Words || Elizabeth Laughton
I consider myself one of the unlucky ones. I started my first session at university… underage.
If you just shuddered, you were probably having flashbacks to your own era of public sobriety. I never thought being underage on campus would be such an irritant until I saw the pints they sell at Ubar. Underage and depraved, as per usual.
It hasn’t been a total tragedy – I can actually vote on campus! I still can’t vote on how my taxes are blown by anonymous government staff, so voting on how my student amenities fees are spent feels incredibly refreshing. It sounds square, but I was actually looking forward to voting in student elections.
Then the poll menu came out and I realised I was looking at a historically popular ticket that wants to ban ‘children’ on campus. Gulp. That’s me. So now, not only am I ‘sober’ on campus, but I’m not wanted on it by a technicality of a few months.
While I jeer and I jest, this student election has actually prompted me to reflect on what really sucks about being underage. Surprisingly, it’s not the no drinking thing, it’s the no say in democratic structures thing.
For instance, I was too young to vote in the same-sex marriage plebiscite of 2018. There were a few days that glimmered with the hope that sixteen and seventeen year-olds could partake in the vote. As a young queer person finally coming to terms with my identity, I was ecstatic at the possibility. I was tired of watching people debate something I saw as needing no debate – I want to marry the person I love one day. This was my chance to vote on such a matter. Then of course, the Australian Electoral Commission freaked out and tweeted (of all things) that no, the minimum age for partaking in the plebiscite was eighteen. I was pushed to the side.
That said, it was nice being free from voting in the 2019 state election. I happily watched from the sidelines of that train wreck. I felt free from the responsibility of caring and revelled in a brief period of political desensitisation sparked by PHL137.
Now we’re facing the federal election. I’m back on my ‘caring about shit’ juice and ScoMo has called the election just before my eighteenth birthday. Now I’ve missed the deadline (again) to vote on something real and pressing. This time around, it’s climate change. Cheers to another election dominated by spending money and not necessarily saving the earth. I feel relegated to the back seat – nay, the booster seat – where I must watch other people vote on things that affect me.
So, whilst I’m feeling a bit awkward about a certain anti-kiddo election policy, I’m glad I can actually vote in this election. Being at university has already afforded me more freedom than any other institution has yet. I might not be let into Cosmic Jungle but I’m certainly learning a lot about myself and others.
If you’re dreading making the effort to vote in the upcoming federal election, just remember I still have to ask my mum for a sip of her UDL at dinner. Embrace the simultaneous responsibilities and freedoms being of-age brings you, and don’t forget to drink (and vote) responsibility.