By Jan Bowman
28 July 2013
My first attempt at citizen journalism was my June profile of the Griffith electorate.
Since then I have spoken with staff in both Kevin Rudd’s and Bill Glasson’s local electorate offices and sent emails with my details seeking interviews or response to questions. Electorate staff have been polite and helpful and have promised to pass my details on to their candidates. I have learned that follow-up calls are important and I will keep trying.
As the PM, Mr Rudd has constant national and local coverage, and is supported by his own media team. Dr Glasson likewise is getting considerable coverage in the Courier Mail and other local media and has staff and volunteers supporting his campaign. Both have Facebook sites and Kevin Rudd is also active on Twitter.
Minor party candidates are much less visible to the local electorate and have nothing like the resources of the major parties to get their messages out. Whether on the left or the right of the political spectrum, however, the minor party candidates all claim to be attracting voters who have lost confidence and trust in the major parties.
Geoff Ebbs (Australian Greens) and Luke Murray (Katter Australia Party) have been happy to talk with me, and I provide my reports below.
I have been in touch with Palmer United Party (PUP) candidate for Griffith, Karin Hunter and I’m keen to talk with her in more detail soon. Karin was brought up in PNG and says in her PUP profile that she was attracted to the party because of its “… sensible and practical approach to border protection and their refugee policy”. She, like Luke Murray, has no support staff but has promised to give me some time when she can. Her profile appears on the PUP website, and while not a user of Twitter, she does have a Facebook site.
This process of seeking interviews is teaching me persistence and well as patience, and I hope to have more profiles over coming weeks.
I will definitely be attending the planned “meet the candidates” event in South Brisbane on 6 August at 7.00am – candidates will be interviewed live on ABC 612 by Steve Austin.
Geoff Ebbs Australian Greens Candidate for Griffith
Like other minor party candidates, Geoff Ebbs admits it can be very hard for the Greens to get any mainstream media focus, particularly at the local level. This is compounded when standing against a high-profile candidate like Kevin Rudd.
Ebbs says he has met Rudd on the hustings and considers him to be a consummate media performer. Rudd, he says, has his own media team, regularly uploading new Kevin videos on YouTube, “… and, as a small party, it’s hard to compete against that.”
Nevertheless, he is picking up a mood for change and disillusionment with the two major parties. Griffith, he says, “is an electorate of thinking people who are looking for leadership on some long-term issues affecting the state”.
“The people of Griffith are concerned about rising energy prices, the erosion of community services and public sector employment. They have a major coal route running through their suburbs that is a threat to their health and a reminder that the economy is being skewed by huge investments in resource extraction at the expense of manufacturing, public infrastructure and investment in innovation.”
Without access to the apparatus of mainstream media, Ebbs sees himself building a grassroots campaign linked to other activists groups. He says that it is important that the Greens convince other activist groups of the party’s credibility, so it can be supported by a coalition of interest groups in the same way that in the past the ALP built its support base through a coalition of union and labour organisations.
Ebbs says political parties are drawn to appeal to the mainstream and this is the antithesis of activism. “There is a natural tension,” he says, between the need for the Greens to appeal to a broader audience while at the same time building alliances with like-minded activist groups.
He claims the Greens membership in South Brisbane has grown considerably in the last three years, with many new members coming from union and other traditionally Labor backgrounds. “If current growth rates continue, we may consider splitting the branch into two, developing a new branch centred on Wynnum or Manly.
“We need to work booth by booth, to convince voters that the Greens do have a real plan for the future.”
The Greens, he says, have specific policies that have been developed from the grass roots of the party “… to build a robust economy on innovation, renewable energy and investment in public infrastructure and education”.
He also points to longstanding Greens support for marriage equality (an issue embraced much more recently by Kevin Rudd) and for “additional funding for single parents forced onto Newstart, and federal funding of community organisations deserted by the state government”.
Ebbs sees the major parties as having capitulated to the resources sector and this, he says, has had a negative impact on the community.
Campbell Newman, he says is like “Abbott on steroids”.
“The concerns raised by Newman’s attack on the public service, the arts sector and environmental regulation have made people aware of the ‘scorched earth’ approach the conservatives have developed and how far they have strayed from Menzies’ Liberal vision for Australia.” Ebbs says voters “desperately seek leadership that is not extreme and has some concern for the long term future of the country”.
Issues such as coal seam gas (CSG) mining have attracted some strange bedfellows in recent times, and I asked Geoff if this had in any way eroded the Greens’ base. He says Katter’s rhetoric on CSG has not been matched by action, and the Greens were picking up some disappointment with Katter among farmers in particular.
On preference, Ebbs says it is unlikely Greens preferences will flow to the more conservative parties. Nevertheless, he considers that the Katter Australia and Palmer United parties have been effective in capturing disaffected LNP voters.
Minor parties, he says “have the freedom to do some straight talking – that no-nonsense approach is their appeal, but it is also the appeal of the Greens”.
Ebbs says he is in the contest to win it, but he will be pleased to increase the Greens vote on the last election figures. The Greens, he says, “are in it for the long haul”.
Luke Murray – Katter Australia Party (KAP) Candidate for Griffith
Recently endorsed Katter Australia Party (KAP) candidate for Griffith Luke Murray, says he doesn’t lay any claim to being a politician. Clearly, he is still in the early stages of preparing for the coming campaign. He assures me it’s coming, but at this stage he has no profile on the KAP website (a photo is on the way), nor does he have a Facebook site (that too is on the way) and he does not use Twitter. He says he is wary of social media and wants to protect his family’s privacy. Murray’s campaign team is just himself and his wife. “The amount of resources at the disposal of the Rudd public relations machine is something that as an everyday Aussie I can’t compete with.”
Murray is an aircraft engineer and member of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) and has worked in the aviation industry for many years. The Australian reported in May that the ALAEA was considering fielding candidates in key airport seats at the federal election. This has apparently now come to fruition. Murray told me that a number of his colleagues were also candidates for the KAP. He says that Bob Katter and Senator Nick Xenophon are the only politicians who have stood up for the aviation industry, and that the major parties have let the industry down.
Calls for a second runway at Brisbane Airport, airport noise, and flight delays have long been issues in Brisbane and the Griffith electorate.
ALAEA federal executive Steve Purvinas told The Australian in May: “As a small union, we are often overlooked by the major parties and we have learnt over the years that the smiles and handshakes in their offices mean nothing.”
It is not surprising then that the ALAEA has chosen to field candidate with the KAP. In April, Katter announced plans to create a new national workers’ union, and unions such as the ALAEA say they feel no allegiance to the Labor Party.
Murray told me that he was picking up a sense that distrust of the two major parties is common, and people were telling him they were “no longer fooled by hype and huge advertising campaigns”. People want “real substance, and believe neither of the major parties is offering genuine representation in their electorate”. This, he says, is where the KAP is able to differentiate itself from the mainstream parties.
His motivation he says lies in wanting to make “the best decisions for the good of the country – the whole country – not just the top couple of per cent of income earners, or a few of the larger trade unions, or some corporation that provides a gift or two”. Murray says this election should be about “ensuring that we are able to feed, clothe, and defend ourselves in the future, not about the popularity of a few individuals”.
Like Greens candidate Geoff Ebbs, Luke Murray is no fan of Campbell Newman and thinks the state premier will definitely be a factor is the coming election. “Many of the people that I have been speaking to, feel that arguably one of the worst things to happen to Queensland in the last decade was the election of Campbell Newman as premier.”
He cites the recent controversial pay rise for state politicians, saying it was “a debacle” and “public perception appears to be that these guys are just solely intent on lining their own pockets at the expense of Australian families.”
Murray says the Newman government is also about, “the wholesale sell-off of Australian-owned assets and the loss of countless frontline jobs in essential services which are already under enormous pressure”.
Out shopping recently, Murray says he was “saddened and angered “ that the majority of items on the shelves came from overseas. He says the KAP intends to create a level playing field for all Australian producers. “We plan to implement policies designed to protect Australian manufacturing.”
He also says that the best way ensure a strong Australian economy is to ensure job security for Australians. “I am talking about full-time jobs, not the current trend towards part-time and casual jobs being created to make the jobless figures look more flattering to the government.” Keeping jobs in Australia is a key theme for the ALAEA, who have been fighting their own battle with Australian airlines.
Murray says people are looking for a viable alternative to the major parties. “I am seeing more support every day. It’s really quite overwhelming. Many people were disgusted by the performance of the ‘faceless men’ after the last election. Their decision to remove their leader simply because they didn’t like him, and then reinstate him to take advantage of his ‘popularity’ when it looked like they may lose their own seats, is what I consider to be one of the lowest acts in Australian politics, and totally un-Australian. A vote for either of the major parties is, I believe, a vote condoning this sort of behaviour. “
Murray claims KAP membership is definitely growing in South Brisbane.”Our members comprise a cross-section of Australia including people from all age demographics and walks of life; including tradesmen, management, small business owners, young professionals, and retirees.” He says these people are disillusioned with the current state of Australian politics and are looking to force a change for the good of the nation.
I asked him about the coming debates between Brisbane candidates being staged at the Power House on 22 August. Murray responded that he had no wish to take part in “something which I consider to be just another example of political grandstanding, often used by the incumbent candidate to deflect attention from their poor performance during their time in government”.
The appeal of KAP candidates, he says, is that they can provide representation for people in parliament by elected members “who will vote, consistent with their conscience, in the interests of their electorate, not their party”.