Beware the fickle youth. They’re woke and they’ll vote
FORMER Opposition leader John Hewson rarely boasts of it, but he and I were in the same economic class in high school.
When I read he had unloaded his Southern Highlands Invergowrie estate for $6 million, I knew at least one of us had been listening during class.
He's done OK, although had he been half as smart in 1993 as he apparently is in 2019, he'd have been prime minister and Paul Keating would have been sent off early to play with his clocks.
Hewson has transformed himself from a hard-hearted theoretician into a caring, sharing economic and social progressive who is about as much loved in the modern Liberal Party as was Malcolm Fraser. Or Malcolm Turnbull.
As a go-to guy for the media, he was on the money in 2017 when he said the burgeoning youth vote in the same-sex marriage plebiscite could spell trouble for the Government.
In the run up to the same-sex survey, the Australian Electoral Commission said there had been a surge in "electoral transaction", with up to 68,000 in one day.
Hewson said it could prove counter-productive at the next federal election. That's the one we're having on May 18.
He described it as the "Theresa May affect", alluding the British PM who was expected to win the last election in a landslide but ended up with a minority government because of an unusual number of young people voting and backing Labour. And hasn't that worked out well?
"The young vote in this country is so readily discounted,'' Hewson said. "It is potentially, I think, so significant and now will be mobilised."
Predictably, former Labor minister Craig Emerson nodded vigorously, claiming the electoral enrolment of youngsters would "enliven a substantial proportion of the voting population, which … overwhelmingly will vote Labor first or second preference".
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, even then displaying a capacity for finding silver linings when none were apparent to others, said the Government had nothing to fear.
"The more people who participate and exercise their natural right to participate in our wonderful, healthy, robust Australian democracy the better,'' he said.
Well, the wisdom of this gleesome threesome will soon be put to the test. And then some.
Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers this week announced that a record 96.8 per cent of eligible Australians were enrolled for the election, the most complete roll in our history.
Youth enrolment (those aged 18-24) was also at an all-time high of 88.8 per cent. That is still too low for a "wonderful, healthy, robust democracy" but it's a damned sight better than the 81.3 per cent enrolled in March 2016 or the 85.7 per cent in March 2017.
It all adds up to something north of the 1,633,471 youngsters enrolled a month ago when the AEC tally was 85.8 per cent.
Something is driving those kids - including the 400,000 18-19-year-olds enrolled - and I don't think it can all be put down to the "hard work and careful processes of the AEC" as proudly announced by Rogers.
Right about now, there are probably more than a few politicians wishing they'd treated young Australians better or had more to offer them next month.
With 88 per cent of young people on the rolls, we could be entering uncharted electoral waters, but age is a big factor. For example, the ABC's Vote Compass found 39 per cent of respondents aged under 35 nominated the environment as their greatest concern.
The environment and the economy were of roughly equal concern to those aged 34 and up, with the middle cohort of those aged 35 to 54 more concerned about unemployment than over 55s, who nominated superannuation as their third-biggest issue.
All parties try to be all things to all men (and women) but it's pretty easy to make a case that the Government is largely pinning its hopes on traditional friends in the upper age bracket, while the Labor Party is trawling the younger vote.
Sticking with old friends might have helped get the Government over the line in 2016, but youth appeal put the ALP right on its heels.
However, the major parties have a lot invested in demographic assumptions. The older cohort now includes those who voted for Gough Whitlam in their angry or idealistic youth, and a significant proportion of the younger set might yet have a hankering for the material things in life.
On May 18, it will be fascinating to see how young Australia flexes its muscles.