26 August 2013
It’s Saturday afternoon in Beenleigh and I’m on my way to meet Joshua Sloss, the only independent standing for the seat of Forde in the upcoming election.
This past week I’ve been on a Zarraffa’s Coffee crawl – three out of four of my candidates’ interviews so far have been held in various Zarraffa’s around the region.
Sloss and I have arranged to meet at Beenleigh Marketplace, the local mall. On the way I drive past the offices of the two big party candidates: sitting member Bert van Manen’s office, impossible to miss with its flags dripping from the building – the Australian flag, the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag. And Peter Beattie’s office – not impossible to miss now I know where it is, obscure in a technically empty shopfront on a side street, its windows curtained with Rudd posters.
Sloss turns up with a smile that will one day, if politics doesn’t harden him, be his trademark. We shake hands, sit down and launch straight into the interview.
We start with his political debut this week at a candidates’ forum organised by the Australian Christian Lobby.
“I did terribly at first,” he says, an uncommon mix of shyness and confidence in his bearing. “I know I can do better.
“I was a bit intimidated by Beattie and the rest of them – but I know I can do this job if I get in, I just didn’t have time to get that message out on the night.”
Sloss turned 19 last month. If there’s a younger candidate standing in the federal election, I can’t find them.
Sloss can’t remember a time he didn’t want to go into politics. He has lived in Beenleigh since he was 13, his mother votes Liberal, his father votes Labor and no-one discusses politics at home, a) because his parents are not interested and b) they ‘hate politics and politicians’.
“Whenever I talk politics they say ‘yes Josh, that’s lovely’ and that’s pretty much the end of the conversation,” he says.
The shy look dances across his face, as if he’s making a confession: “I watch parliament online in my lunch break. I’ve read The Constitution inside out. My bosses and friends think I’m weird.”
Sloss, who works at the Yatala business hub selling truck engines and transmissions, wasn’t planning on standing in this election.
“I had my sights on the next election, but not a single person I spoke to had anything good to say about the two major parties,” he says.
“When Kevin Rudd called the election I couldn’t think of one reason why I should wait another three years.”
Sloss needed the signatures of 100 registered voters in order to stand as an independent.
“I doorknocked, and of the first 120 signatures I gathered only 50 were eligible,” he laughs.
“I have no idea why people said they were eligible when they weren’t. In the end I got my 100 voters just two days before the deadline.
“None of my friends thought I was serious. No-one, not even my parents believed me when I said I was standing. Even my partner, she was encouraging but I think she was just being supportive.
“They all just lost it when my registration was accepted, my dad hung up on me.
“Proving everyone wrong is always fun.”
Sloss’s campaign team is 10 people strong. He’s printed 20 corflute signs and 16,000 flyers. He’s doing his best to fundraise.
“No-one wants to give money to someone they think is going to lose,” he says.
“I’ve heard that so many times it’s just not funny any more.”
An elderly woman stops near our table, her loaded shopping trolley caught in a dip in the footpath. Sloss leaps up to help, glancing at me to excuse himself from the interview.
I nod, and watch.
He wheels her trolley to the pedestrian crossing, and they spend the next five minutes in conversation.
He bounces back to the table.
“Helping is my thing,” he says. “When the Brisbane floods happened I was up there every day for two weeks helping people clean up.
“People lost so much, yet they were so strong. Even though they were devastated, there was a fire in their eyes – the power of that possibility is awesome to be around.
I ask Sloss what he believes in. His answer is simple: “the people.”
“The two-party system is not democratic,” he says.
“If we want true democracy then MPs have to represent the people. If I’m elected, I’ll have public forums, so people can have real input into politics.
“Also, I believe the government wastes money. For example, they’ve pledged $3 million for the Beenleigh Town Square – they’re throwing money at things thinking it will solve problems, but it’s not solving any problems.”
Sloss would raise welfare payments – in return for eight to 10 hours a week community service. People who are studying and/or raising families would be exempt ‘because they are already contributing’.
“Jobseekers could stay on low benefits and do nothing, or they could get higher benefits in return for work and in the process get references, work experience and a better resume,” he says.
Sloss is intriguing for his innocence, a young man with no established political culture to shape his views or his modus operandi.
His answers to the big political issues are erratic, though well-meaning. On asylum seekers he says ‘they get too many benefits’ and ‘should be treated like any other Australian’. When I ask how that’s possible if, for example, they don’t speak our language, he pauses and ponders.
“That’s a good point,” he says.
I ask about the ‘overly generous benefits’ and he admits he’s not quite sure what they might be.
I remind him there are 185 different nationalities living in the Forde electorate and suggest he visit the cultural centre.
“That’s a great idea!” he says, genuinely pleased..
Sloss returns to his theme of true representation.
“If I’m an independent then I have no choice but to listen to the will of the people,” he says.
“Both mainstream candidates are in it for the politics, not for their electorates.
“I have no party backing me, nothing at all to fall back on but the people – the reality for me is that public support is my foundation.”
I apply small pressure to his argument.
“What if the people want the return of the death penalty?” I ask.
He hesitates. Thinks about it.
“There are extreme circumstances where that might be the will of the people,” he says.
“So you’d change the legislation for those ‘extreme circumstances’ and then change it back again?” I ask.
He pauses. Thinks about it.
“No,” he says.
“And what if your electorate is out of step with the rest of the country?” I ask. “Is there a place for leadership among political representatives?”
He pauses. Thinks about it.
“It would be my job to fight for what the people of my electorate want, regardless of the will of the rest of the country,” he says.
I change tack.
“What if your constituency wants a million dollar handout?” I ask.
His answer is straightforward: “Then I’d be willing to show leadership,” he says.
“There’s a line I’d need to step up to. I’m a big believer in efficiency and that means finding practical and fair solutions.
Intriguingly, Sloss genuinely believes he has a fair crack at 2013 election victory.
“Other than my age, there’s not a lot of difference between me and the other candidates,” he says confidently, before contradicting himself with a reality check as our conversation returns to last week’s candidates’ forum.
“The others really scared me actually, listening to their qualifications and lawyers’ degrees.
“But then I’ve got passion and a willingness to learn, the ability to adapt and grow and move forward. I don’t want to lie or bluff. I know I don’t have all the answers.”
He fidgets as he revisits the qualifications of his opponents, is discomforted by the self-comparison that he sells truck engines at Yatala.
I tell him Paul Keating left school at 15.
His eyes brighten.
I tell him that Ben Chifley, arguably Australia’s best-loved prime minister, left school at 14 to work on the railways.
“Really!” he says, his enthusiasm for the road ahead invigorated.
Our conversation turns to 43rd parliament, the ‘hung parliament’ of the last three years.
Sloss grins, as if he’s about to say something that is seriously, wickedly out of line.
“I loved this parliament,” he says.
“It was amazing watching the independents have so much power.
“The point of the two-party system is to pass bills quickly. The hung parliament required the elected representatives to fight for every bill – the people were better represented in this parliament than any other I’ve seen.
“It looks to me like the people in every electorate that had an independent member in the hung parliament are really happy with the outcome.”
Sloss is champing at the bit to represent the people of Forde.
“I am so excited,” he says, referring again the candidates’ forum.
“I was terrified at that event and I had the time of my life.
“When I lost my words as I was speaking, I was conflicted – that moment when I froze, it was in sheer terror and sheer joy. I was overwhelmed by being on stage with Peter Beattie and Bert van Manen and all the other candidates.
“And I thought ‘this is really it, I’m on my way’.
As we stand to part company, Sloss confesses his lack of campaign experience has him worried.
I offer a small bite: “What’s the first thing Peter Beattie says every single time he addresses an event?”
He looks blankly at me.
“He says ‘I’m Peter Beattie and I want to put Forde on the map’.”
Sloss shuffles his feet.
“I wish I’d thought of that,” he says.
“Well,” I say, “take the fight to him.
“Why not say ‘I’m Joshua Sloss and Peter Beattie’s not the only one who wants to put Forde on the map’.”
Sloss laughs, excitedly.
“Can I really say that?” he asks.
“Of course you can,” I say. “It’s yours.”
Sloss is a refreshingly clean slate. He’s on a learning curve. He’s loving every moment of it. He genuinely believes he’s in with a chance. And if not this election then the next. And if not that one, then the one after that. Or the one after that.
If intention, commitment and devotion to the task are all a human being needs to fulfill their ambitions, then the nation’s democracy is on notice: Joshua Sloss will one day be the independent MP for Forde.
<a href=”https://nofibs.com.au/seat-reports/forde/”>More Forde Stories</a>