It’s easy these days to lament about the teenagers of today.
Every generation in the past has done it so why shouldn’t we? They are lazy and incompetent; they don’t care about the world or what’s happening in it; they spend most of the day glued to a screen, Snapchatting or YouTubeing or whatever it is they do; and the kicker of it is that these are the people are going to one day rule our world.
Well, if this video of Year 9 students from Newtown Performing Arts High School is any indication of the teenagers of today, then I for one am very happy for them to be our future leaders.
The video was taken on what was an ordinary school excursion to the nation’s capital, which quickly became something special when the PM’s car pulled up to the roundabout outside Parliament house where the students were sightseeing.
The PM himself then wandered over to meet the students and an impromptu Q & A session followed. The nature of the questions however clearly took Abbott by surprise. There was no messing about, no questions about homework and pocket money as Abbott may have secretly hoped. As Aria McCarthy-Lochner, the student who uploaded the video to YouTube which has received close to half a million views, later said, “Straight away, it was gay marriage, carbon tax, asylum seekers and gender equality.” It seems these are the topics that matter most to not only us adults but teenagers as well.
As the video suggests Mr Abbott is not a man who has spent much time around youth. He waffles a lot, stutters a bit, and proves that he doesn’t really have thought out responses to questions of national importance. When a student asks him about the carbon tax, after muttering something about putting up the price of electricity and saying that “there are smarter ways to reduce emissions rather than making everything expensive”, he goes on to chuck in a bit of xenophobia to the discussion by saying – “You do not save the environment by giving money to some dodgy carbon trader in Kazakhstan.”
The question about why Abbott is against legalising gay marriage receives the biggest applause, and yet unfortunately doesn’t receive a satisfactory response from the PM. “I’m not against people having a wonderful relationship. I’m all in favour of people having loving permanent relationships,” he says in his evasive manner.
There are many questions about asylum-seekers, but Abbott doesn’t have a real answer to any of them. He spouts off one-liners that may have been taken straight off Liberal Party marketing leaflets. “The truth is if people think they can get permanent residency in Australia by jumping on a leaky boat they’ll do it.” And – “The policy of turning boats around has an important qualification where it’s safe to do so.” One student in the background remarks out of frustration “Why don’t you answer the questions?”
Why doesn’t he indeed? Our PM is notoriously media shy. It was part of his political strategy to get politics out of the front pages of our newspapers. He hardly gives interviews, never really answers the tough questions and you’ll probably never see him on the ABC flagship program Q&A. He’s defended the government’s silence on asylum-seekers by saying that not talking about them is helping the process of stopping the boats.
Well, it’s certainly not helping our image as a brutal country that seems to have lost every last bit of empathy. And it’s not helping the next generation of Australians who, if these Newtown High students are to go by, aren’t being blinded by government propaganda.
For me perhaps the favourite part of the video is when a girl called LJ bluntly asks the PM – “Not saying that I don’t trust you or anything, but I was wondering, why is a man a minister for women?” Abbott answers by saying – “Human beings have an innate capacity for everything, which means that it ought to be possible for decent human beings to make decisions for other human beings.”
To this I say – sure, but where are the decent human beings? When it comes to politicals, it’s in short supply, as far as I can see. I hope Mr Abbott and his party members are able to prove me wrong.Until then I’m hanging my hopes on these teenagers asking the brave questions that perhaps many adults may have been too shy or intimidated to ask.
Saman Shad is a storyteller and playright.