On May 18, Australians will head to the polls. And there's one question that should be on every candidate's mind: what issues are on the minds of young people?
Young people have helped determine many political outcomes, such as the 2017 marriage equality survey, and they are a key demographic that could swing the federal election. Yet too often, the voices, needs and experiences of young people from rural and regional areas are ignored by our politicians.
After tens of thousands of students walked out of their classrooms in March to campaign for stronger action on climate change, there was no major funding commitment in the recent federal budget.
Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) asked five young people and here's what they told us.
For 20-year-old autism advocate and YACVic rural activator Bryce Pace, disability and the NDIS are at the top of his mind.
"My vote is counting on there being more action taken towards disability, particularly better access to the NDIS for individuals on the autism spectrum.
"Currently, it is almost impossible for them to access this funding, making many services difficult to reach," the Bacchus Marsh resident said.
This is part of a broader societal problem in the lack of inclusion of young autistics.
"Ninety per cent of autistics are bullied, and our mortality rate is twice that of the general population with suicide being one of the top causes. Additionally, eight out of 10 young autistics drop out of school before year 12, affecting our ability to access employment.
"Communities need more education around autism, and the government needs to take the lead by providing communities with these important opportunities."
Taylor Johnstone, 20, from Warrnambool, says his vote is counting on what will be done for youth mental health.
"It goes beyond funding new centres, we need more mental health education programs which help young people identify when something feels wrong, and what to do about it."
Taylor, who sits on Orygen's Youth Research Council, believes education by young people for young people can help others apply skills and knowledge in their own lives.
"Mental health education is the major way of learning how we prevent certain behaviours, and empower young people to take care of themselves."
Jack Mendes, 19, from Bass Coast will focus on education.
"Growing up, the local small-town primary school I attended barely had a sports ground, and there was a significant disparity between the facilities of independent and state high schools," Jack said.
"Fundamentally, it shouldn't matter what school you go to or where you grow up. Everyone should be able to access the level of education they desire."
Deakin teaching student Brodi Purtill, 19, from Swan Hill, said her vote will depend on policies tackling climate change.
"My vote will definitely be counting on action on climate change. As we've seen recently with the School Strike 4 Climate, this is on the minds of many young people.
"Clearly if you listen to the scientists, if we don't do anything about it now, my grandchildren won't have a world to live in."
Oxfam worker Madelyn Hay, 24, from Shepparton, agrees we are at a turning point. "We need to implement strong policies and take action to tackle climate change. We need a government who will lead a change in the way we commute, the way we work, the way we live."
She also thinks more needs to be done to tackle worsening inequality.
Another major issue for young people is the lack of education around voting.
"We don't have the opportunity to learn about our democratic political system and how it works. I've had to teach myself everything over the past few years," Jack said.
By the time young people reach the ballot box, they're often confused.
"Young people want to know who is behind the box on the voting paper and what they stand for before they make a vote." Brodi said.
Young people also feel that their voices aren't being heard. "Leaders continually and significantly underestimate how engaged young people are and can be when given the opportunity," Madelyn said.
"Federal politics often excludes young people from having a voice in decisions that affect Australia and their own future," Bryce agreed.
In response, young people aren't waiting on adults to lead social and political change, and are increasingly sharing with their peers what they care about.
"I'm eager and excited to be encouraging other young people to be invested and informed when they vote," Taylor said.
This election, YACVic is calling on all parties and candidates to commit to a federal youth minister, a federal youth engagement mechanism, funding for a national peak body for young people, funding for National Youth Week and a whole-of-government strategy developed with young people.
On May 18, let's vote to empower young people.
Thomas Feng is YACVic's media and communications manager.
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