Labor in vain: Gen Z anger apparent as PM risks alienating these future voters
Anthony Albanese has again committed to pushing ahead with the stage three tax cuts in July. Photo: Getty
Before Friday’s School Strike for Palestine in the Sydney CBD, I’d never heard the Arabic word sharmuta.
You can Google the direct translation, but the context it was being used in gives you a pretty good idea of how the thousands of students who marched through the city felt about Anthony Albanese and the federal Labor government’s ongoing refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Allyssa, Lilly and Jana are high school students from Cherrybrook in Sydney’s northwest. Footage of Albanese’s old speeches in support of Palestine that has been circulating on social media only adds to their anger and sense of betrayal.
“Why was he supporting Palestine then but not now? He’s the Prime Minister! He has all this power to try and stop this genocide and he just hasn’t done anything,” Jana says.
NSW Premier Chris Minns and federal Education Minister Jason Clare, both of whom spent the week urging students not to march, are also on the nose.
“The adults are telling us we need to stay in school and get an education and that we don’t know what we’re talking about,” Lilly says. “But we see the footage from Gaza! We see the Israeli government’s propaganda. It’s backwards. Why are teenagers the ones who are having to march?”
The strength of the backlash against the government’s near-silence on Gaza seems to have caught Labor by surprise.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s electorate office has set up a dedicated redirect for the thousands of people calling to complain about her refusal to call for a ceasefire. Since October 7, every post on Albanese’s Instagram page has been flooded with comments expressing outrage and disgust.
Shrinking voter base
The enormous and ongoing weekly rallies for a permanent ceasefire and an end to the occupation show the government’s stance on Palestine alone is causing tremendous anger among younger voters, especially those of Palestinian, Muslim or Arab backgrounds. But anger has been building among voters aged 35 and under since well before October 7 – or even before Labor was elected 18 months ago.
Last year’s federal election shone a light on the fact that younger voters are abandoning the Coalition at a rate never seen before in Australian political history. The recent Australian Election Study report, Gen Z are different, found that only 27 per cent of Millennials and 17 per cent of Gen Z voters supported the Liberal and National parties in 2022.
What has gained less attention is the fact that the Greens and independents, not Labor, have been the main beneficiaries. A huge 31 per cent of Gen Z voters backed the Greens in 2022, compared to 34 per cent who voted Labor. Some 35 per cent of Millennials gave Labor their vote, while 17 per cent backed the Greens and 21 per cent turned to independents.
For many younger Australians, none of this is surprising. People who were raised on their parents’ nostalgic remembrances of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating are experiencing a Labor government for the first time in their adult lives. Those of us old enough to have lived through the Rudd-Gillard years might remember the Apology, the stimulus package that saved Australia from the worst of the global financial crisis and the carbon tax, but more than a decade has passed since then.
For nine years Labor was able to sell itself to young voters as the alternative to the Coalition’s inaction on the climate, the cost of living, housing affordability and generational inequality. But 18 months into a Labor government, it feels as if little has changed. Landlords can still jack up the rent at will. Instead of cost-of-living relief, we’re told to skip trips to the dentist. People are putting off having kids because of the climate crisis – and between growing student debt and the ongoing insanity of house prices, who can afford kids anyway?
Adding insult to injury is the fact that Albanese is the one now doubling down on this status quo. Since being elected to parliament in 1996 Albanese has assiduously built his image as Albo’, the loveable, Rabbitohs-supporting regular bloke who cares about the little guy.
But Albanese as Prime Minister is a very different person – one who never shuts up about growing up in public housing but has done almost nothing on housing affordability; who talks about the urgency of climate change while approving new coal mines and gas fields; who plans to supercharge the massive transfer of wealth from the young and struggling to the old and negatively-geared through the planned stage three tax cuts; and who supported Palestine until he didn’t.
The one politician Lilly, Allyssa and Jana mention positively is Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, who was cheered when she told the students they were “on the right side of history”.
“We haven’t voted before, but when we do, this generation will do their research and make sure we’re supporting parties that support our values,” Allyssa says.
For many under-35s, Albanese’s inaction on Palestine has been a moment of realisation: the Labor Party they grew up hearing about simply doesn’t exist anymore.
Note: I am a signatory to the open letter urging Australian media outlets to improve their reportage on Palestine.