A few weeks ago I wrote a letter of support to a political candidate. Here’s how this exciting series of events unfolded.
Back in 1993 I was the Liberal candidate for the Federal Seat of Brisbane. It was an amazing but intense experience for which I am very grateful. My political views have changed since then. I think the Liberal Party has changed too. As a result I started supporting more progressive issues, and ended up joining the Greens.
Because of my interest in the seat of Brisbane, and my historical connection to it (I lived in the electorate for over a decade), I contacted Kirsten Lovejoy, the Greens candidate, to wish her well, and tell her a bit about my journey. We met and spoke for a while, and I came away feeling impressed. Kirsten is a quality candidate – articulate, intelligent and passionate, and is a great choice for Brisbane. She’s surrounded by a smart team, and I’m confident she will do well.
Her team suggested that my story could be of interest to other former conservative voters, and suggested that we should go public. It’s not something I’d normally do. I’m not really interested in being in the political limelight any more. I’m not interested in being elected as a candidate or running for any form of public office. But I thought that my public support would help Kirsten win the seat. Since I don’t have the financial resources or the time to help her in other ways, I agreed with Kirsten’s team and went public.
The end result was this article by Joshua Robertson from The Guardian. Being inexperienced with media, I was worried my words would be twisted and used against me, but to his great credit Joshua faithfully reported what I said. Joshua had a “bigger picture” insight into the whole thing which I had overlooked: There are other former conservatives out there who are now more politically aligned with the Greens. The most high-profile example that comes to mind is former Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.
After Joshua’s article was published I received numerous messages of support from former conservatives, which confirmed this.
It’s important because the public perception is often that the Greens are on the fringe of the political spectrum, to the left of the Labor Party. I think that over-simplifies a complex issue. Policies about The Environment, Social Justice and Political Compassion are mainstream issues. They matter to most people. It’s just that our major political parties conveniently choose not to see it that way.
There is much more to our political narrative than this banal “Jobs and Growth” mantra that the Prime Minister and his team keep repeating. The politics of compassion and conscience must never be conditional upon economics, or business activity, or profits.
The Guardian article was widely read. Tom Elliott from Melbourne’s 3AW noticed it, and interviewed me on his show.
Tom hosts a talkback program on a commercial radio. After listening in for a while I realized that most of his listeners were probably more politically conservative than me, so they might be interested (or dismayed) that a former conservative took the path that I did. Tom jokingly described me as the “biggest swing voter in Australia” which I thought was quite funny.
The interview was a lot of fun. I tried to be as honest as I could about who I was and was not really interested in bad-mouthing the other side. Vitriol makes for good theatre, but it doesn’t really advance the debate, or educate anyone. So when Tom asked me a few questions about my past, and why I made the choices I did, I tried to be as accurate as possible without bogging him down in unnecessary details.
He was interested in what it was that caused me to change my political allegiances. He also was curious about my opinion of former PM John Howard, current PM Malcolm Turnbull, and about the ALP. Finally he wanted to know whether or not I thought the Greens would ever form a government.
I was grateful that it wasn’t his intention to make me look silly – he seemed genuinely curious.
For what it’s worth – and in my very limited experience, I think he does his job very well.
At the same time as all of this, GetUp! asked if I’d like to be involved in a radio ad for their campaign. I jumped at the opportunity, and was delighted to meet Dr Peter Pohlner – a leading Cardiovascular surgeon. While we were waiting in the studio we had a chance to talk about current issues, and I learned about some of the amazing work he does here in Brisbane and overseas in developing countries.
Here’s the final cut of the ad which is currently being broadcast on local radio stations:
My experience of political activity is a positive one. Many of us have strong political opinions, but our society tends to frown upon political debate in polite circles. As we watch events unfolding in the news we feel either frustrated or excited, but mostly powerless. Political involvement helps address that issue. I’ve been fortunate to say what I believe and have people listen. I’ve also been able to meet passionate engaged people. None of this would have happened if I had kept my mouth shut and just shook my fist at the TV when I saw news stories that angered me. The key was to express my opinion, an get involved with like-minded people.
I recommend it, regardless of your political persuasion.