When I was younger, I was an environmentalist. Specifically, I was into environmental education and the Permaculture movement. When I moved to Canberra in 1990, a friend and I started going to Question Time in the House of Representatives primarily because it was free, and we had plenty of time to kill. It was the days when Hawke was PM, Keating was Treasurer, Beazley was Leader of the House, and Howard was Opposition Leader. I’d become hooked on politics.
Later, I went to university to study linguistics (because I was working in publishing) in a BA, but found history and politics to be more interesting, so enrolled in those. There I met Steve, a classmate who was active in the ALP and the union movement. Steve seemed very professional in the way he spoke about the machinations of those organisations, so I thought I’d take a gradual approach to joining them. My plan was to work for the Greens in one election, and maybe the Democrats the next election, before moving up to the real battle with the ALP. Back then, that was the hierarchy of professionalism on the left, as far as I saw it.
As part of the plan, I worked for the Greens at the 1996 election. Handing out how-to-vote cards at what turned out to be the largest polling place in the country – Palmerston Primary School in Canberra. I was mildly pleased the Greens vote for that booth was higher than average. But the larger result – the loss of the election for Labor, the loss of Keating who had become a hero of mine, and the installation of the Howard government – altered my plan. If I’d stuck to the plan, I’d have worked for the Democrats in 1998, and done my first Labor campaign work in the 2001 election. Instead, I decided that my side of politics needed all the help it could get, and straight away. Within three weeks of the election, I’d joined the ALP.
It was a raucous introduction. North Canberra sub-branch was huge – 200+ members – and the hall where the meetings were loud, tightly-organised and hard to follow for a new player. I got to know some of the regular speakers and soon was agitating for a split in the sub-branch to establish a new sub-branch in the new part of town where I lived. I was one of two main drivers for this change, and I know I made friends and enemies in doing it, but we got the result. My first real victory.
While this was going on, I was increasingly active in what turned into a big industrial dispute at work. The normal strategy in disputes was to impose work bans that would upset clients. Those clients (so the theory went) would complain to their MPs who would complain to the minister who would complain to the secretary of the department, who would then acquiesce to our demands. We took a different approach.
We went via the media, and MPs, and we went to the shopping malls to tell the public (ie the affected clients) how the proposed changes we were in dispute over would negatively affect them. The dispute was drawn out over several months, and upset many within the departmental hierarchy, but the union members won. Even now the changes we fought never occurred, a decade and a half later. I’m still a bit proud of that result. It ruined any career prospect I had within that department. I didn’t mind – I disliked the department intensely and was trying to get out for most of the time I worked there.
I landed another position, back in the department where I’d been in publishing earlier. Soon though, I came into a disagreement with my manager, after failing to follow an instruction I considered illegal [using departmental resources to publish a menu for the manager's mate's wife's cafe - a private business] so I was suspended on full pay while the matter was investigated. While the ‘investigation’ dragged into its third week, I was out to dinner with Jason, a friend from the new ALP sub-branch. Jason worked for an MP in Parliament House, so I asked “I have spare time on my hands. How can I help the party?” He gave me a number to call, which I did, and within days, I was volunteering in Mr Beazley’s [the Leader of the Opposition] office. I quickly went from volunteering every Thursday to being there every day, and taking on more and more tasks.
Essentially, my role there was ‘media monitoring’ – keeping a database on what the media wrote about a whole raft of issues – the proposals to sell Telstra, to introduce a GST, the rise of Hansonism, etc. There were 30-odd categories. As I moved to being there full-time, I took on the role of coordinating the volunteer staff, and then expanding our volunteer numbers by recruiting through the university Labor student organisations. By the time a decision had been reached regarding the menu-publishing dispute, it was more than a year later and I was being paid to do a job I loved, so I resigned my ‘government career’ so I could spend all my time trying to overthrow the government.
I never managed it. Labor stayed in Opposition a lot longer than I stayed working for them. I left during the 1998 election campaign.
Later, when I was no longer married in 2003, I moved to Brisbane and was involved with Labor up there. The alien factionalism though I found confusing and frustrating. I therefore let my membership lapse. I felt back then I’d fought enough skirmishes, earned enough scars that I could put away my sword and shield and no longer fight political battles.
Despite this, I joined the Greens in 2006.
I stood out in the Greens. At the time, I joked with a friend that it was like “imagine having a Dad’s Army unit, and in walks someone freshly returned from Dunkerque, and they all behave with reverence and whisper about how he’s been to the real war“. That’s what it was like.
In the 2006 Queensland election, I was a campaign manager. We worked hard, and the three electorates under our influence all did well. Our preferences unseated a Liberal we didn’t like, and our vote went up in each seat. All up, a good result. The evening of the election though, I had such severe sunstroke I collapsed and slept for two days straight.
I left the Greens soon after the election, frustrated with their lack of organisation and discipline. I re-joined Labor when I returned to Canberra in 2007, but only as a way of reconnecting socially with the friends I had in the party earlier. I did my time as a booth captain – back at Palmerston Primary School – the day Rudd finally ended the Howard years. It was my last real activism in partisan politics though. I became then a dormant member, paying my dues, going to meetings to dine with friends, but I’d lost the belief and the trust in the party I’d fought and bled for.
I was sufficiently disillusioned with Labor to finally quit in 2010.
Why do I write this epic history of my partisan history? Because I have been examining the question lately: what do I believe in? What causes am I prepared to stand for?
Now, the answers to those questions lie with issues, not with parties.
Just some of the issues I am passionate about now include freedom of expression and the removal of censorship; secession for my homeland; and fighting the lies surrounding issues like immigration and cultural integration.