* I presented this speech as the winner of the Cambridge District Rotary 4Way Test Public Speaking Competition in August 2019
“Children should be seen, but not heard”.
That ‘olden days’ saying from a hundred years ago means that children should be displayed as cute creatures by their parents, but should not disrupt adults by making noise. But still, many adults treat children as if they shouldn’t have any voice. Is that fair to our generation? Today so many more things are directly affecting children – our generation – more than any previous generation.
Issues like climate change, artificial intelligence and inappropriate material in the media and on the Internet. So, can we trust adults, politicians, to make the right decisions for our generation, and for our future? Well I think the answer is … “no, we can’t” and I’ll give you three reasons.
First, the average Australian politician is about 55 years old, which means that they were born in the 1960s, went to school in the 1970s, before computers existed, and watched black-and-white TVs. You can’t be cyberbullied on a black-and-white TV!
How can people who grew up 50 years ago understand what challenges children face today?
My second true statement: Politicians are motivated to make decisions that help them get elected, again and again and again – as they get older and older. And because the election happens every three to four years or so, politicians are mainly thinking about whether their decisions will be popular in a few years time, not for the long term.
A perfect example is climate change. We all know climate change is caused by our industries and the way we live our lives. But no one is prepared to make a long-term decision to help our industries produce less carbon dioxide, because some people may lose their jobs and those people vote against the government, sacrificing the health of our future environment for short-term adult votes.
My third and final statement is that only people aged over 18 can vote. This means that we children don’t even have a voice in our political system – not only are we not heard, we’re not even seen, unless we go on big strikes which we’re not really allowed to do anyway.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that Governments must take into account the views of children, especially if those children are old and mature enough to understand. I’m not saying five year olds should get to vote. They would vote for the Wiggles or the Ice Cream Party.
Many countries have already lowered their voting age to 16 years, and some countries are even debating lowering the voting age to 14 years. I’m 11 but I trust teenagers to vote for the same serious issues that are important to me.
Giving our generation a voice in our political system will be beneficial, build goodwill, improve relationships between the different generations and, overall, strengthen our society – just as giving women and indigenous people the vote did.
Nobody wants to feel excluded, ignored or even worse, irrelevant.