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Consultant, Molly Cooke 

Millennials, the generation of people born between the 1980s and early 1990s, have been described as apathetic, lazy and self-serving. And when it comes to Millennials and politics, the public discourse is no different. However, there is very little evidence in the political sphere to support this view.

The unexpectedly successful campaigns of Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, the USA’s Bernie Sanders and France’s Marine Le Pen show us the power of Millennials.  As different as their politics (and personalities) may be, these politicians relied heavily on Millennial resources and votes during their campaigns.

The numbers in which Millennials turned out for these events - in America, Sanders won more youth votes than the two major-party presidential nominees combined - took global audiences by complete surprise.

Closer to home, the youth arms of Western Australia’s Liberal, Labor, Nationals and Greens parties have continued to gain prominence.

Let’s look at what these politically motivated Millennials stand for, and what their involvement may mean for the future of WA politics.

WA Young Liberals

With more than 1,000 members, Young Liberals defines itself as an organisation open to all conservative and libertarian minded Western Australians under 30.

The group is active across university campuses and participates at party state conferences by contributing to debate and motions which directly influence party policies. 

Previous campaigns of the Young Liberals have centred on promoting free speech and reducing Government debt.

At election time, the Young Liberals run an Electorate Development Officer (EDO) programme to send enthusiastic Young Liberal volunteers from across the country to help campaign in State and Territory elections.

WA Young Labor

With its commitment to motivate people under the age of 26 to elect Labor candidates, advocate for progressive issues and train the next generation of campaigners, WA Young Labor is dominated by the Left faction of the party.  

Before the 2017 State Conference, WA Young Labor passed a motion calling for a change to the party’s affirmative-action rules. Its members wish to ensure that either the State Secretary or the assistant State Secretary positions are held by women.

The group had a high turnout at the 2017 WA Says Yes marriage equality rally and protested the Federal Government’s proposed cuts to penalty rates at the 2017 Unions WA May Day Event.

The youth of the party were also acknowledged as a vital campaign resource during Labor’s landslide win of the 2017 State Election.

The National Party

In stating it is open to all dedicated, enthusiastic people under the age of 32, the youth arm of the WA Nationals has about 100 active members.

A passion for regional WA and a desire to see country young people achieve unites these individuals, and with the wider National Party, the group works to promote regional interests.

During the 2017 annual Conference and Convention, the Young Nationals passed a motion to decrease the minimum age for membership from 18 years to 16 years of age and supported the party’s decision to reaffirm its commitment to Royalties for Regions. Young Nationals also run the President’s Advance Program, an initiative that invests in the youth of the party. 

After its loss in the 2017 State Election, the WA Nationals elected an all-female team to spearhead the party. This female leadership extends beyond senior members -  the Young Nationals President and Vice President are both women.

WA Greens

As a forum for anyone under 30 years of age, WA Young Greens have more than 200 active members and this support reportedly swells to about 2,000 supporters during elections and campaigns on environmental issues.

They have a strong student union representation at WA universities and the organisation coordinates campaigns, events and forums to encourage young people to get involved in Green politics.

Unlike the youth wings of other parties, WA Young Greens do not put forward motions at Conferences. Instead they focus on maintaining cooperation and consensus with annual 3-day thought sharing workshops.

Moving forward

While it's clear that young people continue to participate in politics, forms of engagement have changed.

Social media is to Millennials, what the internet was to Generation X and newspapers to Baby Boomers. Research shows Australia’s young people turn to social media for political news more than any other medium.

WA Young Liberals, Labor, Nationals and Greens know this and have capitalised accordingly. All use Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote their message and recruit members. Gone are the days of calling a party office or visiting a website to commit to the cause, now all you have to do is friend them on Facebook and click ‘sign up’.

In some ways, this trend is shaping the political system for worse. Algorithms mean the news we receive is shaped by our own proclivities (and those of our close contacts). Social media has been instrumental in the rise of the fake news phenomenon, and while it offers increased and unfiltered access to voters, it has also landed many a candidate in hot water.

However, social media tools also have indisputable advantages. Freedom of information and expression is one of the keys to a functioning democracy, and social media allows citizens to easily join together to informally petition their elected officials, share information and make their opinions known. 

It also offers parties the opportunity to have direct contact with voters without spending large amounts of money and allows them to effectively target their audiences based on demographics.

Regardless of how they’re receiving their information, it can be safely stated that when it comes to politics, Millennials are not as apathetic, lazy and self-serving as they are rumoured to be. 

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