SUDDENLY, TONY ABBOTT opens a campaign office only a few doors down from Zali’s. Advance Australia (the Liberals’ anti-GetUp crew) begin driving trucks around the electorate with giant billboards emblazoned “Vote Steggall Get Shorten” with Zali next to Bill Shorten in a photoshopped red dress.
But the negative campaign doesn’t wash. People are sick of the politics and the negativity and they appreciate Zali’s clean, polite and positive campaign.
Try and try as they might, the attempts of the Murdoch media to tie Zali’s campaign with GetUp fall flat. I am targeted regularly in the Daily Telegraph on this front. There is no truth in it and they are preaching to their base. Nothing can dent the happy, polite, contagious, community-driven campaign we have going and I reckon it drives them crazy. They are doing their best to pull us under that wave, but we all keep riding high, getting ever closer to the shore.
Although we do match the billboards on trucks. Ours are turquoise with Zali’s smiling face and a positive message.
Pre-poll big guns
By April 11, 2019, we’ve been in full campaign mode for 12 weeks when the Prime Minister finally announces an election for May 18. Zali has been out and about every day, meeting people, attending events and doing a lot of media. She never stops. She also puts hours into her policy formulation, and works with a very talented policy team.
Pre-poll voting begins on the April 29. It is a long, uncomfortable slog. Two weeks of unpleasant conditions, long hours six days a week, face to face with Tony’s volunteers, upset and fearful they could be witnessing the end of an era. We have visits from Jim Molan, Michaelia Cash and Tina McQueen.
The rostering and training of volunteers for this is a mammoth task, made easier with the help of James Mathison, who rallies the troops at our training events.
Most volunteers are campaigning for the first time, and some are shocked by Tony’s tactics. It is so important we have them prepared.
Wendy, the volunteer coordinator, who is in constant touch with all the key volunteers, reports some particularly poor behaviour to me at the Mosman pre-poll, so we decide to kill them with kindness. It is the dying days of the campaign and after so much hard work, things are running well, and we have a couple of hours to spare. We order cupcakes. She and I drive from the campaign office at Brookvale up to Mosman and offer them to all the volunteers handing out for every candidate… with a smile. It is indicative of who we are and what we want the future to be like.
A few days later, Zali and Tony are due to meet for the second time in the campaign at a live debate on Tony’s home turf of Queenscliff Surf Club, moderated by David Speers in front of a live audience.
We have to plan this down to a tee as we know one slip up is all it would take to derail our plan.
We know Tony’s supporters will be out in force outside the club. We know we can easily outnumber them if we chose. This is not a competition we needed to win, though. We know the media will be out in force looking for anything to report, and any sort of scuffle will play right into the Liberals’ hands.
For the first time, Wendy and I make the decision to tell the vollies not to turn up unless they have an audience ticket, and not to wear their Team Zali shirts. An hour before the debate begins, a throng of people start arriving. Many familiar faces from Tony’s crew are there with signs awaiting the arrival of the turquoise brigade, but they are about to be disappointed; and except for a couple of outliers and a few dinosaurs, there is no controversy and no drama for the news outlets. High five, Wendy!
Zali is calm, sipping a soft drink in a quiet room of the surf club with Anthony, my son Jack, Rob Purves, the chair of the campaign, and I. We know this is a pivotal moment and I know I’d be lying if I said the atmosphere isn’t tense. We can hear the crowd outside as they wait for Tony. Finally, it is clear by their raucous cheering that he’s arrived. That is about as good as it gets for him.
Again, Zali absolutely wipes the floor with Tony, the highlight being when Tony is forced into a corner and actually states that he is a bit sick of listening to the experts. The crowd can’t help but laugh, and that’s enough. We know we’ve got this. I’m immensely proud of Zali and so impressed. This is the moment of the campaign.
Two weeks and two days to go. Pre-poll is going well but everyone is exhausted.
Anthony and I are confident we have this election in the bag. We have known since the beginning. As long as there are no major slip ups, we can’t logically see anything other than a Zali win.
By this time, the roadside events at The Spit are getting bigger but I’ve been so busy running the campaign from the office that I haven’t yet experienced one. When I finally go in the last days of the campaign, it feels joyous. People bop to the mix and wave Zali signs at cars as drivers beep and wave back in support. When Zali arrives it goes up a notch and I feel emotional thinking about what has been achieved.
It’s election eve and Anthony comments he has never been in an office that’s so calm and quiet the day before an election. We know we have done a perfect job of it, and everything is in place. Our team, down to the last person, is happy and confident.
The afternoon before election day, just after 3pm, I start to receive worrying messages and photos from across the electorate, from people upset at the defacing of their schools by aggressive people with miles of black and red “Vote Steggall Get Shorten” plastic.
But we know we’ve prepared everyone well for election day.
We have instilled the three P’s: be Polite, be Positive, be Prepared; we’ve warned people to expect vast amounts of plastic to be wrapped around primary schools. They were told: “Don’t worry! We don’t compete. Expect rudeness. Turn the other cheek. Stay positive, stay polite, be prepared.”
We’ve already made a strategy to not compete with the plastic on election day or to create any sort of competition for space, for fear that things might turn nasty. Again, we decide to do things differently. It is way classier. Sometimes, less is more; and you can’t ignore over a thousand people in Zali shirts on election day.
In terms of signage, we know that weeks earlier a team of volunteers led by Dr Peter MacDonald – who is playing a key role in supporting Zali – held workshops and attached our corflutes to wooden stakes. We’ve already out-played the opposition, as we do not need fence space for these.
He knows it’s over
My work is almost done. Unlike James’ campaign in 2016, where I was a key volunteer on election day and worked 20 hours straight, this time everyone else is doing the work.
One of the many books I’d read about building a movement contains this quote:
“It’s only a movement if it moves without you.”
Warringah is moving, and finally I’m simply enjoying riding that wave.
After quite a leisurely day of roaming around the electorate, chatting to volunteers, who were, if anything, disappointed in how quiet it is, I know Zali is about to arrive at the primary school my kids went to. So I decide to wander down to North Curl Curl Primary, the one where in 2016 I’d been with Osher when both James Mathison and Tony Abbott turned up. It’s getting cool, the afternoon is upon us and there are hardly any voters left.
Zali says hello to us all and then walks into the school looking for voters and is soon out of sight.
I’m not sure if it was planned, but soon I see Tony Abbott, former prime minister walking with his trademark swagger down the footpath towards us. Those dinosaurs are tiredly singing “Bye bye Tony Bye Bye “ to the tune of Bye Bye Blackbird.
To his credit, Tony hears them from a distance and does a little walking jig to the music with a grin on his face. It hits me that he knows it’s over. He stops for a moment then he too walks into the school.
James Mathison has been volunteering at the top gate and I join him for a chat about the day. We’re so happy! Then, as though we had written the script, Tony walks out of the very gate we’re standing at. He’s obviously just seen Zali in the school and then notices James and I together. We acknowledge each other. The story has come full circle.
As my daughter Madeline and I pass Queenscliff Surf Club on our way to the Novotel for election night, I see someone in a turquoise shirt on the ground surrounded by worried onlookers. Zali stops too. There’s been a terrible accident and a volunteer is on the ground bleeding from the head. Zali insists that she won’t leave until the ambulance arrives, even though it means she will be late to the big party.
Zali asks me to join her crew, old school friends, in the election-day van. By the time we arrive, we’ve already heard some early booth results. They are very good. It’s clear to us Zali is going to win big.
We step out to a crowd chanting “Zali! Zali! Zali!” Cameras flash, microphones are flung in her face.
Zali, her school friends, her family, Anthony and I, wait in a hotel room, champagne in hand. The plan is for Zali to appear after Tony concedes. We’re watching television and Warringah is the first seat in. Antony Green calls it for Zali less than two hours after the booths close. We watch wild scenes on TV in the room downstairs. All my family is down there and part of me wishes I was with them. My daughter Madeline will later tell me I missed the best part.
What seems like an eternity later, when Tony has finally acknowledged defeat, Zali and her husband, followed by her children, parents, and parents-in-law, and Anthony and I, enter the arena. I see my son Jack still under the pump making sure it all goes according to the media plan.
Zali enters the room and the crowd goes wild. She walks through the throng of people to the sound of INXS’ “New Sensation”. We follow in her footsteps and are also greeted to a hero’s welcome. I’ll never forget it.
James Mathison is MC yet again. He has the crowd pumped, ready to hear Zali’s victory speech.
Then, in what to me was a surreal moment, after a lifetime of watching election nights on TV and wondering about the people onstage smiling behind the victor, I get to share the moment with Zali.
Zali speaks. Her victory speech is inspiring. People are hanging off every word. There are lots of thankyous and raucous cheering from the crowd.
Zali then takes a moment to thank Tony Abbott. Most people have by now had at least a couple of drinks and I hold my breath, hoping they’ll remember the three Ps one more time. When Zali thanks Tony, the crowd nods and gives a polite clap for the man and the 25 years he has spent as the Member for Warringah.
For me, that was the moment of the campaign.
Finally, Warringah is now truly represented by our MP because, in the end, thousands of us decided to do something.
Indeed, we are all but one, but when we join forces and ride the wave, we are one awesome community.
That was the wave of our lives.