On April Fools’ Day 2014, 16-year-old Kudra Falla-Ricketts was getting ready for school. Her mood was low. All she could think about was the protest in Bentley, a farming community 10km west of Lismore, against drilling for coal seam gas. She wanted to be with her community at the frontline of the Northern Rivers’ resistance to coal seam gas (CSG).
Instead, armed with her computer, the Metgasco mining company logo and her school email address, Falla-Ricketts composed a prank media release that announced the company was pulling out of the Northern Rivers.
“It was kind of spur of the moment,” Falla-Ricketts said. “Within an hour of thinking of it, it was done.”
At school she was called to the principal’s office and suspended for misuse of her school email account. Falla-Ricketts was secretly delighted with the unexpected opportunity to spend more time at Bentley.
In the following weeks she navigated the ensuing media storm and managed to promote national awareness about Bentley and the risks of CSG.
Now 18, Falla-Ricketts is the newly endorsed Greens candidate for Page in the 2016 election. Her party is hoping to capitalise on her local popularity and the strong anti-CSG sentiment in the community. The chances of her being elected are remote – the Greens won only 6% of first-preference votes in 2013, well behind the Nationals’ Kevin Hogan, who narrowly beat the incumbent, Labor’s Janelle Saffin. Both are standing again.
At the 2015 NSW election, ABC analysis showed the Greens attracted a staggering 24% swing, delivering the party 47% of the two-party preferred vote for the Greens in Lismore. The Greens are angling for more lower house seats and there's hope this swing will translate at a federal level.
Fronting for this interview, the young candidate looks like any normal teenager: a simple dress punctuated by a pair of Doc Martens, reminiscent of another young candidate, Natasha Stott-Despoja in a federal election from years past. She is en route to volunteer at Bluesfest.
For one so young, Falla-Ricketts is not without her own political credentials: the most formative, opposing Metgasco’s push to drill for CSG at Bentley, a farming community 10 minutes west of Lismore. She witnessed her community unite to resist a powerful mining company.
“I think that’s one of the reasons that I’ve run for Page, because that community spirit that I gained from Bentley made me go ‘wow!’” Falla-Ricketts smiled, pushing her hair behind her ear.
“You don’t get a community this strong anywhere.”
Kudra Falla-Ricketts grew up in an atmosphere imbued with rallies, actions and awareness about climate change.
Her father, Aidan Ricketts, well-known activist, educator and author of The Activist's Handbook, has been an influential figure in her life. Falla-Ricketts acknowledges her self-confidence derives from the encouragement he provides.
But her father takes little credit for her determination and drive.
“These are not things she is pushed to do,” Ricketts said. “In more recent years, she has availed herself of every opportunity for training in leadership.”
Falla-Ricketts has been a member of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and a participant in the YMCA Youth Parliament, speaking about transgender discrimination.
She has also drawn inspiration from the other politically active people she meets and cites Youth Parliament as particularly empowering.
“It was really good for teaching me how I can respect and understand people with really differing views to me,” she said.
For now, Falla-Ricketts’ focus is to listen to the electorate, engage in political process and encourage young people to have their say. She says the main issues in Page are education funding, affordable housing, keeping TAFE open and accessible, developing meaningful employment opportunities and environmental protection.
“I’m really someone that needs to be working on something, to help the environment, or the world, or I don’t feel fulfilled,” she said.
Considering her party’s outstanding performance in the state election, the Green vote might determine who the next sitting member will be. The Nationals, with a 3.1% margin, might have reason to worry.
While Falla-Ricketts said the direction of Green preferences is yet to be decided, her personal choice is evident as she describes Labor's Saffin as "a beautiful woman" with a positive parliamentary track record.
“Well,” she laughed, “you can guess what I’m going to choose.”
A version of this story has also been published by Guardian Australia. UnipollWatch is collaborating with Guardian Australia during the general election campaign