VOICES OF WARRINGAH hosts the Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss at a lovely luncheon at The Oaks at Neutral Bay attended by the Mayor of Mosman and Alex Turnbull. The guests are a conservative-looking bunch and give a clear message to the community and the Liberal Party: it’s not just “activists” in Warringah who are ready for change.
Next thing, Jane Caro, buoyed by all the activity in Warringah, tweets that she will consider running in Warringah. Once again, a huge amount of media attention is brought to the electorate. I enlisted Jane months ago to do a gig with Voices of Warringah (VOW), and it is now only a couple of weeks away. This brings huge attention to the event and a full house.
I wheedle another favour from my friends Deb and Ken who did the graphic design for James’ campaign, and VOW, who agree to film the evening. Ken arrives a little late and I am able to say, “It’s okay, Ken… ABC 7.30 has turned up!” It is a sign of how far things have come.
The 7.30 crew are filming the evening for a potential airing of what is happening in Warringah. They intend to show the story behind getting a candidate and air the piece the day a major candidate is announced. 7.30 interviews Jane and me. By now I’m finding these interviews a breeze, although the piece doesn’t make it to air.
By now, ‘Small Cow’ is fielding a lot of enquiries from prospective candidates. We decide a professional campaign is required and enlist the services of Anthony Reed, who co-mastered Kerryn Phelps’ win in Wentworth, to co-manage with me. We also enlist the brilliant and passionate local Dof Dickinson from the international company Brains to manage the website, graphic design and marketing.
I already have Andy and the mother of four from VOW to take care of IT and events, and my sister Kathie supports me, as always.
I know I can’t run a campaign and be in VOW at the same time, so, with the committee’s blessing, I left VOW, which continues community forums on policy and consultation. They analyse the data, question candidates on how they’d represent the issues the community defines and eventually put out a scorecard of where candidates stand on the issues.
Voice of Zali
On January 1, 2019, Vote Tony Out presents Zali Steggall OAM, former world champion skier and the first Australian to win a medal at a Winter Olympic Games. Like Layne, she is a darling of Manly and I kick myself for not reaching out to her earlier. Truth be told, I did consider her when a Sue Steggall signed up to VOW early on, but I had no idea what Zali’s politics were or where she lived as she’d not been in the public spotlight for many years.
I have fond memories of Zali Steggall carrying the Olympic torch in 2004. I remember taking our young family down to Manly and catching the ferry with throngs of people as Zali took the torch over to the city to meet Kieran Perkins on top of the Harbour Bridge.
Zali was also a member of the Eagles’ Angels with Wendy Harmer, Layne Beachley, Louise Sauvage, Kerri Potthurst and other female sporting champions. They deserve much credit for playing a major role in the saving of my beloved Sea Eagles from bankruptcy in the early 2000s.
So I am pretty happy to see Zali’s Instagram post.
Next thing, Small Cow, Anthony Reed and a couple of others are sitting around my kitchen table with Zali and her husband Tim. She tells us she’s a barrister and mum who does 100-kilometre trail runs for fun. After speaking with and getting to understand her motivations, we realise she’s our dream candidate. I realise at that moment we can win.
We decide to launch the day after Australia Day thinking the election might be in March. Everything is top secret.
Tim Flannery, who recently moved to Manly to work for the National Museum, supports Zali. We know he’s a red rag to a bull to the Murdoch media, but this only encourages us. The time for cowering to Murdoch and the climate-denying right is over. He agrees to support Zali at the launch.
Anthony needs a media person, ideally someone young with a couple of years’ experience, but it’s difficult given the required secrecy. I mention to him and Zali that my son is a sports journalist working for the Northern Territory News in Darwin, and before you know it he’s resigned and moved home at the urging of his mother who can’t even tell him who the candidate is!
The bones of the campaign team is complete when Zali gets the partner of her running mate, Matt Haran, to be her driver and general campaign supporter, and we find Renee Bilston on the recommendation of a friend of mine.
The partner of one of Anthony’s cricket mates, Zuzia B, fits the bill as fundraiser. Everyone is onboard not knowing who the candidate is. We get videos, photos, T-shirts and the website ready with a donate button.
So, videos are done, photoshoots, by-lines agreed upon, Zali T-shirts produced and the website is ready just in time. A press release is sent on the evening of January 26, 2019. Kel texts hundreds of people who live in the area who have bought his shirts, I email the large database of people I created over my years of action and all the community groups are ready to be at the North Harbour Reserve.
Zali for Canberra
A huge crowd is present, resplendent in turquoise T- shirts, some of whom still aren’t sure who the candidate is. It’s hot, and the excitement is palpable.
Zali arrives, flanked by her husband Tim and three of her kids, to loud applause and cheers. Hamish MacDonald looks awestruck and asks lots of questions. I later find out Zali and he were childhood friends from Jindabyne.
Small Cow takes a moment among the mayhem to get this shot with Zali. I think we all know deep down at this point that the election is ours for the taking. The five of us have been working so hard for so long, and, to be honest, we are all pretty exhausted. You can see the relief on our faces.
The story appears on all the TV networks, in every paper and everyone in the country is talking about what was, up until a few months ago, a proposition that was for most people unthinkable – a competitive contest in Warringah.
A start to a campaign like this doesn’t happen overnight. It is the result of an unprecedented community effort that started many years ago and had gained enormous momentum.
So, here I am, with this nationally important job, having only run a small-scale election campaign before, about to lead what was to become a minutely scrutinised campaign. I feel nervous and hope I am up to the task. I look up a term I’d heard recently – ‘imposter syndrome’ – and am soon watching Mike Cannon-Brookes’ TED talk on the subject. If it isn’t for that, I might not go through it.
Zali is the model campaigner. I’m convinced only a world sporting champion could work as hard as she does. She’s fit, she’s determined and she’s intelligent. We organise community forums in every corner of the electorate to introduce her and listen to the community.
There’s also community-organised candidate forums by VOW, Stop Adani and others. Tony Abbott takes part in none of them, until, when he looks like losing, he agrees to a one-on-one spectacle run by Sky News.
Sky News then organise a forum with just Zali and Tony at Darling Harbour. She corners him on transport by holding up a news article from 2001 where he promised to fix the Spit Bridge, the same one James and I had used in the 2016 campaign.
There is no doubt that the masses of people dressed proudly in their turquoise T-shirts are a defining characteristic of Zali’s campaign. They are walking billboards talking in their communities to friends, neighbours, family and passersby. The effectiveness of this cannot be underestimated. We are doing politics differently.
Our first meet the candidate forum is held specifically for the new volunteers and afterwards we divide into local groups. We send them home with corflute signs to put in their gardens and on their fences, and community walks begin across the electorate, Zali can only be in one place at the one time, but that doesn’t stop people in every area representing her. These walks were once a regular feature of the Vote Tony Out crew in Manly and Mosman.
Our volunteer motto is: be prepared, be positive and be polite. Volunteer training sessions stressed that we would face bitterness from some voters and must not bite back. I speak at the candidate forum and use the analogy of a wave: “They will try to distract us with their negativity. If we react they will suck us under where we’ll be struggling for breath and we will lose control. If we stay on course, stay positive and polite, we’ll stay on top, and we’ll ride that wave of success right onto shore.”
Many people tell me how hearing that positivity makes them get involved. No-one wants to be part of a negative campaign. Turning the other cheek becomes a way of life for us all.
I meet the amazing Wendy at that first community forum. She quickly fills the vital role of volunteer coordinator, like an angel sent from heaven. A doer; calm and clever and oh so hardworking. She never stops!
The Lower North Shore crew, composed of the wealthy and very safe Liberal heartland of Mosman, grows very rapidly under the guidance of Kirsty Gold (one of my Small Cow mates) and Tina jackson. They have the most ardent supporters, many of whom have never voted anything other than Liberal in their lives, who have seen the light and become part of a wonderful, spirited on-the-ground campaign for change. Zali is their candidate! They are out at bus stops, shopping centres, parks and beaches, riding in pelotons around the traps with their T-shirts on, proudly displaying their Zali signs and really enjoying the community spirit.
One morning, Kirsty organises a small group at The Spit in their T-shirts with their corflute signs. They wave at the traffic. The group grows until it becomes a defining part of the campaign. A volunteer, Paul Hobkirk, decides to bring music along one day and this transforms the event to a joyous early morning gathering. The optimism is there for all to see. The events are described as almost transcendent, and I am urged to get along to one. Unfortunately I am too busy to take time off to take part in the fun, but Zali attends when she can.
Anthony manages the messaging details and advises on media and marketing strategy. Me? I’ve become manager of this huge start up! By now we have a team of about 20 based at the office and hundreds of volunteers to manage.
There are community fundraisers, large and small; the candidate forums, a huge launch event at the Novotel in Manly, and things come up on a daily basis that need to be managed. The campaign goes from strength to strength.
But we are yet to climb the mountain.