cruise ship terminal.

Fortunately, the protests were successful: no cruise ship terminal will be built on Kirra’s shores, for now. This fight was won for two reasons.

First and foremost, it was won because it was fought. Why was it fought? If passed, the addition of a cruise ship terminal would directly impact the immediate lives of the coasts south-dwelling locals. This motivated people to get behind it and to do it quickly. People stood up and objected and power came to them.

The second reason surrounded who was fighting it. Kirra is a famous surf break, so who would be principally disenfranchised by its demolition? Surfers. And Surfers, especially on the Gold Coast, make up a large portion of the ‘popular people’ demographic. A whole bunch of ‘cool’ surfers, some internationally recognized, got behind this movement, and it became a trend.

The organised protest – that was cancelled last minute due to an early success – generated so much interest that it became a not to be missed social event for the surfer and non-surfer alike:

"Are you going to the cruise ship paddle-out protest this weekend?" "Oh yeah definitely! But I need to borrow a board from someone..."

People who had never protested, or surfed, in their life were enthusiastically embracing this particular movement, as it was not only an extremely worthy and prominent issue to fight, but also it also worked to increase their social capital. The resultant victory was an amazing achievement demonstrating how powerful ‘the people’ really can be.

Imagine what else could be achieved if the young people of the Gold Coast focused their efforts onto other matters that are perhaps not quite so ‘in your face’ and therefore seem to slip under the radar?

I wondered if this momentary unification of like-minded people would prompt a resurgence of outspoken hippies waving picket-board signs in the streets, demanding a rethink of the co-payment, or the privatization of electricity. But it did not. 

Instead, everyone patted themselves on the back for a job well done, posted a congratulatory status on Facebook, and went about their daily lives. Order had been restored to the world — and by the world, I mean the bubbles encompassing the immediate happenings that affect each individual on a tangible scale, because issues such as the rising prices of tertiary education, although directly affecting the same demographic of youth and on a much larger scale, are a bit too abstract and ‘out of reach’. 

In Australia, we do live with luxuries many other citizens of the world go without, like clean drinking water and welfare payments. Due to this, even when things get "bad", they are still "good" when we compare our contrasting realties. Even though we do not agree with the proposed and in some cases implemented policy changes that have been rapidly worsening under the reign of Prime Minister Abbott’s Liberal Party, it is largely being disregarded because for most of us, our day-to-day life is business as usual. Of course, some people are more heavily affected but their disenfranchisement is accepted as part of the ebb and flow of "fate" people must experience throughout life.

Although I believe that, yes, we will all come across our share of good and bad in life, there is a point at which we can unite and object. Unfortunately, this will not happen if we are not educated about what we are objecting to.

I would love to see an increase of young people not only in my locale of the Gold Coast, but all over Australia take a greater interest in the political happenings and realize that together, we do have influence, and because of this, it is at least worth a try.

Mardi Wilson is a 24-year-old sociological writer living in South East Queensland. Independent Australia is based in Surfers Paradise.

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