The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 38 : 38


36 “You talk about Dickson being disengaged,” Ellen Roberts says, “but this is the stuff that’s gonna reach people, right? You walk up to their door and have a conversati­on. They may not engage with a piece of direct mail, but a face-to-face conversati­on? That’s different.” Benedict Coyne professes a similar fondness for personal dialogue, recalling one particular exchange in a logging town at the height of the conflict over Western Australia’s old-growth forests. “I was in this one town, very old logging town, generation­s of forest workers. This old lady came up to me, happy to talk as long as I wasn’t a ‘greenie’. I said, no, I’m a conservati­onist. So then we had this fabulous conversati­on about how technology and corporatis­ation had cost jobs in the industry. We talked about corporate downsizing, outsourcin­g, the so-called economic efficienci­es driving jobs out of the market.” GetUp’s crew at the Petrie Hotel does not report that level of super-woke policy sophistica­tion. One canvasser, Mary, reports “four meaningful­s”, as in meaningful conversati­ons. “A lot of people were very focused on local issues. There were quite a few families, and they were very fixed on putting shields on roadway lights because they beam nothing like the caricature of GetUp members as rabid, lentil-eating revolution­aries. Frank, a migrant from the former Soviet satellite state of East Germany, is one of three successful businessme­n there today who has independen­tly decided to lend their considerab­le talents to the defeat of Peter Dutton. Asked whether Labor is coordinati­ng with GetUp, Ali France answered a different question. “I’ve doorknocke­d and phoned many thousands of Dickson residents,” she said, “and very few have raised GetUp or the Greens with me. I am solely focused on our ground game.” Benedict Coyne, with the harder climb from a likely third-place finish, was less circumspec­t. There is no formal coordinati­on of their efforts, he says. GetUp has always favoured the ALP. “The long game is to put a good effort in, build a movement, and get people out there and amongst it. We’ve had huge support within the electorate and from around the country from people who really despise everything that Peter Dutton has come to symbolise about what is toxic and wrong with politics in Australia, and how it urgently needs to change. And when it is changed it will benefit everyday Australian­s.” “That’s what makes me angry sometimes, when GetUp is described as crazy left-wing activists. Am I a crazy left-wing activist?” directly into the bedrooms and keep their kids awake. There were lots of questions about transport. Kallangur appears to feel neglected because of North Lakes and Redcliffe getting all the amenities and facilities. So if you have a young child and you need to get to the station, there are no amenities for anyone, let alone for those with disabiliti­es. It was really basic stuff affecting their quality of life, and they didn’t think a federal politician was going to change that. There was a sense of powerlessn­ess.” Mary’s canvassing buddy, an engineer called Frank, interrupts to make a clarificat­ion. “When we told them the seat is very marginal – ‘1500 votes, and you could be one of them’ – then whoa! ‘You got my vote.’” The granular detail collected by Mary and Frank and the other GetUp members was not simply a litany of local complaints, although that sort of on-the-ground intelligen­ce is hugely valuable to political parties. They also compiled more subjective data on whether GetUp should make return visits to a particular address and the likelihood of deeper engagement if they did. The end goal, of course, is to flip a vote away from the sitting member. It was easy to see why GetUp has become such a menacing phantom within the imaginatio­n of conservati­ves. These happy few, hunkered down with light beers behind the poker machines at the Petrie Hotel, are At the end of the GetUp debriefing, I ask all of the insurgents whether giving up their time to work against Dutton gives them a sense of agency. Frank is the most empathic. Once upon a time he would have been a natural recruit for the Liberal Party: a successful businessma­n, an engineer, a CEO, and a man with a life story that made him naturally wary of the left and authoritar­ians in general. “I grew up in East Germany. All I wanted was to get out. You couldn’t campaign against the government, you would be locked away, so you were left with passive resistance. But then in the autumn of ’89 it was amazing to see how people power got bigger and bigger, and then, boom, the Wall was gone. A demonstrat­ion on Thursday, and then on Saturday the Wall is gone. So it is possible. “Rather than sitting in front of the telly and getting angry, it is liberating to be among like-minded people. I am in business, and there I have to be careful what I say, but here I don’t have to hold back. You can see what GetUp has done in other areas of the country, and we can do it here. That’s what makes me angry sometimes, when GetUp is described as crazy left-wing activists. Am I a crazy left-wing activist? No. We’re ordinary people and we can make a difference.” M the monthly — essay

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