Laura Melrose, right, and her friend Bonnie Hart at the 2019 This That festival. Photo: SUPPLIED

Young, enfranchised and ready to swing


They are sick of politicians courting their parents' vote at the expense of the things they love to do.

As NSW gears up for a hotly contested election this Saturday, politicians from all sides have paid scant attention to one emerging demographic despite its increasing political engagement and record-high enrolment rates.

The "young vote" carries extra weight this election with the enrolment of an additional 50,000 NSW voters aged under 30 compared to the 2015 State election.

Young people aged 18-34 now account for more than a quarter of NSW's enrolled voting population, according to the Australian Electoral Commission's 2018 records.

While low enrolment has historically been an issue among younger populations, the renewed surge in registrations appears to have been partly prompted by the same sex marriage postal survey, with 15,000 people aged under 30 enrolling in NSW in the two weeks before the plebiscite enrolment deadline.

Katie Acheson, CEO of Youth Action, a research and advocacy group, said with increased access to information online, young people increasingly directly engaged in political causes, in a way that politicians often overlooked.

"Young people are really informed, and sometimes they are overwhelmed about what they see in the world and in their backyard. They lack trust in politicians, and there is a decline in a belief of the system being good for all people," Acheson said.

"So, young people are starting to rally because they feel like they are not being heard – and the truth is they are not."

She said research shows the current generation of young voters are swing voters – driven by promises of action, without strong alignment with any political party.

"With an election like the NSW one being so close, young voters really represent the deciding vote in this election," Acheson said.

Opinion polls over the past month have had the two major parties neck and neck and this week's YouGov/Galaxy poll published by TheDaily Telegraph, forecast a hung parliament.

"A lot of people in general, but particularly young people, think 'is my vote going to matter or is it all just a wash?' But actually, for this election, 100 per cent yes – and particularly in marginal seats."

Acheson said while young people express broad concerns about education, employment, climate, and health issues, the government's recent crackdown on music festivals and refusal to consider alternative options such as pill testing demonstrates how they are "out of touch" with younger views and behaviours.

"I think it just shows that the government doesn't think that young people are going to make a difference in the voting, that they [should instead] try to win over the votes of parents or the older community who are outraged by drug use."

The issue of music festivals came to a head at a February rally in Sydney with tens of thousands of people protesting the tightened regulations – which took place on the same day that Berejiklian announced a new licensing scheme for festivals on the basis of their perceived 'risk'.

An open letter by the organisers of the rally, Don't Kill Live Music Australia, addressed to the State government has since attracted more than 128,000 signatures, condemning the government's "war on music and culture".

The sentiment has also proved popular on social media: a Facebook public 'event' titled "Shut Down Gladys" has nearly 28,000 responses. The organisers have declared March 23 "Gladys Removal Day" and are purportedly planning a "huge FREE party that will rage all night and all weekend" in Hyde Park. Similar events titled '"Not Vote for Gladys Berejiklian and the Liberals" and "Catapulting Gladys Berejiklian out of NSW" had respectively nearly 18,000 and 14,000 responses at the time of writing.

The Premier is counting on the Liberals' campaign pledge to create 250,000 jobs in the youth sector over the next four years to combat her reputation with young people as the fun police politician more interested in courting their parents' vote than their own.

Late in the campaign, NSW Labor is promising a fightback against the Liberals' war on live music and The Greens are targeting young voters with "a plan to stop Gladys' War on Fun". MusicNSW is running a 2019 State election report cardon where the different parties stand. The government's column is a line of red crosses.

High security at recent festivals has changed the relaxed vibe, say festival goers.Photo: LAURA MELROSE

University student Laura Melrose, 24, attends dozens of music festivals across Australia each year both as a patron and for work, and attended the "Don't Kill Live Music" rally in Sydney after noticing that the government's crackdown over summer had created a "confronting" environment at recent music festivals.

"There was high security, police everywhere, and people watching you – like 1984 vibes," Melrose said. "For a festival which hasn't had any issues before in the past, and to which people are just going along to have a dance and get dressed up, it was quite a confronting experience.

"I think the major parties' responses both to these issues and to the smaller parties cropping up to advocate for them is indicative of how much, or little, value they attribute to the voices of young people."

A similar frustration prompted anti-lockout law activist group Keep Sydney Open to make the move to running as a registered political party for the first time, with candidates in 42 electorates.

"It became clear that even though there was great outrage [about lockout laws], there was just no way that our voice was going to be heard by the government and mainstream politics. The logical stance to change the view was… to get involved," said Jacob Shteyman, Keep Sydney Open candidate for Davidson, on Sydney's north shore.

A 22-year-old marketing and film studies student and Uber driver, Shteyman said he "wasn't really politically active more than a few months ago," but found the policies resonated when he attended Keep Sydney Open's meetings with a friend.

With a primary focus on ending lockouts, legalising pill testing facilities, and investing in local arts, both the party's candidates and most of their interested supporters are young people. Yet for Shtyeman, these issues, which might be perceived trivial by some, "are part of a much larger issue".

"[It is about] culture, and our voice being heard. If you can't have a venue or a place where a community can get together, it makes those areas much less liveable."

Running in a blue-ribbon Liberal seat, Shteyman admitted that he faces "a bit of a fight".

"I don't think we'll be able to unseat the massive parties, that's not what we are trying to do. We are trying to get a voice in parliament which is not currently there.

"With this current makeup of both houses [the election is] going to be extremely tight, and our voice, which is a minority voice, can be extremely powerful, and take the interests of young people and bring them more into the decision-making process."


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