Jan Bowman

Jan Bowman

Citizen journalist at No Fibs
Jan lives in Brisbane's West End. She began writing as a citizen journalist for No Fibs during the 2013 federal election, covering her electorate of Griffith. She has been a regular writer for The Westender for ten years and was editor from 2019 until January 2024. She has been active with local community groups and with her trade union.
Jan Bowman

WHEN I FIRST reported on the Queensland electorate of Griffith as a citizen journalist for Margo Kingston’s No Fibs in 2013, I hadn’t done any journalism and had to learn quickly ‘on the job.’

Margo encouraged me to write about the experience of living in the electorate of the sitting Prime Minister. Just three months before the election, Kevin Rudd had defeated Julia Gillard in a Labor Party spill to be re-elected as PM, and media attention was firmly on Griffith. The 2013 election saw the start of the climate wars and the growing push for same-sex marriage.

My first piece as a citizen journalist in June 2013 was titled Rudd Watch. In it, I note that Griffith was then the safest Labor seat in Queensland; how things have changed.

Returned as the member for Griffith but not as PM, Kevin Rudd resigned soon after the election and triggered a by-election held in February 2014. I reprised my role for No Fibs by attending Terri Butler’s first press conference at the back of a local bookshop in West End. In that first interview, Ms Butler named aircraft noise and the NBN as local issues of concern, issues that are still playing out today.

Terri Butler, ALP candidate for the 2014 Griffith by-election.

Ms Butler won the by-election in a tight battle, and over the past eight years, I have followed her career over successive elections and the shifting political dynamic in Griffith.

The electorate

Griffith is a diverse electorate in the inner south of Brisbane. It is a young, well-educated electorate with a comparatively high number of residents holding bachelor’s degrees or higher. Its median weekly household income is $1890, significantly higher than the national average of $1438. Most residents work full-time (61.7 percent), and nearly half of all residents are renters. The most common industries are hospitals, hospitality, and state government administration. A notable change in Griffith since 2014 is the rise of the Greens in council and state government elections, winning a council ward and state seat, both of which fall within the larger electorate of Griffith.

I live in the inner-city suburb of West End (which some people call the Best End) and can be a little blinkered in my approach to Griffith. West End is sometimes seen as a bit of an outlier, and one radio station recently referred to it as ‘the wild side.’ But in fact, West End has experienced intense and rapid gentrification and population growth over the past few decades. Nevertheless, it is becoming a Greens stronghold with a young, vibrant population. In comparison, suburbs like Balmoral and Bulimba are more sedate and conservative, and a high proportion of their primary vote goes to the LNP.

In the 2019 federal election, LNP candidate Olivia Roberts won 41 percent of the primary vote, with ALP Terri Butler winning 31 percent and Greens candidate Max Chandler-Mather 23.7 percent and significantly growing the Greens primary by 6.7 percent.

The rise of the Greens has accompanied a growing disillusionment with two-party politics, growing awareness and alarm about climate change, concerns about overdevelopment, and the rental crisis. The recent floods in Brisbane, which impacted suburbs in Griffith, have reinforced concerns about our preparedness in the face of the impacts of a changing climate.

The candidates

The current candidates for the three major parties all stood for election in 2019.

Terri Butler – Labor

Ms Butler won 51.8 percent of the two-party (2PP) vote against high profile Liberal National Party (LNP) candidate Bill Glasson at the by-election in 2014. Before entering politics, she was a lawyer with Maurice Blackburn.

Ms Butler held the seat in elections in 2016 and 2019. She has been Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Child Safety and Prevention of Family Violence. She is currently Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water.

Ms Butler has the advantage of incumbency and having a shadow portfolio which has seen her on the national stage during the election. She recently announced Labor funding for the Great Barrier Reef and Labor’s policy on water resources management.

The environment portfolio can be a double-edged sword in Griffith, and Greens candidate Max Chandler-Mather can make political capital out of Labor’s ongoing support for coal and gas.

Ms Butler was very present in the electorate during the floods, as were all elected representatives, providing advice and practical support where she was able.

Max ChandlerMather – The Greens

Max Chandler-Mather was pre-selected for the Greens as early as March 2021. He and the Greens say they calculate that Griffith is the second-most winnable seat for the Greens in Australia after Macnamara in inner suburban Melbourne. Labor holds both.

“We only need a 3.5 percent swing off Labor, and after Jonathan Sri and Amy MacMahon’s wins in the same area we think we’ve got a good shot.”

Max Chandler-Mather

Over the past four years, Mr Chandler-Mather has been the Queensland Greens campaign strategist, responsible for drafting policy platforms for the past two state elections. He worked as a union organiser for the National Tertiary Education Union before joining the party. He is youthful, articulate, and upbeat. His campaign has been well resourced and energetic. Greens colleagues, Councillor Jonathan Sri, and South Brisbane MP, Amy MacMahon, have flanked Chandler-Mather at community events and actions, often putting him forward to speak to crowds and media on issues which are more relevant to local government than federal politics.

During the recent floods, Chandler-Mather donned wellies and was out shoveling mud. As The Guardian recently observed, this has given him the appearance of incumbency; a clever strategy by the Greens, especially given that local issues are more often where voters’ concerns are.

Chandler-Mather says he and his team have run the “biggest campaign in Australian Greens history”, door-knocking across the electorate for 14 months with his team of predominantly young volunteers.

Olivia Roberts – LNP

Ms Roberts is a lawyer and Coorparoo local. This is her second run for the seat of Griffith: in 2019, she won the primary vote but was ranked third after the distribution of preferences.

Even though this is her second attempt at Griffith, she is hard to know and describe. We certainly see less of Ms Roberts in the electorate than the Labor and Greens candidates. She has a small social media presence when compared with Ms Butler and Mr Chandler-Mather and chose not to attend a candidate forum in West End.

Curiously, Ms Roberts was able to run under the radar in 2019 yet still poll the highest primary vote in most booths.

Robert McMullan – United Australia Party

Robert MacMullan is a small business owner and musician new to politics.

UAP polled just 1.15 per cent of the vote in 2019.

Shari Ware – One Nation

One Nation candidate Shari Ware is having her first run for the seat of Griffith. She is a single mum and foster carer who works full time. She lives outside the electorate and has not been visible during the campaign.

One Nation polled just 2.12 per cent of the vote in 2019.

Key Issues

When it comes to key issues, there seems to be some agreement among the candidates, particularly concerning the cost of living, but they depart on strategies to address it.

Terri Butler

“Griffith is a diverse electorate. I know that cost of living is a major issue for many of my constituents, as is a better future focused on quality of life for current and future generations.”

Max Chandler-Mather

“Skyrocketing house prices and rents are putting massive pressure on existing residents and pushing people away from friends and family, while driving a homelessness crisis. Meanwhile the recent floods gave us a devastating preview of what will happen with greater frequency if we allow Labor and the Liberals to continue to expand coal, gas production, and pour fuel on the climate crisis. “

Olivia Roberts

“We know that the Greens policies in relation to private health rebates will cost thousands for singles and families, and the Greens policies in relation to private school funding will remove or significantly impede the options that parents have when it comes to educating their children. Under Labor, taxes and interest rates are always higher.”

One Nation candidate Shari Ware and UAP candidate Robert McMullan both list cost of living among the issues for voters and they share concerns with the lockdowns and mandates during the COVID pandemic.

What the voters are saying

At the beginning of the campaign, I spoke with shoppers at the West Village shopping centre. While some didn’t want to talk to me, many did, and the messages they had and the issues they raised were quite mixed and their voting intentions unclear.

Voters raised concerns about defence, integrity, financial management, high rents, housing affordability, the handling of the COVID pandemic, the NDIS, and aged care. Climate change was also an issue for many who spoke with me.

Who will win?

YouGov polling predicts a collapse of the Coalition vote nationally, including an increase in the margin for Terri Butler. However, it is hard to know how that might play out, and pollsters tell us predicting outcomes for individual seats is complicated.

Over the past week Terri Butler intensified her rhetoric that the only way to ensure a change of government is to vote for Labor.

Max Chandler-Mather argues a vote for him will bring a progressive voice to parliament, and leader, Adam Bandt, has been clear that the Greens will not support the Coalition to form government.

On Saturday 21 May, we will learn if the voters of Griffith chose to support a representative with the influence that comes with being in government or a presence in parliament that will hold the larger parties to account on big national issues like climate change.