Is world politics a gateway drug? Y Vote hangs with Lewis

Lewis Graham: student, researcher, foreign policy wonk and  might  be voting for the ALP. Maybe. 

Lewis Graham: student, researcher, foreign policy wonk and might be voting for the ALP. Maybe. 

By Novan Sachrudi

Lewis Graham is currently the University Liaison Officer and Internship Coordinator at the the Australian Institute of International Affairs, NSW branch. He has also recently begun a tenure at Chifley Research Centre as part of their Labor Futures programme and is designing their Internship programme. At the same time, Lewis is completing his honours thesis in International Studies at UNSW in which he analyses the emerging International Investment Regime. Lewis is a strong advocate for greater youth engagement with the political process, via voting as well as being more involved in the political discourse.

Lewis, thanks for taking time-out to hang out and chat with me today.

Not a problem Novan, the pleasure is mine

So word on the street is that you'll be voting in the Division of Bradfield. What can you briefly tell us about the place? Any thoughts and feelings?

Well the division of Bradfield is the 2nd safest Liberal seat in the country. Fifth highest proportion of high income families and 5th highest proportion of residents with a University degree. Every member in the seat's history has been a Liberal Party member and the seat consistently runs 30 points above the national average in terms of votes for the Liberal Party, percentage wise. Nevertheless, I will be submitting my vote for the Labor Party regardless of how likely the incumbent, Paul Fletcher, will hold his seat. I still believe it is crucial for everyone to take part in the political process, particularly young people.

Damn Lewis, you're doing all the hard work for me.

Haha, glad to help

It also saves me from dancing around asking you if you know who you'd be voting for at the next election, which is looking likely for July. Though I'm certainly with you, of course, about how crucial it is for young people to take part in the democratic process we have.

Here's something you might not know about Bradfield: we've made a conservative estimate that about 8146 young people in this division didn't cast a formal vote. How's that make you feel?

In terms of young people not voting in my electorate, I can understand their frustrations. Given the safeness of the seat, it does give people entering the political process the impression that their vote is of little importance in the grand scheme of things, whether they would have voted for or against the Liberal Party. Nevertheless, casting one's vote is essential, I feel, to vindicating one's opinions in politics. One can not complain the direction of the country if one has not voiced their opposition. The political process will continue to roll on and continue to make crucial decision to young people's lives with or without their participation. In that case it is best be involved and at least attempt to affect change. Indeed, young people should realise their voices can affect crucial change. As your website excellently advertises, the proportion of young people who did not vote could have turned the result in the past five federal elections.

Yup, and over 46 electorates in the last election in particular. It's a pretty big deal. But before I pick your brain about the field you’re in, being foreign affairs and trade and so on, I figure I'd ask you about your vote, before I forget. As a young person engaged with the political process and discourse, in a nutshell, what are a couple of the main reasons you'll be voting for the Labor Party at the next election?

First and foremost, Labor's position on taxation is far more encouraging than that of their Liberal counterparts. In an age where income inequality is at its highest since the beginning of the great depression, a good tax policy is key step to ensure our civil society remains functional and equitable. Labor has been willing to investigate the transgression of major multinationals, many of whom paid 16% tax, less than a nurse or a school teacher, and to look at taxing the top 1% percent. The Liberals, on the other hand, have been apathetic at best in their response. They have confirmed very little about their taxation policy. Best bets are that it will look highly regressive, such as via an increase to GST. In my view this will only continue to worsen the wealth divisions of Australia and we will be significantly worse off for it.

Secondly, Labor's position on marriage equality is a key selling point for me. Although I am myself not gay, I believe that it's about time government did not legislate love. Labor leader Bill Shorten and Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek have confirmed they would introduce marriage equality measures if they were voted in to government. Meanwhile, Malcolm Turnbull has consistently back-flipped on his position and is looking mostly likely to pursue a costly and unnecessary plebiscite. This is an unacceptable betrayal of the Australian public's trust.

Finally, the arena of education is an essential consideration of voting preference. I believe education is the silver bullet to a better society and therefore should be of a exceptional standard and universally accessible. The Liberals have reneged on Gonski, floated the privatisation of tertiary education and now most recently have suggested de-funding public schooling all together. Labor has demonstrated a far more assuring position on this area and that is why they have secured my vote.

Well I usually like to ask what top 3 issues will be influencing your vote at the next election, and you've beat me to the punch yet again. You've mentioned taxation, marriage equality and education policy. Would you like to lock in those 3 answers? There's no going back from here, Lewis.

Haha lock 'em in, Eddie.                                                          

I wish I could add that intense music right now... Technology fails me.

But thanks for the clarification. So it's clear that you're batting for team Labor because of the reasons you've given, but just so readers at home know, we don't care who you vote for and Y Vote doesn't advocate any parties or positions, even though the people we chat to might. We just want you to vote, and to make an informed one at that! But if you're picking up what Lewis is putting down and if what he’s said resonates with your values, then maybe you can start to look into what he's mentioned. Lewis, I'd like to ask you about your field now.

Haha, glad to be back in my comfort zone.

Because I think of all the issues, and correct me if I'm wrong, global politics or world events seems to be ones that I think a lot of young people gravitate towards or get around a bit easier, if only because we catch wind of so much of it with the global goings-on in the past few years - the war in Syria, the Arab Spring, the asylum seeker crisis, the global financial crisis and so on. Do you find that this is true? And do you think foreign policy is going to play much of a part in the next election?

I think certainly young people tend to be much better informed about foreign policy issues than the rest of Australia which I would put down to our extensive use of the internet and its fantastic resources. I find Australia's traditional media outlets are severely lacking in the coverage of global politics.

At the next election I can't see foreign policy playing to much of role in how the election pans out. The two parties have historically been surprisingly bipartisan when it comes to this arena, and that is reflected in the two major parties' positions this year. Refugee policies are slightly different but boil down to similar positions, the US alliance seems to remain important to both sides and the respective strategies against ISIS again remain very close.

Yeah I agree - most of what I see in my various feeds on social media is people getting riled up about something foreign policy/affairs related. I mean that could just be my friendship circles, but it seems like everyone knows at least a little bit about what's going on in the American elections, or know that we’re pretty tight with them, or about the asylum seeker situation, or ISIS as you mention.

Anyway, I think it's a good thing because I have this theory that foreign policy is the gateway drug to political engagement, haha.

Haha I would tend to agree. That was certainly the case for me. I started in foreign relations and pursued my bachelor degree in that field. It has only been been in the past four years that concerns have grown to incorporate the domestic agenda.

I would also argue that almost more Australians are concerned with the US elections than our own. This is certainly not an unwise decision if it is the case. They are our most crucial strategic ally and particularly in this election, the radical views on both sides of politics in the US on both domestic and foreign agendas could induce serious consequences for Australia.

Nonetheless, we cannot control what happens in America, and our nation's ability to adapt and what decisions we make in the face of a changing America will be driven by our own election. Therefore the youth of Australia should try to temper that energy and curiosity to our own political system

I'm glad you mentioned that. What happens over there certainly has huge ripple effects for the rest of the world, including us of course. Though I think It's interesting what some of the lesser consequences of the prominence of the US election is. For example, I've spoken to so many people who weren't aware that we don't vote for a Prime Minister per se, like you would in the US when it comes to voting for a President, but we vote for a candidate that represents us in Parliament, who may or may not be of the same party as the Prime Minister. 

Yeah, that's consistent with my conversations with people as well. I'd put it down to media and in particular television. When you mention the West Wing, Veep or House of Cards, nearly all of my friends and families are huge fans. I can't think about a good Australian political drama, and indeed after watching one episode of Party Tricks I too was put off Australian politics haha.

I've never heard of Party Tricks. I guess it's not worth checking out?

It was an awful show, cancelled after one season or maybe even less. The central premise was that a Labor minister slept with a Liberal minister and they had to hide their affair. Absolute waste of time.

Haha my god, that's scandalous. 

Anyway, it also doesn't help either that our Australian version of the Westminster system is not very well codified and a lot of the major process of it are not included in the Constitution. I would think that many Australians would be surprised to note that there is not one mention of the Prime Minister or the extent of his role in our constitution

Maybe we should be looking to produce better knowledge about our political system and rights through popular media. That way we can avoid some people pleasing their First and Fifth Amendment rights, only to find that Australia has no comparable bill of rights

Not a bad idea. And you read my mind. If Party Tricks sucked then maybe we should make an Australian version of the West Wing. It'll be sweet. I reckon we should make one – you and me. I'm a half decent actor and you're a smart dude Lewis, I reckon we'd kill it. This could be the start of something big! People can learn about the ins-and-outs of Australian politics, our system of government and our Constitution, and we'll be famous. What should we call it?

Haha I'd love write a version of it. The Lodge would be a good title I reckon

You’ve been thinking about this awhile haven’t you? That’s got a damn good ring to it. I’m picturing it now… the theme song and the opening credits.

Haha… Oh, speaking of the West Wing, it has my favourite clip in regards to youth engagement with politics. It’s got the quote "decisions are made by those who show up".

That's a pretty strong one-liner.

But hey, I suppose I should ask you a couple final things before we win our first Logies. Lewis, we've covered heaps of ground here. Just to take stock, your big 3 topics influencing your vote at the next election for a grand prize of a million dollars were taxation, marriage equality and education policy. We also got to talking about foreign policy. How do you like to stay informed about these issues? Anything you like to read or check out on the regular?

I tend to get my information from a variety of sources. I pride myself in keeping up to date with issues. My Facebook news feed is key to that. I have liked and followed a variety of news outlets both traditional and modern across a variety of countries. That way I get very concise updates about issues around the globe from various parts of the globe with the option to click on them and read in-depth if I choose.

I also like to check in on a few newspapers when I get a chance during the day. My mainstays are the Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald for my Australia coverage. For overseas, because they do have a good spread of foreign issues, the Huffington Post and Le Monde Diplomatique (which is available in English) are go-tos for me

Finally I'm an avid watcher of ABC's Q&A, 7pm Project and online I watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO

Beautiful! And one final question. Say you had a mate who was thinking of not partaking in the next election, or thinking about making an ass of the vote (that is to say, a donkey vote, get it?), what would you say to them?

I'd tell them that I wouldn't want to hear them complain about the state of the country for the next three years. By not voting or throwing your vote away, you've rescinded your right to be mad about these things. If we as young people want things to change, we need to be involved and be part of the solution. Stepping aside and being grumpy silently from afar does nothing to the state of play.

Well then. That's a pretty clear line in the sand! But I'll make one request to you. Can you do your best Martin Sheen and as you walk away, turn around and say ""decisions are made by those who turn up" as your final remark?

Haha absolutely, took the words out of my mouth. Feel free to add it on to my last answer

Consider it done! Lewis, I've had a blast, thanks once again for the chat! I'll email you with a screenplay for episode 1 of The Lodge soon.

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