Some research suggests that young people are less engaged with political and civic activity than those in older age groups. Young people may not have the skills, awareness, guidance and pathways available to them that would bring them into closer engagement with Australia's governance, or they may have a lower level of interest in civic participation and the responsibilities of citizenship (EC 2001; Saha 2005b).
Young adults in Australia are less likely to be enrolled to vote than older people. The AEC estimates that in 2008-09, 81% of eligible young Australians (18–25 year olds) were enrolled to vote, compared with 92% of all eligible Australians (AEC 1998-2009). In 2007, it was estimated that approximately 400,000 young Australians (aged 18–25 years) did not vote in elections because they were not registered (Saha 2009).
The intention of students to enrol on the Commonwealth Electoral Roll and vote in federal elections was found, by a national survey of schools in 2004, not to be universal. The survey of 4,900 senior secondary school students at 155 schools (the Youth Electoral Study conducted in conjunction with the Australian Electoral Commission) found that of students aged under 17, the majority (87%) intended to enrol to vote when they turned 17, while less than a third of those who were 17 years of age had registered to vote (Saha 2005a).
While young people can enrol to vote at the age of 17 years, they are able to vote in elections only when they have turned 18. While almost nine out of ten students surveyed said they intended to vote in federal elections once they turned 18 (87%), only one in two said they would vote in federal elections if this were not compulsory (50%) (Saha 2005a).
While the intention to vote in federal elections was relatively high, half of the students felt that they did not have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the issues or the political parties to make a decision about voting. Nevertheless, most students (82%) considered voting to be important (Saha 2005a).
Many senior secondary school students participate in political and civic activities. Over half of students surveyed in 2004 had signed a petition (55%), while 21% had collected signatures for a petition, and 15% had taken part in rallies or demonstrations. Students differentiated between the various social movements and causes they would support by taking part in a demonstration (Saha 2005b).
The 2004 Youth Electoral Survey survey found that students who participated in political and civic activities such as signing petitions, attending demonstrations, contacting politicians, contacting the media, doing voluntary work, or being involved in a civic organisation, such as Rotary, were more likely to report an intention to vote in federal elections if voting was not compulsory, than students who had not participated in political and civic activities (Saha 2005b).
In recent years the importance of including civics and citizenship in the school curriculum has been recognised. Between 1997 and 2004, the Commonwealth government's Discovering Democracy program ran in Australian primary and secondary schools (DEST 2010). The program recognised that to participate as active citizens throughout their lives, students need a thorough knowledge and understanding of Australia's political heritage, democratic processes, system of government, and judicial system. Following on from this program, curriculum statements of learning for civics and citizenship were developed collaboratively in 2006 by state, territory and federal education authorities, to be used by the separate jurisdictions in their own school curriculums (DEEWR 2006).
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