Fifty young Indigenous people amble along the winding bush track, under a soft mist, for a welcome to Gavi Duncan’s country. The echo of a didgeridoo and the incense of smoking eucalyptus combine and waft away to mark the cultural gathering, a traditional smoking ceremony, to open the first Youth listening to Youth forum at Kariong on the central coast of NSW.
For many 15–18-year-olds, voting at a federal election does not feature on their bucket list. This is even less so for Indigenous youth. One challenge for the AEC’s Indigenous Electoral Participation Program (IEPP) is how to get Indigenous youth discussing democracy.
The aim of the IEPP is to increase electoral participation among Indigenous Australians. Key to this is connecting with Indigenous youth. Only 76 per cent of Australians aged 18 to 25 have enrolled to vote, and evidence suggests that this figure is even lower for Indigenous youth.
Knowing how well young people can stimulate dialogue and influence their peers, IEPP trialled the Youth listening to Youth forums where young Indigenous leaders stood up for democracy in action. They shared stories such as the 2011 Young Freedom Ride, a recreation of Charles Perkin’s 1965 Freedom Ride and the inaugural National Indigenous Youth Parliament held in Canberra in May 2012. They told of personal experiences of enrolment and voting and debated the meaning of democracy and the importance of having a say.
Individuals shared their ideas and passions. Chief among them was to change the Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians.
Inspiration came hard on the heels of some startling news about the low level of Indigenous participation. Group discussion focused around ‘having a say’ and the importance of every single vote, especially in a close election.
Individuals shared their ideas and passions. Chief among them was to change the Constitution to recognise Indigenous Australians. Others were leadership and willing participation in decisions that affect themselves and their community.
The local non-government organisation Youth Connections hosted the event. The Central Coast Aboriginal Youth Reference Group facilitated the forum. The forum built on momentum generated by the National Indigenous Youth Parliament, which had recognised that to reach Indigenous youth requires action at a community level.
Participants in the forum agreed that discussing issues, sharing ideas or frustrations and misconceptions was a handy way to demystify the electoral process, to build understanding and confidence. Participants went away upbeat and committed to share their knowledge with family and friends, and to get more involved themselves.
The AEC is rolling out a program of Youth listening to Youth forums to communities across Australia.