Young Western Sydney Voters On Being The “Golden Goose” Of The Federal Election

"You can't have someone who's never been to Western Sydney trying to advocate for the issues that people in Western Sydney face."

Western Sydney Election

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In the lead up to the federal election on Saturday, all eyes are once again on Western Sydney.

The diverse, expansive, and often misrepresented NSW hub has received special attention from both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during their respective campaigns, with the seat of Lindsay being described as a Coalition ‘bellwether’ throughout 12 of the last 13 elections.

According to Western Sydney University, five of the 14 federal electorates in the area are marginal, and “if recent history is a guide, Western Sydney voters could substantially influence wider results, even tilt the outcome”. This election may prove to no longer be as simple as a traditional Labor heartland slowly being scooped back by former Howard battlers out West.

Greater Western Sydney is the third largest economy in the country — expanding across 9000 square kilometres, filled with residents from 170 countries who share over 100 languages, with a socioeconomic divide from the wider city. It’s an area as dynamic as its ability to swing the election, but for some reason, its young voters have been left out of the conversation.

The Youth Vote

“Everyone right now is feeling a lot more pressure,” Ali Sina Yousofi, a Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network ambassador from Mount Druitt, told Junkee. “Especially the youths that have just turned 18 and starting to vote — they don’t know who to vote for.

“All you see is just posters of candidates who are running, but you don’t know any information about them, you don’t know their values. And that’s putting on a lot of pressure because you get a certain time limit to enroll, but you don’t have enough time to see all the individual candidates.

It’s a sentiment shared more broadly with young people across Australia, who have felt unheard and unaddressed in the weeks-long campaign slog.

“We want to see what they’re going to promise to do for us in Western Sydney…”

Junkee visited Penrith to hear their opinions ahead of election day, and a number of first and second-time voters said they weren’t aware an election was happening until recently, weren’t coming across the ad campaigns, and didn’t know who they were going to vote for yet on Saturday.

“I saw the leader debates and it was mostly just [Morrison and Albanese] criticising each other, trying to pinpoint the other’s problems,” said Yousofi. “We want to see what they’re going to actually do for us in Western Sydney — there’s a lot of inequalities going around with housing prices, student debts — but we haven’t really heard that from their campaigns.”

When asked if he felt the major parties have his home’s best interests at heart, he laughs. “I don’t think so. They might promise to do this or that to entice us and get our vote, but I don’t think they’re going to commit to [their policies] if they actually win the election.”

Lockdown Lingerings

Fibha Frameen, also at MYAN, told Junkee that this election she’s looking for parties who will support climate change action, secure employment paths, and access to the housing market for young people.

A report released in April by Youth Action on unemployment found that nearly 40 percent of job losses during the pandemic were experienced by people living in Western Sydney and regional NSW, while the area also faced over-policing, and stricter lockdown restrictions.

“Young people are frustrated at the moment, especially in the West,” explained the advocate from the Merrylands, who saw firsthand the unfairly punitive double standards on the area during COVID. “Lockdown restrictions were really harsh, a lot of people lost their jobs, local businesses were affected, and we had little-to-no support from the state or federal government,” she said.

It’s left a poor taste in many mouths there, with a report by the Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre pointing towards distrust and mental health being the two biggest concerns coming out of lockdown last year.

“A lot of people are feeling inferior because now you’re seeing politicians who have never walked the streets of Western Sydney coming in, walking, speaking to local businesses, trying to speak to young people right before the election,” said Frameen. “But where were they when we actually needed them during the COVID-19 lockdown?”

Representation Long Overdue

“We’ve been hearing that representation is key, and we need to represent more people in politics. But when it comes to actual representation, we don’t often get represented,” said Frameen. “Women are under-represented, young people are under-represented, people of colour are under-represented, Indigenous people are under-represented, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are under-represented.”

Last September, local hopeful and daughter of Vietnamese refugees Tu Le lost her bid to represent her hometown after a pre-selection battle saw Northern Beaches resident Kristina Keneally choppered in for the seat of Fowler in southwest Sydney. The deputy Labor leader will now battle it out with Independent candidate Dai Le in what the Sydney Morning Herald has described as “most closely watched contests on election night”.

Then, in March, the Opposition picked millionaire Andrew Charlton over three POC candidates for the Western Sydney seat of Parramatta. To top it off, this month, Liberal Member for Reid Fiona Martin seemingly mistook Labor contender Sally Sitou for Tu Le, in what has only pointed to a wider problem with diverse representation in politics.

“There are a lot of young people and people of colour helping with the election campaigns, but when it comes to getting a seat on the table, we don’t have one,” said Frameen. “You can’t have someone who’s never been to Western Sydney trying to advocate for the issues that people in Western Sydney face”.

On a Q&A episode targeting the concerns of undecided voters, the panel was asked if more was needed to be done to support and encourage minority representation in politics, after what went down in Fowler and Parramatta, to which Labor MP Catherine King argued that she thinks diversity is actually happening.

“When it comes to actual representation, we don’t often get represented.”

“It’s slower than many of us would like — I understand that — but I think we are starting to see that,” she said, to which Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher replied, “I think people in Western Sydney are pretty tired of being taken for granted by the Labor Party, quite frankly, and the Labor Party has taken Western Sydney for granted for a long time.”

However, Associate Lecturer at the Australian National University Intifar Chowdhury shut them both down with what she described as a shameful, repeated fallacy.

“The problem has been there for a very long time. And this is what, you know, people from minority groups, from equity groups, from marginalised groups, from young people, is that how long is it going to take for these problems to not be a problem?” she said. “Representation is a very big problem, especially among a disenchanted electorate.”

Lucky Seat

The Guardian described Western Sydney as the “golden goose” of the Federal Election, but the young people living there feel more like a pawn on a chessboard.

“I want to see more representation, I want to see more of politicians talking about Western Sydney and what they can do for us. We want to see them being more trustworthy and accountable,” said Yousofi. “All the youth out there, if you’re over 18, please go vote. Vote for whatever values align with the parties, it’s important. Our voices do count.”

Millie Roberts is Junkee’s social justice reporter. Follow her on Twitter.