Audio: Students want rent relief, climate action, end to 'immense inequality'

Best of 2023

UNSW students speak out on the issues that matter most to them, ahead of the NSW State Election.

Climate change, housing and the cost of living are three issues at the forefront of young people’s minds, just days away from the NSW State election.

A survey of students on UNSW’s Kensington campus identified these issues as the most likely to influence who they vote for on Saturday.

Of the 128 students surveyed, 73 per cent were aware an election was being held, though for many, the details were blurry. For some students, it meant voting for the first time and their reactions ranged from excited, to having “no idea what I have to do”, to only doing it to avoid getting fined.

Students want the new government to address the cost of rental housing, saying it is preventing students from moving out of home. “I have friends and family who have had to couch surf, people who have incomes as well, can’t find a place cause there’s hundreds [of people] lining up to look at a mouldy, damp, expensive unit,” Arts student Cherish Kuelhmann, 23, who serves as Education Officer on the Student Representative Council, said.

‘I’m very passionate about the environment, I don’t want the world to be on fire in 50 years.’

“I’m living alone as a student, so it’s very difficult … it’s very expensive,” Media student Ruby Bentvelzen said. “Especially for young people, how are they ever going to end up leaving home?”

The UNSW results reflect the findings of a broader survey by Youth Action, a not-for-profit organisation focused on youth issues in NSW, which published its “NSW Election 2023: What Matters to Young People” report in March. The survey of 1000 young people found cost of living, work/employment and the environment topped the list of issues that would influence their vote. It revealed they were most worried about the “cost of food and groceries, rent and utilities”.

“I don’t want people to fuck around with my money," said first-time voter, UNSW student J.Roy.

“I don’t want people to increase the rent, because the bank account already hurting.” Though hesitant, he says he will “perhaps” vote for the greens. “I like the colour green,” he said. “The environment’s kinda gas, I like the environment.”

For Rosie West, 20, a Music and Engineering student, the environment is also of critical concern. “I’m very passionate about the environment, I don’t want the world to be on fire in 50 years,” she said.

While most UNSW students focused on the big issues, for some the concern was closer to home. Aidan Knight, 18, a Mechatronic Engineering student from Newcastle, raised a local environmental/employment issue. “There’s a big issue about the government not letting Newcastle diversify away from coal,” he said, referencing the city’s desire to build a container shipping terminal. “I’m hoping that’s something that Labor and the Greens are pushing for.”

UNSW student Milina Mihic, 20, a Music/Science undergraduate, fully intends to vote on Saturday, last time she forgot and was fined. Her vote will be influenced by the parties' attitudes to the LGBT+ community and she welcomed the recent banning of gay conversion therapy in NSW. "It should have been banned a long time ago".

The other issue she flagged was the cost of transport in Sydney. Tackling surging petrol prices would reduce the hefty cost of her one-hour university commute. “Now, with petrol prices rising, [my car] takes almost $200 to fill up a whole tank,” she said. "It's insane, a bit crazy."

A big priority for UNSW Media student Liam Verity is Australia’s gambling issue. “Labor’s response to that has been really horrible,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious that there’s some considerable pressure coming from the clubs and the gambling industry.”

While this has deterred him from Labor’s policies, he is not hopeful about Liberals' approaches to the broader issues of the energy crisis and cost of living. “I’m still undecided about how I’m going to vote,” he said. “The cynic in me wants to say that nothing’s going to change either way, but I’ll guess we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Others are more hopeful and some first-time voters are looking forward to finally “having a say”. The Youth Action survey showed 58 per cent of young people surveyed thought voting was important; 16 per cent said they had only registered to avoid fines. UNSW Arts/Law student Sarah D’Souza believes that voting should be mandatory, so that the Australian public can be accurately represented. “Just doing it to avoid the fine isn’t the point of voting, especially in a country that prides itself in having a liberal democracy,” she said.

Early voting is now open at selected locations ahead of the March 25 election.

— Audio interviews by Liam Verity, Ania Rezaie, Kwadwo Frimpong, Jade Lee, Eleni Nicholas, Sarah Mitchell and Yue Hun Chia.


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