Words by Emma, 27 WA
The concept of compulsory service is not new, with many countries such as South Korea and Norway requiring young people to serve their country. When the majority of the world is at peace, something like this seems harmless and encourages patriotism and connection with their peers. But given the ongoing threat of war and climate-related disasters like bushfires and floods, we run the risk of the throwing young, under-trained young people into dangerous real-world disasters.
I am all for increased investment into youth-focused programs, especially as someone who grew up in a regional town in Western Australia and didn’t have much access to extracurricular activities. However, I think compulsory service, whether it be community-focused or military-focused, is a step too far.
People are going to feel more invested in a program that they actually believe in and have made a conscious choice to attend.
While there may be a few people in a compulsory service regime that did want to join it, or find themselves enjoying it over time, many will resent having to do it. It may actually create greater negative views regarding their community and their peers. I think it would be better to focus attention on a smaller group that is engaged with the process and wants to improve and support their community, rather than focusing on a large group who are largely disinterested and could only serve to alienate them further.
Whilst this may be a well-meaning initiative, it could serve to create greater resentment in communities where misinformation runs rampant. Given the Australian climate at the moment, many Australians have developed a resentment of government intervention. Whilst I would love to see young people have opportunities to develop their work-readiness and foster greater relationships with their peers in communities where there may be few opportunities – I think at a time like this, compulsory service seems a step too far.
There are many interim measures that can help bring young people together – through social movements, to cadets to sporting clubs. I believe that starting with investing there is likely to create a greater impact on young people than forcing them to participate in a well-meaning community activity or social movement that doesn’t align with their beliefs.
Something needs to be done, but it shouldn’t start with compulsory service.