CANBERRA’S BEEN A “Game of Thrones’ for almost his entire adult voting life says, Alex Dyson – he’s “sick of the politics of politics” taking priority over things that matter to the people of Wannon and their futures.
Dyson was recently selected by community group Voices of Wannon to be their candidate in the South West Victorian electorate held by the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan.
Former Prime Minister, Malcom Fraser held the seat for many years.
Voices of Wannon held their consultations across the electorate and prepared a report which they attempted to discuss with their local Member of Parliament.
Supporting a candidate was not the goal until Tehan failed to meet and discuss the report What Wannon Wants.
The group then began a candidate selection process, seeking a Member of Parliament who will speak to them and for them.
The processes Voices of Wannon used and the rejection by their local Member echo Cathy McGowan’s boilover win in 2013.
McGowan’s done some mentoring work with the Wannon group and former Voices for Indi President, Denis Ginnivan has been supporting Voices groups around the country through his project ‘Voices For’ Australia.
Ginnivan was at the Voices of Wannon ‘Meet the Candidate’ event in Warrnambool.
I’ve been working on a project called ‘Voices for’ Australia supporting the emergence of groups in different parts of the country who are seeking to do a community voice approach to politics. It’s really nice to be here in Wannon, I really appreciate what this group has done. They’ve run a consultation process, virtual town hall meetings, surveys and they did a community consultation process to find a candidate, Alex and he’s been welcomed by the Warrnambool community today.
If it’s helpful to hear what’s happened in our own experiences in Indi and in other places, I’m really keen to value add if I can and keep out of the way if it’s just being a pest. It’s not a model that any group should embark on, rather if it’s instructive but not prescriptive to hear it from other places then terrific.Denis Ginnivan of ‘Voices for’ Australia
No Fibs travelled to Warrnambool to speak with people involved in Voices of Wannon and the candidate they selected, Alex Dyson.
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Wayne: Alex, you ran on your own in 2019, and everyone remembers your video –
Alex: Well it kind of played to my strengths a little bit. That campaign was all about shining a light on the importance of politics – trying to engage some young people who may be understandably bored and disillusioned by the way politicians talk to people. It’s very monotonous. It’s deliberately vague.
I really wanted to do something political which would also be engaging, it was a way to communicate the message. My friends had told me over the years that I was quite a unique dancer, and so I thought communicating super important messages in a different way could be a way for people who would otherwise turn on a political ad and immediately mute it or change the channel could interact with it, and just think a little bit about what the policies were and what the politicians were offering.
I was surprised at how successful the interpretive dance was when it got shown on the BBC World News, which was quite a kick. The Russians were involved, they didn’t mind it. I’m not sure if Vladimir Putin is going to be coming out and doing a bit of tap dancing soon, but he does a few other interesting things – horses and a bit of judo.
I’m happy to stick in my lane with dancing, I can see that going again. But I really wanted to communicate to people who were potentially entertained by that – but I also thought politics is a serious business and so many people’s lives are affected by the people who make these decisions and who vote on these issues. I wanted to really solidify the fact that I have the ability to not take myself too seriously, but I also really take the issues seriously. So this time around I want to counter that side of myself –
Wayne: You’re a comedian, you’ve been on Triple J. You obviously can’t escape what you’ve done in the past –
Alex: Well I’m really proud of what we managed to do at Triple J. The people that listened every morning would absolutely know that comedic side of me, and would have also heard some of the important conversations that we had on Triple J. Some of those are talking to young people about the very inhospitable property market. Triple J listeners are predominantly quite young and there’s a lot of people who are understandably upset by the fact that is super difficult to own what has been widely regarded as the Australian dream. And so we have conversations every week with the Hack program, which is about current affairs.
I stopped Triple J at the end of 2018 after doing another six months on the lunch program there (where listeners also heard me) talking passionately about breast cancer and losing my Mum to breast cancer. One thing I was really proud of about my time at Triple J, as well as having some silly conversations and coming up with some quite wacky ideas, was being able to connect to people…
I spent the majority of my 20s on that radio station (and) I got quite emotional on air saying farewell. In the past I would have thought that was super lame and been ashamed of it, but the guys told me that it was okay to show emotion and to cry…
Wayne: I’m from Indi, and the thing about these campaigns is they are actually fun, and that’s one of their attractions –
Alex: Yeah, talking to people and connecting them with them I don’t find arduous. I like to balance extrovertedness with introvertedness, but to me sitting down with someone and discovering who they are is one of my favourite things.
Wayne: What are your main issues?
Alex: One of the reasons I got involved with politics is I was sick of the politics of politics. When I ran in 2019 a Prime Minister had not lasted a full term in the entirety of my adult voting life. Australia made a decision and the politicians, instead of focusing on the many issues that are out there, were busy on who’s sitting on the throne. You know, big Game of Thrones moments. So that was something that got me involved in politics.
And something else is something I learned at Warrnambool Primary School, that pollution in the air is causing sunlight to get trapped in and very gradually heating the planet. When you learn that you’re like, ‘Oh good, they know about it, they’ll start doing something about it’, but the foot dragging on that particular issue has been really disappointing from a young person’s perspective.
Because at the time they were talking about, ‘Oh, this will be a grandkids problem, we’ve got to do it for our grandkids’. At the moment people are feeling it, people are affected.
I think it was a Ross Garnaut report in 2007 saying that by 2020 bushfires will be more extreme, and on cue 2020 comes around and the bush fires are more intense than we’ve ever seen. And sure, you could put that down to coincidence, but it doesn’t make sense to me that we would take that risk and and not address this issue when we know what the solutions are and it just takes a bit of political will.
The recent pandemic showed that once the decision’s been made we can shut down everything in order to protect people. I don’t want to have to do that. I don’t want (climate change) to get to that stage, and that’s why making short, smaller tweaks along the way could have saved us from the position we’re in now.
Of course it’s difficult to start shutting these things down and jumping directly from coal to renewables, which is not what anyone wants to do or has wanted to do. We’ve only got our politicians to blame that we haven’t been able to take those sensible steps along the way.
So listening to the experts on climate change is something that I’m super passionate about and is one of the reasons I wanted to run, as well as the other things, being from Warrnambool.
Wayne: You grew up here –
Alex: I moved away from Warrnambool for work, ended up living in Sydney for a long time for Triple J. But when it came time to run for an election I couldn’t imagine myself running anywhere else to try and make this particular change.
You’re currently interviewing me in the Fletcher Jones Gardens where I came as a little kid because my dad worked at Fletcher Jones. Until Fletcher Jones downsized manufacturing and moved offshore. We’re sitting outside a building that manufactured the Australian Olympic uniforms in 1956. So it’s a really great place, but now is a mostly derelict building – they’ve put some wonderful markets in here which you can go through and take a look at.
In Lorne, which is part of Wannon now, I spent my childhood holidays at that wonderful beach-sized town with my granddad and my cousins in a little shack there. And then driving up north to my grandparents home in Murtoa passing through Mortlake and Ararat, an hour ride through these towns.
I have such an affinity with this part of the world, and one of the big campaign messages is increasing the connectivity of these places and making it a viable place for everyone to live but also young people to live.
Wayne: You mean internet and transport?
Alex: Yes. I use the word connectivity because it’s been interesting living in Melbourne. I used to catch the train down when I first started University every weekend to play for Russell’s Creek. So on the weekends I catch the train down, play at the Mac oval and then train back to Melbourne, and it was a punish because the train is so slow.
If we can make these things easier and more accessible for people, they either might not have to move away in the first place but also if they do would be able to come back here and visit more often and make it a destination where people can do that or live in their own country in agricultural areas where it’s virtual connectivity, and you’re able to stay in touch with your community where the drive can be super taxing on the time, particularly on some of the roads in these areas. They’re not always federal responsibility, but it is something that has been promised for so long and doesn’t seem to start coming through.
Wayne: COVID, obviously that’s going to be a campaign issue, and it’s also going to impact your campaign.
Alex: I think COVID has just exposed a lot of the problems that were already there but weren’t at the top of the agenda. Things like aged care – the lack of the workforce, the fragility of the workforce – it has suddenly become completely apparent that aged care is understaffed and is not able to handle these kinds of things that are coming up. The government seems to be super reactive rather than proactive when it comes to this, because currently as we speak, we’re almost two years into this pandemic.
They’ve been saying – I remember in lockdown one, so April, May in 2020, them saying ‘We’re gonna have to learn to live with the virus’. Somehow in Australia we managed to push back to living with the virus another 18 to 20 months and now that we’re leaving it’s chaos.
They had that long to prepare for living with the virus, and there’s no stock of the supermarket shelves because they didn’t plan for when truck drivers stay home sick. They can’t get enough tests for people because we’re living with the virus. They didn’t think, ‘Oh, we might need more tests when it comes to this’ – those kinds of things are so infuriating as a resident of Australia.
There should be planning for every single issue, but particularly a public health issue as serious as this. There should be a lot more preparation and planning than what seems to be policy on the fly for something which did surprise them originally, although there were people saying a pandemic is going to be an issue at some stage…
They only reacted to the bushfires once it happened and once there was a public outcry that there needs to be some leadership. And it was the public saying this – we need leadership. We need you and we need help immediately and they suddenly announce a fund for people and then no money comes through.
I think planning and preparation is something that this government has been extremely poor in.
Wayne: Planning and preparation – Wannon’s a huge electorate. COVID is going to impact. In Indi they put hubs around the electorate – have you put much thought into what you’re going to do? Say we go into lockdown again, it kills campaigning to a large degree, certainly face to face, and nothing replaces talking to people.
Alex: That’s what I like doing the best and that’s where you make the best connection. You find the common ground with people and you really find out about them and what their needs are and what a government can really do for them.
Everyone has become a little bit more comfortable with online meetings and so that’s an option, but I’m hoping (that) we are able to meet outdoors (and) get the word out there that this electorate is due for someone who is beholden to them and not the political party whose values seem to not align with with a lot of the people on the ground living their lives and overlooked a lot of the time.
Wayne: What would be the first thing you’d do if elected?
Alex: I would put together a wonderful team of people to support and enact a lot of things that people need done. I am the first to put my hand up when it comes to my weaknesses, and I don’t think politicians do that enough – they try and please everybody and that veers into platitudes and occasionally lying.
So I would get people who are experts in their field and experts in enacting a lot of these policies. Then, being quite a pragmatic person, I would then try and do things quickly when it comes to changing things. So my first thing would be getting a really great team.
Then I’ll sit back and start listening and learning a lot from people, getting to know other colleagues in Canberra, getting to know how things work up there, and then probably telling them how they could do it better from an outsider’s perspective.
I think potentially if you are in that so-called Camera bubble you might even find it a little bit weird, someone not caring about who’s in the Chair. We need something done on the ground for people to get some actual outcomes.
On the Warrnambool primary school trip to Canberra we went up there and watched Parliament live. And I remember thinking at the time that if our class behaved in the same way as these politicians did in front of the speaker, Mrs. Nelson would be very upset with us when it comes to calling out without putting our hand up. It’s absolute bedlam up there.
So maybe the jokes will be better, and hopefully it’ll be a bit quieter in between things. It’s a bit of a raucous crowd.