According to research done by NSW Government, young people aged between 18-30, are underrepresented in local government. We make up 16% of the population but only 4% of councillors.
The attitude we get, from all political parties, is we just “have to wait our turn”. I always ask candidates and politicians, “But when is it actually my turn? When I’m 60?” They are often stunned by my response.
Young people shouldn’t have to wait for their turn. When young people are being shut out of politics, it makes us disillusioned with the political process. A councillor or politicians who are in the Baby Boomer generation won’t ever understand what it is like to be an 18-year-old in 2021.
I ran for City of Parramatta council for Rosehill Ward. I was the youngest candidate in that ward, and one of the youngest running across Parramatta Council. I am also one of the few, if not the only candidate, with a disability.
I have dyspraxia. The NHS has defined my disability as, “also known as developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), [dyspraxia] is a common disorder that affects movement and co-ordination.” It affects my speech and my motor skills (both gross and fine motor). I have a range of mental illnesses such as Depression and Anxiety and recently diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome & Endometriosis.
On a good day, people see me as this happy, active young person. On a bad day, I feel like I’ve been hit with a wall of pain, exhausted and confined to a bed doing the basic bare things. My speech is horrible, and even on a good day I get frustrated that people can’t understand me when I talk.
Labor doesn’t have a quota for candidates with a disability or in the underrepresented age demographics. It does not survey how many of its members are those with a disability. Neither does the Electoral Commission track the number of candidates with a disability.
Although quotas do work, it shouldn’t be a solution for all. It is certainly hard to find a mentor in the party that has a disability and owns it, as we are underrepresented, even more so if you are a Person of Colour or First Nations. I’ve seen debates about disabilities and creating a more accessible society by those who don’t have lived experiences.
But representation does matter. I recently had a mother send me a message after I posted my “Meet the Candidate” on Facebook, I nearly cried on my way home. Her son has dyspraxia, and just like me in school, we had been told that we couldn’t succeed because of our disability. A part of her message said:
“I will be sitting down tonight with my son to talk to him about you and your successes. That there is someone else out there like him, who has struggled and is proud of who they are and won. That you can still learn and grow, despite this.”
It shouldn’t have to take one person with an invisible illness and disability to crack the glass ceiling just for running in local government elections. At every level of government, people should be reflected in places where decisions are made.
Sinead Simpkins was a Labor candidate in the 2021 NSW local government elections.