Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Kevin and the kids

Watching the Q & A special last night featuring 200 school kids and the Prime Minister, many twitter’s (both journos and political junkies) wondered aloud how many Young Liberals were in the audience, such was their willingness to attack and push the Prime Minister on issue. The press this morning are declaring the kids victory

However, while the polls show reasonable support, it’s no surprise why Rudd is not popular with young voters (Those under 30). Here’s 4 major reasons why:

First, Rudd won them over in 2007 not for what he represented but who he threatened to defeat: Howard. Even in the heady days of Kevin 07 there was prescious little love for the man. He looked and sounded like a daggy dad, a perception even appearences on Rove and commercial FM couldn’t shift. He can tell a joke, and his natural preference for discussing policy specifics rather than vision or principles bores or is ignored by younger voters. (This same communication problem emerged again last night, where he only really began to bring the crowd around when discussing specifics of dealing with climate change. When he had no clear policy, such as a question on raising the drinking age or copyright laws he fumbled and resorted to cliches about following ‘evidenced based policy’ as a way to end the discussion).

In policy, Rudd’s government has been if anything deeply hostile to young voters interests.
Education: Rudd’s spending here is welcome, but its changes to University support schemes (blocked by the opposition) only fix some problems on the margins, and created immediate crises for many who just finished school. It hasn’t addressed the fundamental financial difficulty faced by students, who unlike Rudd’s generation don’t want free education, just to make things a little easier (like putting education supplies such as Text books on HECS, clear & easy to understand support schemes, and attention to housing and youth unemployment issues).
The Internet filter: (which strangely didn’t come up last night in Q&A) is also a hot burning issue, as it is seen as directly interfering with the way of life of young people, and communicates that the government doesn’t understand the internet and doesn’t trust them either. Which plays off the two eternal points of dispute between all kids and authority: Understanding and Trust. Not acting on an R18+ rating for games is also seen as a lack of leadership and weakness.
Economics: Most young people hated work choices with a passion. Not being business owners themselves, and doubting the wisdom of the liberals claims that young people can always negotiate conditions (or simply leave), they saw themselves as the almost intended victims of the scheme. Even those mid20’s young professionals who stood to benefit from the package took it as a affront to their values and sign of the ownership of the Howard Government by big business. Yet youth unemployment is the highest out of all age brackets, at almost 19%, nearly four times the national average. Included in this is a significant amount of under-employment too, especially for students. New conditions in the Fair Work Australia package such as a minimum three hour work shift, are both welcomed by some, but also seen as punishing others) It’s easy to say you oppose current workplace legislation, its much much harder to be responsible for every bad boss, difficult circumstance or poor student in the country.
Social issues: While Rudd has significantly expanded the rights of homosexual couples and grudgingly acquiesced to ceremonies for civil unions in the ACT, he has communicated an image of strong social conservatism that is repellant to many young people. It’s one thing for a conservative senior citizen (Howard) to articulate such views, its another for a supposed center-left baby boomer to also claim so. Not only is it the policy Rudd has followed, but the seeming unwillingness to discuss or accept the legitimacy of any other point of view. All such talk of Euthanasia, or Drug liberalisation (even Harm Minimisation) has likewise been kept well and truly off the agenda of discussion.

In short, Rudd was neither popular coming in, has yet to address any major youth issues in policy, and seems to communicate a message of deliberate avoidance, in a wonkish and daggy way to most young Australians. Rudd’s been able to do so, because he figures (rightly) that Young voters have no where else to go. Turnbull was a bit too much of a wealthy ne’er do well to attract them, and Abbott is seen as a reactionary throw back, especially with his comments on virginity (though his exercise vitality and sense of fight will attract some young men). If they vote Green (as they do in numbers slightly above their parents/grandparents) their preferences will inevitably flow back to the ALP, and more and more once they’ve reached voting age they live in the cities in safer ALP seats.

So Rudd wont face an electoral backlash for it, and fronting the kids as he did last night will earn some browny points, especially the way he quickly (and for once humanely) responded on issues of racism (Indian attacks/Burqa ban) and insisted that Australia should be a tolerant and open society. How this squares with his censorship of the net, disavowal of gay rights and restrictions on alcohol (indeed for a moment he seemed to support raising the drinking age to 21, before quickly retreating) is hard to tell. And yes, every up coming generation feels ignored by those in power, longing for the day it can take over and punish their own kids in the way they faced. But still, it sucks.

Kevin ’10: Yeah guess so..