Michael Burge

Michael Burge

Journalist at No Fibs
Michael is an author and Guardian Australia journalist who lives on Ngarabal country in the NSW Northern Tablelands. He was was born at Inverell into a farming family with New England roots deeper than most. His debut novel Tank Water is out now from MidnightSun Publishing.
Michael Burge
Michael's articles about writers, performers, artists, creative rebels and the writing process are available at his website.

QLd_blue sky__Bowman

The first time I became aware of Penny Allman-Payne was from a flyer on the Coochiemudlo Island Progress Association noticeboard at the jetty on my way to the mainland. This teacher, lawyer, and Greens candidate for Bowman was coming to my island.

I couldn’t make it to that meeting, but Penny agreed to meet me recently at a cafe in her home town of Cleveland, where she quickly identified a specific challenge faced by candidates in the smaller parties: being visible to voters.

“If you’re not an incumbent with access to large sections of the electorate in a range of ways, or you’re not an ex state member who has more time to get out into the electorate, then I think it’s much harder to access people,” she says.

“When your time is limited, which mine is by virtue of working full time, you start looking very carefully about how you can access the most people, and the way to do that is to go into the centre of that community.”

Since moving to the Redlands in south-east Queensland (the same geographical area as the division of Bowman), I have wondered exactly where its centre is. The region is spilt geographically by the southern section of Moreton Bay, which separates an archipelago from the townships scattered across the seaboard.

“Some of the council wards are quite self contained, which I don’t think is a bad thing – people can choose to live in the areas that suit them,” Penny explains. “I think it started that way because we’ve come from a more rural background, and you tend to find in rural communities that you have these little hubs and villages that people tend to gather around”.

“At Wellington Point, the twilight markets happen in the town centre, people are out at night and everyone gathers in one place. You could say a similar thing about Cleveland and the Raby Bay twilight market, but if you go down to Capalaba, there’s no heart,” Penny says. “It’s really two big shopping centres, and when you look at ways to access that community, it’s really hard to find places where people tend to gather.”

So, considering Bowman is made-up of islands, and townships that are a little like ‘islands unto themselves’, I ask if there’s any tradition of ‘meet the candidates’ sessions in this division?

Penny is uniquely positioned to answer, since she was the Greens candidate for the state seat of Capalaba in 2012.

“At the last state election there was one candidate forum run by the Australian Christian Lobby,” Penny recalls. “There would have been 30 to 40 people at that meeting. I also went to the Birkdale Progress Association meeting, and other than that there were few ways and means of accessing the community.”

It’s Penny who brings-up what sounds like a local election tradition – displaying ‘coreflutes’ (campaign signs, named for the lightweight, hollow, fluted plastic sheets) on the busy main road in and out of the Redlands, at Chandler.

“In the state election I had people say to me, as they came out of the booth, ‘I would have voted for you, but I didn’t see you anywhere’, and I have to say as a candidate, one of the things that causes me angst is that I really think standing on the side of the road waving at people is not the best use of a candidate’s time,” she says.

“I actually think there’s a culture that’s been created, certainly in this electorate, that if you’re not out on the side of the road out by Chandler at some point in your campaign, then you’re not serious about running.”

So, will Penny be out on the road?

“I will be by the roadside at Chandler,” she confirms. “I’ll put up my signs, but I’ll probably sit down and have a cuppa with my husband, and that will be our opportunity to catch up for the week”.

“I took the opportunity in the first week of the holidays, so people knew I was running. I think that’s the purpose. If you need to be on the side of the road to enable the coreflutes to be there, then I’m going to let the coreflutes be there.

Sounds like there are strict rules about campaign signs in the Redlands. Penny explains.

“There are always some candidates who put out more than the limit, and then just wait to be fined, or asked to take them down,” Penny says. “It makes an impact. I’ve only got one lot of signs up at the moment, and the number of signs on that fence was determined by the resident of that property. I went into the hairdresser’s on Saturday, and people said to me: ‘You’re everywhere’, but I’m on one fence on one house in one suburb.”

At the 2010 federal election, the division of Bowman saw a swing of 4.5 per cent of the primary vote to the Greens. I ask Penny where this impact was felt.

“Our highest Greens vote in 2010 was around Alexandra Hills and Capalaba, and out on the Islands. We are being seen as a party that is not just about the environment but also as a party that cares about people, and we’re the only party who is really concerned about Newstart and single parents. No-one else is talking about that.

“I doubt there’s many voters who will have come into contact with all the candidates, so I do think the person who can make contact with the most voters is probably still at a significant advantage.

“If you want someone to vote Green,” Penny concludes, “you have to ask them to do something they haven’t done before. If they’ve never met you, that’s much less likely.”

Next up: Blocked at the ballot? Bowman’s Fernando Alba and the 21st Century Australia Party’s ongoing battle with the AEC.

Last week: Briskey’s back in Bowman, ALP candidate Darryl Briskey.

The week before: Interview with Palmer United Party candidate and Straddie Oyster farmer, John Wayne.

Laming update: Sitting member for Bowman, Andrew Laming MP, previously indicated he might be available for an interview after the election was called, but continues to decline the offer.