3 December 2013
Less than a month after the September Federal election, Geoff Ebbs, former Greens Candidate for Griffith, posted a Facebook message which said: “I’m about to go into financial recovery mode, post-election, and take a job selling photocopiers unless anyone has a better way to earn some decent dollars for twelve months.”
This was a prompt for me to approach Ebbs and other candidates in Griffith for their ‘life after the election’ stories.
Ebbs was the only candidate who agreed to an interview. Apart from admitting to degrees of exhaustion, most of the other candidates I approached did not want to talk in detail about the campaign experience, and were undecided about whether they would stand again in any by-election. Because of this I did not use the Ebbs interview and abandoned the story idea.
However, on Friday, November 29, Geoff Ebbs announced to his supporters that he would not be contesting the Griffith by-election for the Greens. This came as a surprise for many, myself included. Geoff had indicated in our October interview that he wanted to stand again. I returned to this earlier interview material for clues.
In 2013 the Greens polled 10.18 percent of the vote in Griffith, a 5.21 percent swing against it on 2010 results. The negative swing was not unique to Griffith. Nationally there was a swing against the Greens of 3.11 percent, in QLD as high as 4.7 percent.
I asked Ebbs what is was like, as a minor party candidate, not to have won, and in his case, not to have achieved an increase for the Greens.
“People invest trust in you; you promise to represent them, expectations are built up, and it is a huge disappointment when you don’t succeed,” he said, then likened the experience to the post-adrenaline slump at the end of the run of a stage play.
“I was walking with one of my daughters after the election and came around a corner and saw a poster of myself, it was like a jolt to the back of the brain.”
Why did he put himself through it, when he knew he would not win the seat?
“You decide to run because you believe in the cause, but the only way to build the energy to actually campaign is to willingly delude yourself. It’s a form of ‘candidate’s disease’,” he said. “To inspire your followers, you have to believe you will win.”
Ebbs said the protest vote against the two old parties in September was the vote that many Greens had been waiting decades for, but it went to the minor conservative parties, and added this has been a huge topic of discussion within the party.
He believed the analysis falls into three camps: those who think the Greens were too conservative; those who think it was too extreme and “didn’t try hard enough to become a normal political party”; and those who think it was just a “bloody minded rabble”.
Also, criticisms of Christine Milne had been the same as criticisms of the party.
“She is either too extreme or not extreme enough. Some people just don’t like a female leader,” he said.
“If you are engaged with the electorate, you will know exactly where you stand, and the electorate will know exactly where you stand as a party, and I don’t think that clarity exists. It’s not any individual’s fault … but it’s about the whole movement. It’s about the Greens as a party, it’s about the Left, it’s about the environmental movement.
“Both major parties put in a huge effort to isolate and run down the Greens. We expected that: first they ignore you, then they attack you, then they get angry with you, then you win. Well we are well into the stage of making them angry.”
Asked if he would stand again, Ebbs said: “Should KRudd resign and there is a by-election, I would certainly stand again.”
Ebbs said there had been a personal Rudd factor in this electorate. “It didn’t swing to the conservatives as much as the rest of the nation, but the results of a by-election will depend on whether Bill (Glasson) decides to run. If there are two new candidates, probably the ALP would prevail.”
Ebbs gave up work during the election. “You can approach campaigning with whatever level of intensity you like, but there is always financial drain. The Greens is not a wealthy party. Palmer paid his candidates a wage.”
He is now working selling photocopiers, and, at only 55, considers he is over the hill as far as employment goes.
His energies are now on building the Greens into a broader movement, and said: “We need to be in more or less continuous campaign mode”.
“What we need to do now is articulate what a Green future will look like. For the mythical ‘ordinary voter’, a lot of whom, if they were disappointed and voted for Palmer in this election, did so because they didn’t have that clear vision of a Green future.
“If you look at a group like the Stable Population Party, which is, on the whole, ex-Greens, they are disappointed that the Greens didn’t articulate a population policy. But population policies are a political nightmare and it’s very difficult for a party the size of the Greens (with the broad range of elements that make it up), to reach an agreeable population policy … so you end up with a single issue party that stands outside the Greens.
“To succeed we have to build a broad enough church that you can include all of those views, you can’t keep splintering off the core believers because you can’t address their most passionate cause.
“It’s a mistake of the Left to assume that, ‘oh well our turn will come’. There is no reason for that to be the case. The whole of society could keep moving to the Right and this could be the distant dream of somebody’s grandfather. You only have to look to the USA to see how effectively the Left can be crushed.”
Ebbs added that as a society we face an energy descent problem.
“Last century we consumed more energy than is ever going to be available to society in the future, so life is going to get harder. As a party that recognises that as the fundamental fact driving every economic decision and every policy setting, essentially what you are trying to sell to the electorate is like an austerity measure. For our long term good, us as a society and a species, we need to calm down and stop consuming so much, and slow down our breeding program. It’s not a very palatable story, so we tend to avoid it.”
Grassroots campaigning is definitely the way of the future, Ebbs said.
“The internet has unleashed an understanding of how powerful distributed ideas are. The notion of open sourced software has led to open content programs, and the collapse of the exclusive nature of publishing companies both in print and film, has meant that new models are emerging for creative people to connect with their audiences, and the same thing is happening politically.”
Towards the end of the interview Ebbs told me he had put himself forward as a candidate for convener of the Greens in Queensland. The two candidates were to be Ebbs and the incumbent Andrew Bartlett.
Ebbs said his ‘elevator pitch’ to the membership would be that, “as a society we are at the crossroads, we either maintain the status quo and hit the wall very hard, or we manage society into a form that is sustainable in the full sense of the word.”
Ebbs did not offer any direct criticism of Andrew Bartlett, but said he considered that he (Ebbs) would be better at getting the Greens story across.
As it turned out, Bartlett won the ballot held on October 26, and retained his role as convener. Ebbs was appointed to the state management committee.
Ebbs’ recent decision not to contest the preselection as the Greens candidate for the by-election indicates a degree of disharmony within the Greens that Ebbs only alluded to when he spoke with me.
I understand that Andrew Bartlett will be the only Greens candidate for preselection. He advised me that he is not in a position to make any comment until after party endorsement of the candidate on Thursday, December 5, but he is happy to talk after that.
Now that Clive Palmer has announced that his party will not stand a candidate, the preselection processes for this by-election for both the ALP and the Greens may well prove to be as interesting as the election itself.
In the meantime, Bill Glasson has already hit the campaign trail and was seen out and about with the Prime Minister on the weekend.
Read more Griffith Seat Reports