I’m 29 and running for election, my first time. It feels bizarre. But how do you even begin to enter politics, especially as a young outsider? Why would you bother?
Australian politics disgust me. It’s sad. Colonial values of ego, division, denial, outright lying, and general puritanical tyranny still dominate us, yet they do not represent us. What does represent us? Who? So far, they all look the same, hence the state of our country. Diversity in a portfolio gives the greatest chance of success. Diverse communities need diverse voices for true representation, and a sustainable future. As young people, we are that future, so I guess we need to step up. No one else will.
The September 2021 local elections were postponed to December 4th, along with so much else. The lockdowns, the waiting, the completely natural anxiety, all dragged on, slowly snowballing, until you start questioning if you really want to enter the mess of local government, for four of your best years, instead of fleeing to work at some poolside Ibiza resort-club after endless isolation. Tempting, but the wellbeing of the community is at stake here at home.
I’m based in the Worimi-Biripi-Gringai-MidCoast Region (it’s a large region, since the state-forced amalgamation). Last year, June 2020, I answered a call-out on a local community Facebook group. The group was generally anti-council due to, among many other things, a tender and budget dispute over a massive new office property (gets relevant when the claws come out). They were asking for anyone with finance experience to review the council budget, operations and delivery plans for public submission. I’d lost my festival work to the pandemic, and was re-skilling from event budgets to financial planning. Why not have a crack at the call-out?
So began my tumble down the rabbit hole of local government. The plans breached the Integrated Planning & Reporting (IP&R) framework with the lack of transparency, clarity and SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely). In other words, it was a waste of time, regardless of your financial literacy. I wrote a 7-page submission highlighting this (look, we were a few months into the first lockdown), with suggestions to improve transparency and engagement with the community.
Surprisingly, that’s when things got interesting. I emailed my submission to council. While councillors Epov and Bell responded favourably, councillor Fowler emailed back (Reply All) to say he refused to read it due to me being in that community Facebook group; “Could you please take me off your Contacts. Many Thanks.” They incorrectly put the submission in the appendix as late and I had to ask the Director of Corporate Services for a proper reply. We even had a call to simmer things down.
In the end though, my first engagement with the local council process was fraught, and ultimately ignored. Except by independent councillor Peter Epov, who shared my concerns. We met for coffee later, and after a few months he offered a position on his 2021 independent re-election ticket.
But what does that even mean? I had no idea how to get into politics, other than join the Young Labor or Liberals, the last thing I’d wanna do. I never thought of it as a possibility. It turns out, to run for election:
- You need a minimum total of six people on your ticket (even the independents).
- #1 is the most electable position. You’ll receive any votes you get as an individual (“below the line”), plus the first batch of votes received for your ticket/group overall (“above the line”), until you reach quota.
- At quota (for MidCoast, roughly 4,650 votes), you’re elected. Congratulations!
- Any more ticket/group votes then go to #2, plus their own individual votes, until they reach quota. And so forth.
Do you need to reach quota to get elected? Not necessarily. Reaching quota gets you elected. But at MidCoast’s last election, only 8 candidates reached quota. At that point, it’s whoever’s got the most votes, until all 11 spots are filled.
Councillor Peter Epov is #1. I was #3 but voluntarily dropped to #4 due to a last minute reconfiguration, to ensure we had a well-qualified woman in the top 3 (now the fierce Sandra Bourke) after Pattie Hogan dropped down due to health reasons. #4 is considered an unelectable position, due to the numbers game, and the sheer resources you need to campaign. We’d need a landslide win.
Will we prove them wrong? We’re gonna give it a good crack. Simply being young is a competitive advantage, with most others being two decades older at least. Friends have asked if I’d run my own ticket, so the youth vote could have more confidence. But I never would’ve known how without Peter’s invitation, experience and resources. And if I don’t get in, not only is it great experience for next time, but we’ll also have new youth policies and a local youth committee that I’d likely lead. Could do the Ibiza thing for a while, too.
If you’re young and interested, you could run your own ticket. It’s a great test of your leadership abilities. But a significant issue is the time commitment, often eliminating people employed full-time or with family demands – which is so many of us. It requires sacrifices and trade-offs that our lives don’t often have capacity for. These barriers to entry no doubt result in the political landscape we see today.
You need to organise all your promotional assets and ad spends, register and get approval with the Electoral Commission, develop and express your platform, manage your ticket team, recruit a campaign manager ideally, recruit community supporters and volunteers for distribution and presence in the lead up, the two weeks of pre-poll, and polling day. And not just one polling location, but all of them. MidCoast has 49 locations to cover.
If that’s a bit much, you could identify a potential mentor figure who also wants to run, with experience and resources, whether independent or a party member. Reach out, suss the #2 spot, determine what you can bring to the table, and learn from the process.
That’s the thing – politics at all levels needs more young people, with new approaches to the issues we’ve inherited. Councillors and candidates want to hear from you, at least the ones worth working with. They benefit from young energy in a campaign, with better access to an entire demographic of voters – young people who don’t feel at all represented. Given the dystopian direction we’re headed, this is all the more significant.
It’s not a clear path. Determine how you can fit this into your schedule, your demands at work and at home. Learn what your community needs. Develop policies that serve those needs. Play the game for the right reasons. Recognise where competing interests are at play (especially among development stakeholders). Get ready for debate, disagreement and vitriol. Meet it with compassion and valid justification.
Regardless if you’re left, right, centre or independent, please feel free to connect, especially if you’re interested in getting involved. You’re not alone, as much as it may feel that way. I’ve felt it. I feel the self-doubt, the unknown, the heavy question of whether an eccentric nerd who swears and surfs and throws dance parties will ever be accepted into Australian politics.
But I’m not looking for acceptance. I’m looking for change in this country, in our communities. I’m looking for voters who want to be heard, who need a fresh ideology to represent them instead of the childish (and often corrupt) bullshit we see in our leadership every day, at all levels, on all sides.
Bring on a new future. Bring on the December 4th local elections, and for the Worimi-Biripi-Gringai-MidCoast region, please bring on your vote for Kieran Hennessy and the Peter Epov Group. Thanks for reading.