Age before duty

Local government election nominations across Western Australia are about to open, and young candidates are determined to get themselves noticed.

Nineteen-year-old Haeden Miles is running for the Whiteman ward in the city of Swan.

Mr Miles says he was inspired to run after his experience with Youth Parliament exposed him to an incredible level of diversity he hadn’t seen in actual government.

“In my ward specifically, all of them I think are over 40, 50 even, one of them is well into their 70s,” he says.

“I don’t have a problem with people just being old… it’s not the fact they’re old, it’s the fact that they don’t necessarily have the ability to understand the different experiences of young people anymore.”

Haeden Miles and Brayden Greig on what it’s like as a young person in politics. Video: Rachel Simmonds.

He says it is important young adults are better represented in government because the repercussions of current decisions will be felt in their future.

“Young people aren’t just here today, they are going to be here tomorrow, 10 years, 20 years from now… The whole point of getting young people into politics now is so they can influence their own futures.”

Greens senator Jordan Steele-John became the youngest sitting member when he was elected to federal government at the age of 23.

He says it is vital more young adults are elected to government.

“We bring an energy and a perspective, and a passion and a determination to that space. I think it’s vitally needed.

“It’s also our community that is shaped by the decisions made in these spaces and often the decisions that are made are ones that will really profoundly shape the future we will live in the longest.”

Mr Miles echoes this view.

“It’s not about the age, it’s about the individual experience and the passion and vibrancy that a young person can bring to politics.

“The beauty of having a young person in politics is that they have the energy, they have the ability to expand their views and their perspectives,” he says.

Mr Steele-John says young people are often derided for being too young to contribute to the political sphere.

“That is rubbish, not only do we need to chuck that in the bin and not let that get into our heads as young people, we need to call that crap out when older folks use that on us or legitimise it.”

Mr Miles confirms he has experienced ageism, not only from older people but people his own age.

Mr Steele-John says the exclusion of youth in government is eroding the legitimacy of our principle of representative government.

“We say that we have a representative democracy…. but a representative democracy only works when it’s made up of individuals who represent the diversity of the community that the decisions are meant to reflect, and so that means by its nature that we urgently need young people in those decision spaces to get the best possible decisions out of them.

“If we are not, then a massive portion of our community are not represented in those spaces.”

He says you need not look further than recent student strikes to witness the determination of the younger generation to be heard.

“The things that these movements all have in common is that they are being led and organised by young people.

“We are turning up in the full knowledge that our present isn’t serving us enough, and our future is on the line.

“At the moment we’ve got a very white, very male, very older dominated space, and we need young people and youth perspectives in there to shake it up,” he says.

Nineteen-year-old Brayden Greig is running for the Baldivis ward in the City of Rockingham.

Brayden Greig. Photo: Rachel Simmonds.

Having originally planned to be a pilot, Mr Greig’s life path took a major turn after he went to parliament house in Canberra in 2017.

“I thought, this is what I want to do with my life.”

His campaign so far hasn’t been all smooth sailing. He says whist people are generally very encouraging in person, he regularly receives messages on Facebook saying he’s too young to be running.

His advice for young people: “Just go for it. If you feel like you can make a change, regardless of if people disagree with you or not, just go for it.”

Nominations for local government elections open on Thursday September 2 and close at 4pm Thursday September 9.