In light of the upcoming federal election, Michael Knight - "adolescentologist" and founder of Peer Power - raises some interesting points in an article examining the interest of teenagers in the process of democracy and who governs the nation.
His article, entitled 'Teens may seem self-centred but democracy is at their core' was published in the Courier-Mail this month.
Below is a copy of Mr Knight's article.
With the recent announcement of a Federal election, comes the question of whether the incumbent will stay in power or whether the opposition will win a majority and take power.
As someone who spends his days working with teenagers, I wondered whether the average teenager cared about government, its various forms and what role they can play in the whole decision-making process?
After briefly thinking about these two ideas, it would be plausible to conclude that they have little in common - which would be true if one buys into stereotypes and sound bites.
Like a frog in a pot, we can easily lose perspective.
True, Government and politicians can be easy targets for complaints especially given the sound bite news cycle. However before we take another pot shot at our chosen form of government, let us not forget the very form of government we can be so displeased with allows for her citizens to freely express such opinions.
It was the former Prime Minister of England, Churchill who said of democracy, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
Now consider the average teenager in Australia and their attitude to government? Would these two ideas be held in the same sentence?
Given a stereotype of the larrikin Aussie teenager as, laconic, pleasure seeking, narcissists or anarchists I would find myself leaning towards the notion that they could not care less about government – but I would be wrong.
In Peer Power’s 2011 survey of 5,000 teenagers, ‘Adolesecentology’ we asked if they take an interest in how our country is governed? I was surprised to learn that 43% agreed with this statement, and 39% were neutral about this, only 18% disagreed.
Of more interest was that over half of all students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that democracy really does give the common person power to make significant decisions in how our country is run.
Herein lies the danger of stereotypes and sound bites. They may come over as satisfying evidence to support my disposition or I can use this apparent evidence to ‘join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty’ (apologies to Taylor Mali Declarative Sentence).
However, beyond the stereotype and sound bite I discovered one of the colorations within the survey showed that those students who do take an interest in government reported having strong core values and could articulate those values. Hardly laconic, pleasure seeking narcissists or anarchists, but capable, thinking, intelligent and articulate young people forming their worldviews and expressing them.
To my surprise and delight I for one came away from these findings encouraged to know that some teenagers not only care about the governing of our country but are and have formed core values which they are willing to express - a wonderful rite within democracy.
It is true that government at times does make decisions that leave their citizens scratching their head, nor wishing they had ticked the other box on the ballot paper.
It is true that a commonly held stereotype of teenagers is that they may be laconic, pleasure seeking narcissists or anarchists.
But to continue to hold these views would be to lose one’s perspective on what we discovered.
Democracy invites and welcomes the expression of opinions free from the threat of being silenced or imprisoned and many teenagers do care about government within Australia.
Whatever happens in the Federal election, we have a nation where many teenagers care, think and take an interest in how the country is governed.
There has been a fair bit of ink spilled lately over the ACT Government’s unwillingness to attend a church service at the beginning of this political term. The new Speaker, Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne, has proposed an ecumenical service where people can pray for and bless their leaders. Although it would involve a Christian liturgy, leaders of other faiths have been invited to contribute as well to the service.
I may perhaps be a little biased, but the decision to refuse to even send a representative to such an event seems unwise. The latest census data from 2011 shows that around 52% of Canberran’s resonate with the Christian tradition, and another 8% belong to other faith communities.
The reason given from the government was one of ‘principle’, indicating that this would compromise the ‘secular nature’ of the Assembly. By ‘secular’ we can assume that they mean there should be no formal connection between government and religion. If this is the case however some consistency is required. Initially it would be prudent to remove the crosses on the ACT flag, and surely the ‘Goddess’ standing at the public entrance to the Legislative Assembly should be relocated.
Why stop there though if we are truly to remove any formal religious connection? Every MLA with ‘minister’ in their title will need a name change due to its Christian roots. The seating in the Assembly will need to be rearranged as well, based initially on a church-choir seating model. In fact, the very foundation of the Westminster system is based firmly on Medieval Christianity, so naturally this would need to go as well to preserve the ‘secular nature’ of our government.
Quite simply, I believe that there is a serious misunderstanding of what ‘secular’ or ‘separation of church/state’ actually means in Australia. It certainly does not mean that our elected officials need to stay away from religion and expressions of faith. Faith is a part of our history, our culture, our values, and the way many of us live our lives. To therefore reject a simple act recognising this significance is, I believe, not what true representative leadership is about.
In fact, I think that leadership is at its best when it works with faith. Our lawmakers need to be regularly reminded that there is a law and morality higher than the ones they decree. Those in positions of the greatest power need to be continually called to the profound humility that there are greater powers in the world. Those who command authority need to think deeply about the daily practice of sacrifice and service we expect of their position.
All in all, I fail to see the great threat of a community of people gathering around their leaders to bless them, pray for wisdom, and demonstrate support for their representatives no matter what they might believe. Leadership can be incredibly lonely, compromising, stressful, and unappreciated, and I am certain that our new assembly will need all the help they can get.
The push to legalise interactive gratuitous violence in video games has been spun as a child protection measure despite the advice of every Children’s Commissioner in Australia.
Australian Christian Lobby Chief of Staff Lyle Shelton said it was wrong for the Federal Government and the gaming industry to claim that introducing an R18+ rating was in the best interests of children when it was exactly the opposite. He also took issue with the Government’s selective use of polling to claim public support.
“It is unbelievable to see this debate being twisted by spin to such an extent that having an R18+ classification is now being promoted as something that will benefit children. How does introducing new violent media into Australia benefit children especially when we know that these games will inevitably find their way into the hands of children?” Mr Shelton said.
“And if this is so good for children why have the Children’s Commissioners and Guardians from every State and Territory in Australia opposed the move and stated in their submission that the introduction of an R18+ classification would ‘adversely impact on the safety and wellbeing of children and young people’?
“Home Affairs and Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor’s statement that dozens of games which have been restricted to adults overseas have been allowed into the MA15+ rating here is an admission that the system he is in charge of is failing to correctly classify material. This is not an argument for liberalising the classification system, already widely recognised as broken, it is an argument for ensuring classifiers do their job properly in the first place.”
Mr Shelton said Mr O’Connor’s selective use of the results of a telephone survey to claim 80% support for an R18+ classification for games was also a concern.
“I note that Mr O’Connor’s media statement fails to mention that the same survey found that two in three (70%) Australians agree that it would be difficult for parents to stop children from accessing R18+ games. The survey also found that 63% of Australians agree that playing violent computer games results in real life violence and that 59% of Australians agree that computer games should be classified differently, because the gamer is invited to participate in the violence, not just watch it,” he said.
“Clearly parents are very concerned about the effects of violent computer games and one has to wonder if they were misled into thinking lifting the ban on violent games would benefit children, when the opposite is true.”
Mr Shelton said the gaming industry stood to make a lot of money from having the ban on violent games lifted. “It is disappointing to think that the government is accepting the arguments of the gaming industry above those of Children’s Commissioners on the issue of child welfare. We urge State and Territory Censorship Ministers to consider this issue carefully and to keep in place the ban on extreme and interactive violent video games at Friday’s meeting.”
Entitled ‘Perceptions of Poverty’, the report states that 9.5 million Australians feel that taking action to reduce poverty should be a “very high priority”. The research also indicates that 11.6 million Australians agree (or strongly agree) that just about anyone can find themselves living in poverty.
The report has been released in Anti-Poverty Week (October 17-23) and includes a call from the Salvation Army for the Federal Government to instigate a
national child poverty strategy to ensure all children thrive academically and emotionally.
The Salvation Army says there is a new emerging group of people getting bigger – the working poor. They say around half of the country’s low-income households report experiencing cash flow problems, with more than a quarter of them needing to increase credit card debt and exhaust savings and borrow money from friends and family.
The report also reveals many single parent families are experiencing poverty with 57% saying they could not pay utility bills in the past 12 months and 12% saying they went without meals.
Please click here to download the report and here to read a media release about it.
The report makes a valuable contribution to our understanding about the causes and nature of poverty in Australia – and sadly highlights the fact that while the rich are getting richer, new generations of Australians are getting entrenched in the poverty cycle.
During the last election campaign very little was said on the issue of poverty and the working poor. It is important that the Government and all political parties focus far greater attention on dealing with an issue which affects so many Australians.
“Although Ms Gillard has declared her own lack of religious belief, we appreciate the fact that she went out of her way to engage with the Christian constituency during a frenetic election campaign and has also acknowledged the importance of Australia’s Christian heritage,” ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said today.
“Ms Gillard has also made strong commitments on a number of issues of concern to Christians, including her decision to continue and expand the popular school chaplaincy program, her commitment to retain the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and her support for ISP-level filtering of Refused Classification material. These are commitments she made clear would not be traded away in negotiations with the Australian Greens,” Mr Wallace said.
“Also very welcome have been Labor’s commitments to continue to tackle homelessness as a national priority (with the goal of halving homelessness by 2020), to work to close the life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, and to continue to increase foreign aid funding,” he said.
“We look forward to liaising closely with the newly-elected Labor Government on a wide variety of matters ranging from lifting people out of poverty both in Australia and overseas, to addressing the sexualisation of children and promoting the health of families.”
Mr Wallace also conveyed the ACL’s commiserations to Tony Abbott and the Coalition on their election loss.
“They fought a solid campaign and it has been good to see the Coalition become reinvigorated under Tony Abbott’s leadership – particularly given the importance of having an effective Opposition in a democratic society.”
He added that it was encouraging to see the willingness with which both sides of politics engaged with the Christian constituency during the 2010 Federal election.
“We appreciated the attendance of both Mr Abbott and then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at our Make it Count event which was webcast live to churches throughout Australia on June 21, and also Julia Gillard’s willingness to made a video address to Christians and respond to the same questions on August 6. We also welcomed the responsiveness of both major parties and most minor parties to our election questionnaire on issues of concern to Christians.”
Media Contact: Glynis Quinlan on 0408 875 979
Prior to the election the South Australian Labor Party gave a written commitment to oppose calls for an R18+ classification for computer games “due to the potential harm that violent computer games can have on children”, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) said today.
ACL SA/Victorian Director Rob Ward said that the commitment throws cold water on claims being made by proponents of an R18+ rating that former Attorney- General Michael Atkinson’s resignation will clear the way to give them what they want.
In a written response to an ACL questionnaire, which included a question on whether the party would “commit to influence the SCAG to maintain the status quo regarding computer game classification, where games rated beyond MA15+ are refused classification”, the South Australian Labor Party said:
“The State Government has consistently opposed calls to introduce an R18+ classification for computer games due to the potential harm that violent computer games can have on children. The South Australian Attorney-General has consistently put the argument against this move and continues to be attacked by groups supporting the creation of the new classification.”
“It is important to note that this written commitment to oppose an R18+ rating for computer games was given only a few weeks ago on behalf of the SA Labor Party, not just on behalf of Michael Atkinson. As such it would be a clear breach of trust for the SA Government to change its position on this issue and we have received no indication that they are planning to do so – only third party accounts
from the gamers’ party,” Mr Ward said.
“Through his vocal opposition to an R18+ game rating, Mr Atkinson made a valuable contribution to the previous government and to upholding the best interests of children. We now look to his successor to continue that role.”
Mr Ward said that the introduction of an R18+ rating would allow excessively violent and sexual games to go on sale in Australia – games that would inevitably end up being played by children.
“Given the clear links between violent video games and aggression, there is no justifiable reason to allow these games into Australia, and we welcome the SA Government’s stance on this issue,” he said.
“Proponents of an R18+ rating try to make the claim that this would assist children but that is obviously not the case. If any games are currently being wrongly allowed into Australia under an MA15+ rating then the answer is to tighten up classification procedures – not to allow even worse games in.”
Media Contact: Rob Ward on 0408 348 352 or Glynis Quinlan on 0408 875 979.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today called on the ACT Government to investigate allegations that a Canberra Hospital patient was pressed to terminate her baby at 31 weeks gestation following failed treatment for an earlier misdiagnosis.
The ACL’s ACT Director Nick Jensen said serious questions had been raised about why a Canberra Hospital senior obstetrician had in the past recommended that Fiona Vanderhook abort her now healthy 14-month-old baby son in marked contrast to six other specialist opinions, and that these allegations needed to be properly investigated.
“This issue raises wider questions about whether or not abortion is the solution of choice for some doctors. How many expectant mothers are being pressured into having abortions in the ACT without properly being counselled about other options?” Mr Jensen queried.
“In this instance one can only imagine just how hard it would have been for Mrs Vanderhook to go against the repeated advice of her hospital obstetrician to continue with the pregnancy. However, if she hadn’t taken the risk of disregarding his advice Mrs Vanderhook would not today be the mother of a lovely baby boy.
“Instead, as Mrs Vanderhook put it herself, she would have had to see ‘a baby induced and to watch him die and not do anything about it’. A recent Senate Inquiry heard evidence of this late term abortion practice happening in other states.
“How tragic when abortion is pressed on ACT women in such a way. How many other times, for example, are women being encouraged to have abortions in the ACT for suspected or relatively minor physical abnormalities, or because of social or economic concerns?
“We need to remember that children’s lives are at stake in this issue, and that women need to be given greater choice in dealing with an unsupported pregnancy or if there are perceived complications with the baby.”
Mr Jensen said the Canberra Hospital incident highlights problems that can easily arise as a result of the ACT having the most liberal, or open-slather, abortion laws in Australia – with abortions able to be performed at any stage of a pregnancy (right up until birth) for any or no reason.
“We shudder to think how many times the abortion of completely healthy babies has taken place in the ACT and how many women have gone on to regret what has happened – and the lack of real choice they felt they had,” Mr Jensen said.
Media Contact: Glynis Quinlan on 0408 875 979.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today called on the Federal Government to reverse its decision to scrap the National Pregnancy Support Helpline, saying it provides a vital non-directive counselling service which has assisted thousands of women facing unsupported or unintended pregnancies.
ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said that the initiative to set up and run the pregnancy support line was one of only a very small number of initiatives taken at a federal level to assist women to have a genuine choice when facing an unsupported pregnancy.
“Despite attempts to downplay use of the service, it has assisted several thousand pregnant women and helped them to be better informed about the options available to them, free from the vested interests of counselling provided by abortion clinics. Every time one woman has been helped through a difficult situation in her life it has been money well spent,” Mr Wallace said.
“Polling conducted by Sexton Marketing in 2004 revealed that 99% of people believe women considering abortion should have access to counselling, and that 94% think all alternatives should be seriously considered before exercising this option. Surely this is exactly the kind of professional assistance thousands of women have been receiving through the hotline!
“We urge the Government to continue the service and better promote the helpline, so that it helps even more women in need. The proposal to start a perinatal helpline dealing with issues such as depression appears to be a good one, but it should be undertaken in addition to the specific pregnancy counselling service – not instead of it.”
Mr Wallace said that the majority of Australians – and even most Federal politicians – would like to see Australia’s very high abortion rate reduced, but very little action is actually being taken to achieve this.
“To now learn that such an important pregnancy counselling service is to be scrapped is deeply disappointing, as it is only likely to increase the number of abortions in Australia.”
Mr Wallace said abortion activists had disparaged the pregnancy counselling service right from the beginning, lobbying hard for it to be scrapped and hampering the effective promotion of the service.
“Despite this the service has helped large numbers of women and we urge the Government not to abolish it but to instead ensure it is better promoted so that more women can benefit from it.”
Media Contact: Glynis Quinlan on 0408 875 979.