Opinion By Dylan Shoesmith March 25, 2023

Young voters in the Hunter are keen to offer solutions to complex issues that are holding them back.

Young people in the Hunter have no shortage of concerns that make life harder than other places. From housing to employment, access to mental healthcare services and the economic diversification of our region.

When asked young people didn’t just tell us problems, they came to us with an important solution that could help address these complex issues. A ‘silver bullet’ we are now looking to the next NSW Government to provide leadership on.

In 2022 the Youth Committee for the Hunter surveyed young people across our region to uncover the needs, aspirations and ideas of young people from right across the Hunter region.

Youth Voice Hunter 2022 tells a story that is both inspiring, and disheartening.

Almost half of respondents identified high house and rental prices as barriers to suitable housing, with 43 per cent believing they would never be able to afford to buy a home of their own.

A staggering 75 per cent were not satisfied with the response of the State government on climate action, and only slightly fewer were not aware of opportunities to work in or contribute to a net zero energy economy here in the Hunter.

Just over 40 per cent of respondents said they would have to leave the Hunter to pursue their career ambitions.

And of significant concern, one-third of young people reported that they were struggling or finding life difficult when it came to their mental health.

Despite these significant challenges, we know young people have a keen interest in seeing our region prosper and grow. After all, is the young people of today who will shoulder the greatest responsibility of the policy decisions we make today.

But we can’t fix these problems alone.

The role of the Youth Committee for the Hunter is to connect the dots on these important issues and advocate to governments on practical solutions.

And there is one issue that if addressed has the ability to solve several of these concerns at the same time and make life much better for Hunter youth – public transport.

We heard from young people who live in major town centres across the region who struggled to find a job. Not because of their resumes, but because prospective employers worry that an employee who relies on catching public transport in the countryside cannot be relied upon to get to work on time.

Others shared their stories of being unable to find affordable homes to rent or buy. . Young people are being priced out of the communities where they grew up into urban sprawl with poor accessibility and few services. They are unwillingly detached from their communities by the tyranny of distance, exacerbated by traffic congestion, high fuel prices and lack of alternatives to travelling by private vehicle.

Accessibility of services, such as mental health professionals, for young people is determined in large part by the availability public transport. For many young people the existence of services is of little help if they are unable to physically get to them.

And there exists significant potential for governments to take concrete action on climate through public transport, creating new green job opportunities Hunter’s young seek. With the transport sector being the second highest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the State, the opportunity exists for Government to work with local business to demonstrate the feasibility of electric vehicles, hydrogen and green fuels here in the Hunter.

With a proud energy generation and manufacturing heritage and growing investment in renewables, it would be fitting for the Hunter to pioneer the transition and become the first a net zero public transport network in NSW.

From Muswellbrook to Maryland, Bulahdelah to Bonnells Bay, the availability of public transport is a significant determinant of the job, education, housing and health prospects of young people.

Fixing public transport is as good as a silver bullet to many of the complex challenges facing young people in the Hunter.

With over 100,000 young people in the Hunter enrolled to vote, it is necessary for political leaders and candidates to take seriously the issues afflicting young people and support policy solutions that address these concerns.

Young people are now an electoral force in our region. Candidates and the next NSW Government would do well to keep them in mind.