IN THE FIRST week of September 2013. my brother is diagnosed with leukaemia, my son is taken to the Royal Alexandria Hospital with suspected head injuries from a skateboard accident, and Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister.
My son is okay, my brother has 12 months to live, and Tony begins the most heartless prime ministership I’ve ever seen. He’d won Warringah with a 61 per cent primary vote, over 65pc on two-party preferences.
I know it is a huge task to beat him.
Still, one in three people didn’t vote for him and there was bound to be a middle bunch who voted for him out of habit or loyalty or because he’s a ‘good bloke’ who volunteers for surf life-saving and the bushfire brigade.
My Facebook group and email list are growing.
Facebook tells me there’s a new political party, Australian Progressives, who came together after March in March. Members are mainly young, disenchanted people who, like me, have no political experience. I’m soon ensconced in the team. I think they might help me find someone decent to run against the PM, but I also like the philosophy of building community hubs and having a collaborative, listening approach about what people want. I become the social media manager, Warringah hub leader, and eventually, the NSW rep. We are certainly ahead of our time in that this party has no headquarters and most communication is in online groups. The only face-to-face is the stuff in the communities and the odd meeting at a pub.
Progress is disappointingly slow, but I gain valuable skills. We use Facebook groups, Slack, Twitter, create events online.
My most valuable lesson is to understand the sort of people you want around you and the sort of behaviours to avoid. Some who like to continually express opinions/argue online or in person disappear when it comes to actually doing something, and I gain a sharp eye for picking those people.
I become aware of a new group, People of Warringah (POW), run by Nathan Thomas, a same-sex marriage campaigner who is as determined as me to see the back of Tony Abbott. We meet monthly upstairs at The Oaks at Neutral Bay, and I attend regularly with my daughter Madeline, Kathie my sister and sometimes my nephew Sean. They are always by my side when I need them. I keep emailing my list and Nathan emails his, the two groups having little crossover.
Do whatever you can
It’s Budget day, May 13, 2014. My mild-mannered husband Steve explodes after filling his car. “I’ve had enough of this! Even the people at the petrol station are talking about how bad this budget is. Louise, do whatever you can to get rid of this guy. He’s ruining the country!”
Suddenly we’ve gone from an electorate that never talked about politics to one where even as you’re filling up, people are talking. Linda Mottram on ABC Radio 702 asks for people to tell her how they are affected by the budget and I do it: “I may or may not be affected by the family tax benefit changes, but there is a broader question of how it will affect me as an Australian. I’m seeing billions spent on fighter jets, offshore detention centres and roads instead of health, education, support for young people, the chronically ill, scientific research and renewable energy. It says a lot about the Australia we have become, and I don’t remember taking part in that conversation. This is not about me, it’s about the Australia we are becoming.”
So I’ve now met with the (then future) Prime Minister, been on the radio, am a major player in a new political party and man, I never thought that would be me.
Misleading or incompetent
Do you remember that Q&A episode when a chronically ill man Korey Gunnis asked Treasurer Joe Hockey how he could afford the new $7 Medicare co-payment? Hockey said that as Korey would be on a “health plan” he would not have to pay it. Abbott repeated this assertion on 2GB. It was false. The $7 per GP visit was supposed to fund a new Medical Research Fund. My brother, hoping the stem-cell transplant he’d just received from me would be going to keep him alive, would need constant visits to the GP for the rest of his life. I see the inequity of sick people funding the future of medical research in this country.
I write to Tony Abbott about why he repeated Joe Hockey’s error. Was he misleading the country or incompetent? His reply did not address the question I had asked, but included a handwritten note signed by Tony which said: “Your brother is lucky to have a strong advocate like you.”
That bee in my bonnet becomes a buzz saw.
James is the man
POW grows as discontent grows. Wendy Harmer writes about POW in The Sydney Morning Herald, Gerard Henderson replies in The Australian. Nathan asks GetUp! for help finding a candidate, but gets a no. Abbott is ousted by Malcolm Turnbull.
After Tony loses the Liberal leadership, Nathan and I feel the collective sigh of relief around Warringah as people assume he will retire at the next election or before. We know better, but the appetite for change in Warringah wanes.
When the election is called, Nathan rings to say Australian Idol’s James Mathison has answered a POW call out on Twitter and wants to run. Nathan doesn’t know much about him, but my 20-year-old daughter Madeline, says: “James Mathison! Oh, he’s awesome! Everyone loves him! Can I come when you meet him?”
With that, I know that if we are to engage the youth of Warringah (who think, my kids tell me, that politics is the problem, not the solution), then James is the man. Madeline, Nathan, his partner Maikol and I meet James in a Queenscliff park and in between pushing his two little girls on the swings and slipping them down the slippery dip, he tells us he is serious.
When we meet a week later I say: “You know you won’t win, don’t you?”. He says: “That’s okay,” and points his finger up to 12 o’clock. “If we can just turn the dial this much (points to 2 o’clock), it will be that much easier for the next person.”
With five weeks to go, we decide to ‘do this!’.