Kane Stewart is running for council, eager to represent the youth of the Snowy Valleys and bring a balanced perspective to some of the region’s most divisive issues.
At 19 years old, Mr Stewart acknowledges he’s (much) younger than the average age of previous councillors, but as a self-confessed political and personal finance ‘nerd’, he’s not intimidated by topics such as the Special Rate Variation or the push for a demerger.
Instead, he questions how rate rises could impact first home buyers and those in the rental market and worries about further division between the communities of Tumbarumba and Tumut.
“I don’t have preconceived ideas or a ‘set in stone’ kind of mindset, as some candidates who’ve already had more years to establish those,” he said.
“I’m more willing to hear out and develop those [positions] in line with what the community is saying.”
As a candidate in the December 4 Local Government Elections, Mr Stewart said he believes his age brings a valuable perspective to the Snowy Valleys Council.
“A council, I believe, is best when it represents the diversity of its people, and I’m the only one that can speak to what it’s like to be a teenager in 2021.”
He recalls a time during his high school years when then-Tumbarumba Shire Councillors visited the school to ask for the students’ support against a forced merger.
“Although I understand what they were trying to do, I think they neglected the fact they had never talked to us before,” he said.
“I can remember only one time outside of award ceremonies councillors coming to actually talk to us.”
Mr Stewart would like the level of engagement with local youth to change if he’s elected.
On the topic of a possible demerger, the Tumbarumba local said he isn’t in favour of demerging just for the sake of demerging.
“We can look at the big headlines and say it was bad or good, but I think there were positives and negatives in the merger… it’s been pushed back multiple times and the cost of demerging would be a lot and we have to look at that as well… we’ve got to listen to a proper business case, saying would this be beneficial or negative and ensuring that it is beneficial to all,” he said.
“I would hate to think that we would demerge for the positive of one of our communities to the detriment of others. I would like to see that as equal and fair to everyone.”
In general, he said he’d like to see a more united front between the towns, regardless of whether a demerger ever occurs.
“At the moment we’re quite divided and almost hostile to one another,” he lamented.
Mr Stewart is currently undertaking a traineeship to obtain his real estate license through Ray White in Tumbarumba and already has his registration. He works as a property manager and said it’s been important to listen to the perspective of young renters when considering the impacts of council issues, such as a potential Special Rate Variation (SRV).
“I can see the need for a rate rise, but I think the proposed rate rise is quite extravagant at the moment,” he said.
“From working in real estate and rentals … that cost is often not absorbed by [property owners]; that is often passed on to renters. I can see that being a possible negative
“It’s going to make it even harder for people to get housing, we’re already seeing it’s really hard for people to get rentals.”
He’s also concerned that a SRV will be difficult for young homeowners who’ve just recently purchased property.
“They feel a bit blindsided by it,” he said.
“They’ve just scraped into an area where house prices are going up so much already… but the increase on top of their rates already, it’s a bit hard for young people on starting salaries to afford that.”
He’s an advocate for striking a balance, acknowledging he doesn’t want to see purely cost-cutting as the solution for the SVC’s future financial position.
Mr Stewart said he’s hopeful the council can help support property development in the region, to help ease the rental crisis, through indirect measures, by supporting certain community initiatives and releasing additional blocks for building.
Aside from youth representation, another of Mr Stewart’s main priorities as a councillor would be to see greater support for mental health needs in the Snowy Valleys, especially after last year’s bushfires.
He referenced a Melbourne University study after the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, which found that adverse mental health outcomes were highest in the three years immediately after the fires, but continued at measurable rates for a full decade.
“It’s not council’s responsibility to go and be the counsellors or start talking about that, but I think it’s about the awareness, making sure we’re getting the funding for the vital services of mental health,” he said, and described issues with access to mental health support.
“We’ve seen a lot of effects of suicide around our area, not as much in the Snowy Valleys, but you look at Wagga and Corryong and you see really horrendous rates of suicide. I would hate to think we failed to take the steps now to prevent that happening.”
In the official draw held last Thursday afternoon in Cootamundra, Mr Stewart drew second place, placing his name on the December 4 ballot just under the top slot, which went to current Deputy Mayor John Larter.
He’s one of five candidates which list Tumbarumba as their hometown, alongside Ian Chaffey, Brent Livermore, James Metcalf and Martin Brown, while Gordon Kelso, Kenneth Dale and Julia Ham are other candidates from the southern end of the Snowy Valleys.