Too often, today’s youth is derided for being disengaged with the Australian political experience. For many, there is a clear lack of awareness, knowledge and regard for our democractic institutions and leaders, and this can only serve to hamper their ability to engage with others about the key issues of the day.
I was lucky enough to have several teachers who inspired me to learn about and get involved in civics, politics and taking action on issues in the community. Through a variety of opportunities, be they mock elections and parliaments, trips to Canberra and class discussions on the important issues of the day, I was thoroughly motivated to give something similar to my students as I entered my first year of teaching.
At the start of Term 4, in collaboration with my fellow Year 7 teachers, we delivered a unit on Civics through weekly Personal Development classes, which culminated in the running of a Mock Election in late November. In each of the form groups, initial classes were devoted to exploring our systems of government, our local representatives and some discussions around issues of importance to young people. Even at this early stage it was clear that the students were passionate about various issues, such as the access to kids-related activities in the town, and spoke maturely upon them.
From this point, each form group was then randomly allocated a real-life political party (Liberal, Labor, Greens, National, Palmer United and Liberal Democratic) to represent and then elected leaders, ministers for a variety of portfolios and heads of key campaign committees (publicity, policies, media). As the students knuckled down for four weeks of campaign preparation, which included the creation of posters, ads, the preparation of speeches on key policies and planning for the all important Election Day morning tea, it was fantastic to see the students working together and thinking deeply and creatively about the political process.
As Election Day arrived, word amongst the staff, which would shape as the pivotal swinging voting bloc, was that the 7B Labor Party and the 7D Palmer United Party were shaping as the early favourites. 7D’s rise to prominence came in part from their quixotic ploy to get Clive Palmer himself to personally endorse their campaign!
The day began with a Morning Tea where each class lobbied for the votes of staff along with many cakes and snacks on offer. The atmosphere in the room, as staff asked pointed questions about things such as environmental policy and students frantically lobbied for votes, was incredible and a clear sign of the year level’s engagement in the competitive spirit of the election.
After all jelly cakes and lamingtons were consumed, the Leaders and Ministers from each party delivered their policy speeches to their fellow Year 7s. It was fantastic to see several students emerge as talented speakers and others bravely speaking in front of a crowd of their peers for the first time; they would definitely give today’s political elite a run for their money!
As the speeches and presentation of electoral ads concluded, the voting was underway. Whilst a typical South-West downpour threatened to dampen the enthusiasm of the Year 7s, their engagement in the election continued unabated, as students from each party relentlessly lobbied for the votes of their classmates and teachers. Voting was conducted under formal Australian procedures replete with How to Vote cards and full preferential balloting.
A dedicated group of students helped out with the vote counting which saw the 7F Greens pull out a come from behind victory over the 7B Labor Party, 69 votes to 52 votes after the distribution of preferences. The experience wrapped up after lunchtime with the announcement of results and the presentation of awards for the students who stood up and engaged most readily in the electoral experience.
As the day concluded, it was thrilling to see that with hard work and enthusiasm from all who worked on the Mock Election, that getting young people to care about politics wasn’t just possible, but a whole lot of fun as well!