By Madeline Link March 24 2023
AS the Hunter’s younger voters prepare to head to polling booths for Saturday’s election, climate change, energy transition, mental health, public transport and affordable housing weigh heavy on their minds.
The Newcastle Herald spoke with five younger voters about what was important to them ahead of the NSW election on Saturday.
Voting in the Wallsend electorate, 19-year-old Alexa Stuart said she had “sleepless nights and anxiety” thinking about her future, and she felt neither of the major political parties had strong climate policies.
“We see constant natural disasters around the world, the housing crisis is going to get way worse because bushfires and floods will destroy so many homes and create climate refugees,” she said.
“The list of effects are massive … I think that it’s the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced and we’re not addressing it as that.”
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report this week delivered a clear message: act now or face irreversible climate damage, and the issue was one of the top identified in the Committee for the Hunter’s Youth Voice 2022 – a survey that laid out the aspirations and concerns of 193 people aged 15-30 in the region.
At least 75 per cent of respondents to the survey said they weren’t satisfied with the state government’s action on climate change.
Zack Schofield, 23, will vote in the Newcastle electorate, and said NSW Labor’s commitment to a Hunter clean energy transition authority was a good first step.
“We’ve seen such little action on climate change that I would feel lucky if I got the opportunity to die of old age,” he said.
“That lack of urgent action has materialised into a really delicate political situation which is reflected in the Hunter with massive tensions between the very really, immediate economic threats transition presents for people in the Upper Hunter and this looming crisis.
“If you think about it too long it drives you to depression.”
He said it was up to government to sell the idea of renewable energy transition.
“That’s why young people feel so disillusioned and cynical about the whole thing, we know what needs to be done and we’ve demanded it for decades,” he said.
For other voters, like 18-year-old Aidan Young, public transport was a pressing issue.
He lives in Wallsend and said Newcastle’s public transport was “atrocious”.
“I’m essentially reliant on it, I can’t drive yet and I’m still relying on lifts … to get to those hard-to-reach places where buses don’t go or won’t show up for two hours,” he said.
“I spent some time in Sydney and they had buses coming every eight minutes or something – we’re the second-largest city in NSW and we’ve got a half-hourly bus that’s the only real, viable option to get from Maryland all the way into town.”
Mental health was also a significant issue for the region’s youth, with more than a third of those surveyed in the Youth Voice reporting they were struggling or finding life difficult.
Singleton’s Rory Grant, 19, said he stopped going to the town’s one psychiatrist because available appointments were so few and far between.
“I think definitely there’s a stigma around it, especially in rural towns,” he said.
“There needs to be more funding for people so they don’t have to go for private options.
“Mental health facilities and supports in rural towns are just not great.”
For new mum and teacher Eugenia Whiskin, the affordability and availability of childcare was a concern, as well as public sector wage increases.
The 30-year-old will be voting in the Shortland electorate, and said it was difficult to decide whether to return to work full-time.
“I won’t go back until October and bub is four months old now, but I put my name down for childcare before he was even born,” she said.
“He’s on wait lists and you still aren’t guaranteed for a spot so it’s hard to plan for the future.
“If you look at the costs it’s a minimum of $250 a week if I go back full-time, so it’s like, do I go back full-time to afford childcare or part-time to not pay for childcare? It’s a catch-22.”
Almost all of the young people interviewed by the Herald raised housing affordability and availability as a serious concern.
With more than 100,000 young people enrolled to vote in the region, Youth Committee for the Hunter member Dylan Shoesmith said it was clear they were a growing electoral force.
“These changing demographics demonstrate that it is not electorally feasible for parties and candidates to discount the needs and aspirations of young people here in the Hunter,” he said.
The Committee for the Hunter has a list of recommendations for the elected state government, including investment to increase social, affordable and crisis housing stock and a $500 million Hunter fund to unlock 40,000 homes held up by transport infrastructure delays.