Bethany McAlpine sits at a picnic table on the river at Woodburn on the banks of the Richmond River, the cool afternoon breeze blowing her dark long hair. The 21-year-old has an unassuming air.
Not many would guess, at first glance, that she is the Christian Democratic Party candidate for Page in the 2016 federal election. McAlpine is promising to bring a fresh perspective to both the CDP and the Page electorate.
This will not be the first time that McAlpine has run for parliament. In 2013, she ran as the Christian Democratic Party’s candidate for Cowper, pulling in just 2.57% of the primary vote.
But this election McAlpine has shifted her attention north and has plans for the Page electorate. First on the agenda is tackling youth suicide in Page.
“All life is important,” she says, her brown eyes narrow as she stares across the river. “And I think if people are killing themselves then there is a real problem that needs to be fixed.”
Youth suicide is, in fact, a big problem in New South Wales. It has the second highest rate of youth suicide, after Queensland. The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that between 2009 and 2013, 360 people under 25 took their lives in the state.
However, this is not the only problem that McAlpine plans to raise in her campaign. She would also like to see the Safe Schools Program expanded.
McAlpine acknowledges that an anti-bullying program for LGBTI students is a positive initiative but would like to see it expanded to encompass a wider range of discriminatory bullying.
"There’s racial bullying, there’s religious bullying as well and just plain bullying,” she says.
Hers is a different approach than the Christian Democratic Party’s, which is calling for the LGBTI anti-bullying program to be banned and defunded.
McAlpine admits that she does not always agree with the way that the CDP puts its arguments but still agrees with its strong and conservative stances on homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion.
“I’d say I would agree with all my party’s stances. I would possibly disagree on the way those stances are spoken,” she says. “They can be gentler without changing or without watering down.”
In fact, there are a few changes that McAlpine would like to make, including the perception that the CDP is out of touch.
As a young candidate, McAlpine believes she is far from out of touch. In fact, she sees her youth as a benefit.
“In a way, I’m too young to know better so I guess I think things can be fixed,” she says, smiling. “And I think a lot of things can be achieved.”
McAlpine previously worked to achieve social change when she volunteered in East Timor for a month, tutoring children.
Her mother and election campaign coordinator, Margaret McAlpine sees her daughter as a worthy candidate.
“She believes what she says. She has very strong convictions,” her mother says. “And she is prepared to stand up for her convictions.”
Mrs McAlpine says that her daughter is passionate about the community and has volunteered teaching in schools and helping needy families.
Looking towards the future, Bethany McAlpine does not see herself leaving the political scene any time soon.
“I would like to think I’d still be part of CDP and I would like to keep standing. I don’t think any of the things that I stand for are going to change any time soon. I would like to keep standing for what I think is right as long as I can.”