''I don't think it's apathy,'' the 32-year-old Melbourne University lecturer says. ''Young people say, 'Look, we can join a group and we can address issues that are important to us, and that is a more effective way of achieving things than electoral politics'.''
In 2008, Ellen Sandell left the office of climate change in Victoria's Department of Premier and Cabinet feeling discouraged.
''Mums calling up talkback radio to complain about something got the premier's attention straight away, whereas I could work for six months and not get the premier's attention,'' the 27-year-old says. ''I felt like I could have more of an impact on the outside.''
She is now national director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (aycc.org.au), and says the group fought to keep climate change on the agenda throughout 2010.
The Youth Climate Coalition has more than 70,000 members, double the national membership of the ALP. The recent state election review by Labor's New South Wales branch revealed the average age of members is 65. The Liberal Party does not reveal its membership numbers or profile, but in 2005 it claimed a national membership of around 80,000. It has been falling steadily for decades. In the late 1960s, more than 4 per cent of the population were members of a political party. Today that is less than 1 per cent.
Ms Sandell says 1000 Youth Climate Coalition members take part in face-to-face meetings and campaigns weekly.
But the convenience of following a cause online has led some to decry the rise of ''clicktivism''.
Ashley Moloney, a 22-year-old business consultant from Canberra, says young people share political causes online to earn approval within their circle of friends but have no desire to effect meaningful change.
''While today's youth may vocalise some constructive ideas and values via social media, they lack the courage to do anything more than update their Facebook status,'' Mr Moloney says.
It is a cynicism the chief executive of OurSay (oursay.org), Eyal Halamish, encounters often.
OurSay works by identifying an issue, hosting a web forum for people to ask and vote for their favourite question, and then arranging to have the most popular submissions answered by the nation's decision-makers. It attracts mainly young people.
This week it partnered with the Foundation for Young Australians (www.fya.org.au) to fly seven students to Canberra where they questioned the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, on education reform.
''You had about 4500 13 to 18-year-olds from across the country campaigning in the last month to get policy questions answered … to go and ask the national minister for education a question that they really care about,'' Mr Halamish says. ''It was the absolute opposite of apathy, the absolute opposite of cynicism.''
Dr Philippa Collin, who works with the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre (www.yawcrc.org.au), says dismissing online engagement as ''clicktivism'' ignores the way young people's virtual and day-to-day lives overlap.
She says online activism is invariably linked to offline conversations and the search for more information such as what goods people consume.
Dr Collin says Barack Obama's 2008 US presidential campaign offers an example to Australian politicians of how to better engage younger voters, particularly online.
''People didn't just give money, they also mobilised on and offline in massive numbers.
''Australian politicians still take a broadcast approach and view social media as a way of extending their audience and reach. People aren't looking to just receive information, they are actually looking to participate in the conversation, and more importantly to be heard.''
Dr Martin says those under 30 are slightly more likely to vote for the Greens or Labor, but warns that MPs who take the youth vote for granted do so at their peril.
He says young political temperaments were more volatile compared with the more enduring allegiances of their parents.
In 2007 Labor attracted 49 per cent of voters aged between 18 and 24. But in 2010 this dropped to 31 per cent, according to the ANU election study.
Simon Cumming, a 23-year-old student, says although his parents are Labor voters he is so unhappy about the government's recent manoeuvring towards the middle ground he would vote Liberal if Malcolm Turnbull were opposition leader.
Australian Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn has welcomed amendments passed in July to allow people to be automatically put on the electoral roll if it is believed they are eligible based on information from reliable third parties, such as Centrelink and motor registries.
At the last federal election, he said the voices of more than 3 million eligible Australians went unheard due to informal votes, registered voters who failed to vote, and eligible voters who were not enrolled.
In a recent poll by the international social survey program only 42 per cent of young people said they believed it was very important to vote regularly in elections, compared with 84 per cent of older people.
Dr Martin says older people are more likely to view voting as a civic duty, whereas the young are more probing. ''They say, 'Why should I vote? What are politicians actually doing?'''
Ellen Sandell says members of the Youth Climate Coalition include supporters of all major parties, and they resisted viewing climate change through a partisan lens. ''They want action on climate change because it just makes sense to them. They think this should be something that everyone should be able to agree on and are pretty pissed off that it is being politicised.''
The republic debate also crosses party lines. UMR research last month found 45 per cent of people under 30 wish Australia to become a republic, among the lowest of any demographic. A quarter of under-30s were undecided - the highest of any age group - but Zoe Sanders is not one of them.
The 25-year-old associate editor of literary journal Meanjin believes in same-sex marriage and abhors the mandatory detention of asylum seekers but does not find anything anachronistic in her support for the monarchy.
She said many young people ''have grown up with an idea of the monarchy that is about public service. What we see them doing is just opening things, being there, promoting good causes. They are like the school captain of the country.''
Other fault lines among the more than 50 young people interviewed included private school funding, women's rights, and the sorry state of political debate itself.
Kevin Tangga, 18, hears the sighs of disillusionment, but does not echo them.
He emigrated from the Philippines in 2006 and says a return trip two years ago opened his eyes to the violence and deprivation he once thought was normal. Upon his return to Australia, he began volunteering as a youth ambassador with the City of Casey in Melbourne's east.
''Young people see politics as a very dry and boring job, which I don't believe,'' he says. ''It's a stereotype but when you actually delve into it and learn to appreciate it, it is quite a beautiful and democratic thing.
''When I think of politics in Australia I think of equality, fairness, real justice. But when I think of politics in the Philippines, all I can think of is corruption and money, and how money and power take over something that is meant to be fair. We are blessed to have what we have and people take our democratic rights for granted.''