Climate changed the voting choices of young, urban South Australians in the federal election

Image Source: The Daily Star

By Alexandra Fitzpatrick, Josh Brine, Natasha Miller and Zoe Kassiotis | @poppy_fitz @ZKassiotis

Prior to polling day, the New York Times called the 2019 federal election “Australia’s Climate Change Election”, where citizens would vote for urgent and major action against climate change.

However, despite its more conservative climate change policies in comparison to the other parties, the Coalition was surprisingly re-elected.

Nevertheless, post-election research by Deloitte showed that the climate emergency still played a major role in how young people voted.

Lead partner of Deloitte Australia David Brown said there was “considerable agitation around climate change leading up to the federal election and the new government must address the issue or face polarising these generations even further”.

Experts predict rising sea levels and temperatures will trigger notable environmental implications, which will pose substantial challenges in the future of young Australians.

According to 2016 data from the Australian Election Study, young people were significantly more worried about climate change than the rest of the population, with 84 per cent of 18 to 24year-olds labelling climate change a serious threatan 18 per cent rise from 2013.

The ABC’s Vote Compass research prior to this year’s federal election showed the environment was the most important issue for nearly two out of five voters under 34-years-old.

Twenty-two-year-old activist Mariah Appleby said climate change policies had the greatest influence on who she voted for in the federal election.

“It’s a huge issue for me as a young person,” Ms Appleby said.

“Climate change is going to affect my future and future generations as well.”

This election cycle, younger voters were more engaged than ever before.

The Triple J What’s Up in Your World survey from earlier this year found that almost 70 per cent of 18 to 29year-olds were interested in federal politics.

Gavan McFadzean, Climate Change and Clean Energy Program Manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, explained that young people are more engaged with politics now because they feel current politicians do not share their views.

“Decisions being made now compromise their future, and I think young people are really aware of that,” Mr McFadzean said.

The Triple J survey also revealed that 89 per cent of young voters do not believe Australian politicians are working in the best interests of the planet.

“There’s a deep frustration that politicians act in their own best interests and are influenced by the power of corporate decision makers over the interest of the general public,” Mr McFadzean. 

Prior to the election, twenty-year-old student Brianna Glekas expressed her concern for a future determined by the effects of climate change.

“I believe the world has ignored the inevitability of climate change for too long… it’s affecting our planet each day and I will be voting for the party with the strongest environmental values,” Ms Glekas said.

Greens candidate for the Grey electorate in South Australia Candace Champion said it was fundamentally important for the younger generation to be heard, seen, and involved with politics.

“The future belongs to the younger generations and we must work with the young people to ensure they have a valid input in how we shape and create a future of our nation and future generations,” Ms Champion said.

Policies on climate change varied greatly between the major political parties; Liberal, Labor, and The Greens.

In February, the Liberal Government announced the Climate Solutions Package, which it said would take action on climate change “while growing the economy and keeping energy prices down”.

The package included a commitment to the expansion of the Snowy Mountain hydro-electric facility, funding for battery projects to store energy, and a National Electric Vehicle Strategy.

Experts and policy groups were highly critical of the policy.

“Ultimately – the Federal Government is doubling down on a bad policy,” Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council of Australia, said in a post on the organisation’s website.

“These measures will do little to protect Australians from worsening extreme weather and climate events.” 

Labor’s Climate Change Action Policy committed to more ambitious emission reduction targets and stronger caps on Australia’s biggest polluters than the Coalition’s plan.

While Ms McKenzie said this plan represented a step in the right direction, it was still insufficient.

“If elected, the ALP would need to rapidly ratchet up these policies… but, the ALP’s announcement is a substantial step forward and can be celebrated,” she said.

The Greens produced an extensive climate change policy platform, proposing a full transition of energy production from fossil fuels to renewables by 2030, with a goal to have net zero carbon emissions by 2040; the most reform of any major party.

Based on these policies, young people tended to vote for Labor and The Greens.

While this support was visible in the inner-city electorate of Adelaide, where Labor retained its seat and The Greens gained over eight per cent in the primary vote, there were swings towards the Liberal Party across the board in South Australia’s rural seats.

Matt McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Queensland, said in an article for the ABC that the significant changes to climate policy proposed by Labor were a bridge too far for rural voters.

But the push by young people for greater action on climate change is not over.

In a post-election statement, Australian Youth Climate Coalition National Director Gemma Borgo-Caratti said “If the incoming Coalition Government think they can continue ignoring questions about climate change and propping up the big polluters, they have another thing coming”. 

“While far right forces and big fossil fuel companies poured money into frightening Queensland communities … we’re building a grassroots movement who can see through the scare tactics and are envisioning a brighter future for everyone in this country.”

Young urban South Australians were convinced of the importance of climate action, which had a major impact onhow they voted.

But the next challenge for climate activists, the Labor Party and The Greens, according to Dr McDonald is to “build communities of concern that genuinely extend beyond the inner-cities”.

Young Australians between 18 and 29-years-old will continue to face an uphill battle, with the quantity of votes from their demographic paling in comparison to those of an ageing population.

“Young people always rank higher when it comes to social justice and environmental issues, they show greater concern for those issues than their older counterparts,” Mr McFadzean said.

Despite this, the continued engagement of young people in politics, a determination to hold the government accountable, and personal efforts to care for the environment will hopefully see a future that is not as dire as scientists warn.

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