A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Projects

From isolation to activism: First-time voter hopes political heat will drive climate action

First-time voter and high school activist Kyra Hatzikosmidis identifies urgency on climate action and social justice as the key issues on young people’s minds, Sean Ruse reports. Meet the voters of Victoria’s most marginal seat in our special series Chisholm’s Choice, in collaboration with Crikey.com.au.

From isolation to activism: First-time voter hopes political heat will drive climate action

"It’s been fun to bombard my friends with ‘Hey, are you enrolled to vote yet? Here’s the link.’ There’s been a great response.” First-time voter and climate activist Kyra Hatzikosmidis at a park near her home in Mount Waverley. Photo: Sean Ruse

Words by Sean Ruse
 

As the pandemic raged in 2021, forcing high school students to work in the isolation of their bedrooms, you could forgive teenagers for tuning out of politics. But for Kyra Hatzikosmidis, then 17 and in year 11, it was exactly the moment that fired her passion for activism.

When a group of teenagers took Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley to court in May 2021 to assert that the government had a duty of care to the young generation to protect the environment, Hatzikosmidis felt an urgent need to get on board.

“My parents aren’t extremely political,” she says, sitting down to chat on a park bench in a bushy local reserve near her home in the well-heeled, deep suburbia of Mount Waverley. “But when those [high school students] first went to court, that was a huge inspiration for me to actually get properly involved. I happened to be at that pivotal age when you start forming your opinions of the greater world and what you believe in politically.”

Now in her final year of high school and about to vote for the first time, Hatzikosmidis has been busy researching the climate crisis and, emboldened by the federal government’s lack of action on the issue, joined the School Strike for Climate activist group.

Climate change is, she declares, the defining issue of her generation.

“I do see the climate crisis as the most important issue for this election, because we are running out of time to make meaningful action,” she says.

First-time voter and climate activist Kyra Hatzikosmidis in a zoom meeting with fellow School Strike for Climate activist Charlotte, co-organiser of the Chisholm Climate Forum scheduled for 30 April. Photo: Sean Ruse

First-time voter and climate activist Kyra Hatzikosmidis in a zoom meeting with fellow School Strike for Climate activist Charlotte, co-organiser of the Chisholm Climate Forum scheduled for 30 April. Photo: Sean Ruse

Far from feeling apathetic about politics through the drudgery of lockdown, Hatzikosmidis couldn’t wait to vote. She enrolled as soon as the Australian Electoral Commission letter arrived, after her 17th birthday, and has been energetically encouraging her peers to do the same. She says while some young people have been confused around the enrollment process, she has been involved in a huge youth-led push to boost engagement.

“There have been events, get togethers and call parties, where we try getting our friends and other people we know to enroll to vote. It’s been fun to bombard my friends with ‘Hey, are you enrolled to vote yet? Here’s the link.’ There’s been a great response.”

Despite early reports suggesting that nearly half of 18-year-olds were yet to register, young voters sprinted to the April 18 enrollment deadline, with the Australian Electoral commission recording its busiest day of enrolments ever and adding around 700,000 voters.

Hatzikosmidis takes her newly earned right to vote seriously. She sees the election as a huge opportunity to push for action on climate and social justice issues. While the economy, healthcare and aged care might be more front of mind for the older generation, she says it’s urgency on climate and First Nations’ justice that resonates most deeply with her demographic.

“I would love to see the government trying to find solutions that involve Indigenous Australians, because they know the land better than us and we should be getting guidance from them.

“We also can’t have climate justice unless we have First Nations’ justice.”

The extra attention on the ultra-marginal seat of Chisholm from the major parties and media is also not lost on Hatzikosmidis. She is organising a forum with other teenagers at the School Strike for Climate group, that aims to give voters in the electorate the chance to quiz candidates on their  policies. Sitting Liberal candidate Gladys Liu, Labor’s Carina Garland, the Greens’ Sarah Newman plan to be there, together with several independents.

Hatzikosmidis sees the forum, on Saturday April 30 at Box Hill Town Hall, as a chance for anyone who cares about the environment to weigh up who best represents their views.

When it comes to choosing who will get her vote on May 21, Hatzikosmidis is less interested in their party than in what they actually stand for.

“I think first and foremost about their policies and their ideals,” she says. “What are they passionate about? What changes do they want to inspire in the community? I personally like to see someone who is very climate focused, but also cares a lot about human rights issues.”

Involvement in School Strike for Climate, an organisation without political affiliation, means she’s striving to be non-partisan, but Hatzikosmidis’ mind is pretty well made up about who will get her vote. And, no, she’s not telling.

“But there’s definitely always room to change your mind. If candidates started promoting climate-change issues more strongly, I might be willing to put them higher on my preference list.”

Hatzikosmidis hopes to get into politics herself one day and is adamant that regardless of who wins the election, politicians must work together to effect change.

“I just find it really childish when they just shit talk to each other. When you go to parliament, you’re going to have people from all sorts of different parties so it’s important to work together.

“That’s the only way change can be done.”

This story is part of a special reporting project, Chisholm’s Choice, published in collaboration with Crikey.com. Link here.

 

About The Citizen

THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

  • Editor: Jo Chandler
  • Reporter: Petra Stock
  • Audio & Video editor: Louisa Lim
  • Data editor: Craig Butt
  • Editor-In-Chief: Andrew Dodd
  • Business editor: Lucy Smy
Winner — BEST PUBLICATION 2016 Ossie Awards