Representing the Socialist Alliance, Niko Leka believes the 2022 election will be a pivotal time for climate action in Australia and said his PhD in public health would see him prioritise preventative healthcare nationally.
Unlike the House of Representatives, where candidates represent their respective electorates, Leka said the Senate dealt with the bigger picture.
“The Senate deals with how local issues fit into the overall scheme of things,” Leka said.
“Newcastle is very much a part of the bigger picture.”
Leka said that despite the major parties “ignoring” climate change, over 60% of voters regarded it as one of the primary issues this election.
“Newcastle, as the coal export capital of the world, demonstrates the urgent need for a planned transition away from coal mining … it has to be planned because we do not want a loss of jobs,” Leka said.
“There will be an immense number of jobs in renewables, and we have to ensure Newcastle sets an example for Australia as a whole.”
He said working closely with organisations advocating for renewables and jobs in the Newcastle community would give the Senate the insight to achieve a successful transition.
“The Socialist Alliance wants to create good, unionised jobs based on renewable energy generation,” Leka said.
“Initial funding will be provided by abolishing the $10.5 billion in fossil fuel subsidies.”
Among Leka’s other local priorities is Newcastle’s safety, with ceasing the storage of ammonium nitrate on Kooragang Island at the top of his agenda.
Leka said Kooragang Island stored ten times the amount of ammonium nitrate that destroyed much of Beirut in the 2020 explosion.
For the wider domestic sphere, including Newcastle, Leka is pushing for the delivery of improved public housing.
“In Australia, we have over 200,000 households waiting for public housing with an equal number homeless or living in substandard conditions,” he said.
“In Mayfield, where I live, modest houses are going for a million dollars … that is ridiculous. After WWII, the Federal Government built 750,000 public homes in a decade.”
He said the Socialist Alliance would address the issue by building public housing that is energy and water efficient, so the bills were minimal for occupants.
“A massive expansion in public housing is part of our plan to create new jobs as we rapidly move from fossil fuels and coal,” Leka said.
“In this way, we can help the environment, create sustainable jobs and drive down rents and house prices … it can be done.”
Public health and education are at the top of the agenda.
A proud Novocastrian since 1996, Leka said he fell in love with Newcastle after commencing postgraduate studies in public health at the University of Newcastle.
“I’ve worked as an enrolled nurse at some residential care facilities but focused on caring for older people with severe problematic behaviours attributable to dementia.”
He said his studies, and work as a mental health nurse, instilled in him deep values of preventative healthcare for society.
“If we prioritise preventative health care, we can reduce demand and strengthen the public health care systems,” Leka said.
“Rather than pouring $7 billion in subsidies for private health insurers and directing that into public health, we can readily expand Medicare to include mental health and dental services.
“Under the current system, the prohibitive costs of healthcare translates into an immense and tragic burden of needless suffering for many people.”
Additionally, Leka is a strong advocate for cancelling student debt, rebuilding TAFEs nationally and returning the country to free vocational and university education.
Leka believes his skills and background prove he has what it takes to be a strong Senator.
“My PhD provides a good basis for working with the community and experts to achieve positive outcomes.”
As a convenor of Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy, Leka said he was also focused on changing Australia’s immigration policy into a humane and productive one.
“I have been involved in refugee advocacy, campaigning for peace,” Leka said.
“As a member of the Nurses and Midwives Association, I have advocated for better health care, working conditions and wages.
“I have helped raise three adult sons who I am very proud of. I’m a member of an activist party who believes in doing things rather than talking, and I am used to applying my personal skills to do the best I can.”
Leka said the Socialist Alliance candidates were activists and proud ecosocialists.
“We don’t think that electric cars and recycling your paper clips will save the planet,” he said.
“We focus on public ownership, unions, green jobs, renewables and social justice.
“As the iconic mural on our Hunter Street building says, we are ‘for the billions, not the billionaires’.
“I am proud to be standing on the Senate, with the Socialist Alliance’s two other candidates, human rights activist and nurse educator, Paula Sanchez, and NDIS worker and pioneer marriage rights campaigner, Rachel Evans.”
Leka is one of two Novocastrians running for the NSW Senate.
Newcastle man, Adam Brollo, will also be on the Ballot card, representing the Animal Justice Party.
While pre-polling has opened for locals unable to make election day, most Australians are expected to turn out on May 21 to vote for their House of Representatives and Senate preferences.