Hong Kong Chamber: A Letter from Canberra (Feb 2017)

"The trouble with young people today..."

In recent years there's been a lot of media coverage and a lot of hand wringing about Australian youth disengagement in politics.

It really got a head of steam after the 2013 Federal election, when almost a quarter of eligible young Australians - a massive 400,000 - did not enrol to vote.

And alarm bells have continued to ring with the Lowy Institute's annual poll on democracy, which has shown over successive years that an average 30 percent of 18-29 year old Australians believe that in "some circumstances a non-democratic government can be preferable".

These figures suggest our youth are not only disenfranchised, they're disinterested, disillusioned and disempowered.

Yet the dealings I have with young Australians tell a different story.

It seems a week doesn't go by where I'm not asked to mentor a young woman or man, host a high school work experience student or university intern or speak to a youth forum on the qualities of a strong leader.

And a week doesn't go by when I'm not receiving letters from, or meeting with, young Australians advocating for a strong response to climate change, marriage equality, international development assistance or gender equity.

Young Australians are still taking to the streets in rallies. They are still mobilising their friends for change. They are still raising funds for the RSPCA and the Salvation Army. They are still cutting off their hair or dying it blue to improve awareness about cancer and rare diseases. They are still getting up at the crack of dawn to walk for improved organ and tissue donation or an end to family violence.

They are still engaged, and they are still using recognisable strategies to improve people's lives.

But they're supplementing more "traditional" approaches with a clever use of social media - often not visible to the broader community - to garner support for issues, to get people to events, to source crowd funding for projects.

So do not despair. Future leaders, who want to make a difference to their community, their nation and their world, are out there in spades. And they are as passionate, committed and articulate as the leaders of the past.

It's now up to us to foster, nurture and mentor them. To keep the flame alive.

And to give you hope, only 255,000 young Australians failed to enrol to vote at the 2016 Federal election.

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