Beyond the ballot
I became interested in politics long before I turned 18, and longer still before I was able to vote in my first federal election, but it didn’t stop me from getting involved. On my 16th birthday I enrolled to vote with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and I spent my first visit to Canberra as a teenager sitting in a pub on budget night, pretending to know more than I actually did.
The upcoming federal election is a fantastic opportunity for Australians everywhere to make their voices heard. But how can you still participate if you’re not eligible to vote?
If you’re too young or otherwise unable to vote, here are my top five suggestions for alternative ways you engage with the democratic process. Let’s look beyond the ballot for ways you can influence the world around you.
Engage with current affairs
One of the best ways to participate in politics without voting is to keep on top of current affairs, particularly those affecting Australia.
Regularly reading or watching the news will allow you to build an informed opinion on important issues and make your own judgements on how this is being reflected in politics.
Engage with a range of different outlets to make sure you’re getting a broad scope of perspectives. Talk to your friends and family about their opinions and don’t be afraid to get involved in some lively (but respectful) debate!
Contact your local member
Members of Parliament (MPs) are chosen to represent the people in their electorate. A huge part of their job is to listen to members of their community and help meet their needs.
You can make your voice heard by contacting your local MP by phone, mail, or setting up a meeting. Before you get in touch, make a list of what you want to say and what actions you think it would be valuable for them to take. To maximise your impact, see if you can find some facts and figures to support your case.
Recently, I emailed my local Member regarding an issue I’m deeply passionate about. The response I received was both quick and thorough. This was super encouraging and has given me the confidence to reach out to politicians more frequently.
Work on a campaign
Even if you can’t vote, you can still get involved with the local branch of the political party or the independent candidate you support! While the rules differ slightly for each party, most of them have membership and volunteer options available for people under the voting age and for non-citizens.
Joining a party enables you to support the candidate or party you most agree with even though you’re not able to vote for them. As a member of a political party, you may have the opportunity to have your say on the platform of the party, vote on the pre-selection of candidates and volunteer on the campaign of your local members.
As a campaign volunteer you can help with letterboxing campaign material, talking to voters about the upcoming election and handing out ‘how to vote’ cards on election day. Look up your preferred party or independent candidate for specifics on how you can get involved.
Work for the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)
Did you know you can work with the AEC if you’re an Australian citizen even if you’re under 18 years of age? You won’t be able to work on election day itself, but there are Temporary Assistant Level 1 positions available that take place prior to and after the election.
In 2019, I worked with the AEC here at Old Parliament House on election day. Going behind the scenes was a fantastic experience and it allowed me to better understand all the moving pieces at work on election day. Hearing the final verdict felt doubly significant given my personal involvement.
If you meet your state or territory’s minimum age for employment, why not apply to see democracy in action? Visit the AEC’s website for more information or to register your interest.
Politics is not the only way to make a change. If you’re passionate about a particular issue, find a way to volunteer your time, resources, or expertise. There are charities and NGOs that work to address a range of cultural, social, and environmental issues, and they don’t have the same limitations on age or background. Some NGOs seek to influence policy and others provide services directly to the community.
Before you research organisations to support, think about how much time you can commit to volunteering and the causes that most inspire you.