First Published March 2018
In conversation with FX Medicine‘s Andrew Whitfield-Cook at the United in Compassion Medicinal Cannabis Symposium last week, I spoke of an exercise I undertook during the last SA State Election and how I put questions to candidates and then published responses…I’ve republished my blog…..here’s a look back.
At this year’s Federal Election I would encourage you to do the same and participate in democracy and make your vote count…do you have questions of your candidates? Now’s the perfect time to ask…..feel free to use some of my questions or create your own… Make your vote count.
Introduction: It is no secret I have a keen interest in politics; locally, nationally and internationally. For the most part my background is unremarkable, but I will say that from an early age I have been inquisitive and hugely interested in people, democracy and in my (our) environment and the environment.
Where I have found my understanding of issues to be limited or knowledge-gaps needing to be filled, I have sought answers. Importantly, where a once tightly held view has been influenced by my new learnings, I have freely acknowledged and disclosed my change in view (Medical Cannabis being a case in point).
This piece is not written with the intent to influence your view but rather provide you with some insights to which you may or may not have regard to when you cast your precious vote on March 17. Your vote. Your view.
Campaigning commences: As the race for Narungga unfolded and the five candidates’ identities became known, I decided to contact them individually and pose the same set of questions. The purpose of this exercise was to understand more about what motivated them to stand as candidates and to see if one had a point of difference which would cause me to place a number 1 alongside their name on election day.
More about the seat of Narungga (including key boundary changes compared to 2014) here: https://www.ecsa.sa.gov.au/electoral-districts/electoral-district-profiles?view=article&id=847:narungga
The list of the candidates, as they will appear on the ballot is at this link: https://www.ecsa.sa.gov.au/2018-state-election-narungga-electoral-district-candidates
The questions: I posed a suite of questions which I felt would dig a little deeper and garner more telling answers. More telling than the approved words, which often are common threads in media pieces, as candidates go about spruiking Party positions.
Here are my questions.
What motivates you?
What skillset would you bring to the office of Member for Narungga?
What do you see as the challenges for Narungga?
What are the opportunities?
What are your views on affordable and less cumbersome patient access pathways to Medical Cannabis?
What are your views on an industrial Hemp industry on the YP & how would you support local farmers?
What is it about your Leader that inspires you?
Justice reinvestment – The principles of a justice reinvestment approach include localism, community control and better cooperation between local services. These also align with what we know about human rights-based practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service delivery. How would you better support Narungga’s First Peoples – particularly youth?
How would (insert Party) better support primary producers – markets/value adding etc?
Are you for or against Australia becoming a Republic?
Why should I vote for you?
I reached out to the candidates via various mediums including Social Media, (Facebook and Twitter) SMS, voice calls and email.
Of the five candidates, three engaged with me personally.
You can read the unedited responses I was provided in writing at this link:
My interactions with the Candidates
Liberal candidate. Fraser Ellis responded to my meeting request in a very timely fashion. I met with him in person and we conversed over coffee as I put questions to him and he later followed up via email with additional detail. Fraser has made several contacts with me after that first meeting and has clearly demonstrated a willingness to better understand some issues.
Greens candidate. Jason Swales responded to my email and whilst there was a delay to the timeframe given we were able to negotiate an extended deadline and his reply was provided. His reply was written in consultation with his Party Office. Jason also took time out to call me personally and invited me to meet him on his patch at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula, an invitation I am yet to take up but am grateful of the offer.
SA Best candidate, Sam Davies communicated with me via email, SMS and voice calls. I also attended, at Sam’s invitation, a SA Best Party event in Kadina where leader Nick Xenophon introduced Sam and formally launched his campaign. SA Best Upper House candidates Sam Johnson and Andrea Madely were also in attendance.
I did get an opportunity to ask a question at the forum, which I expressly directed to the candidate. Sam started to respond however Mr Xenophon interjected and provided a broad response which, for me, diluted the opportunity for me to directly engage with the candidate. It was also telling in that there were significant knowledge gaps for both Mr Xenophon and Sam in the areas of Medical Cannabis and Industrial Hemp.
Labor candidate, Doug Milera. I initially reached out to Doug via his Facebook page (messenger) and received a SMS response and apologies for the delay in getting back to me. I was invited to email him my questions, which I duly did, and he also offered an opportunity to meet him.
Further attempts at communication seeking a meeting and/or response to my questions remain unanswered and I have had my access blocked via Messenger on the Doug Milera – Labor for Narungga Facebook page.
Australian Conservatives candidate Rebecca Hewett. I made several attempts to obtain a contact number for Rebecca to arrange a time to meet her. I was asked, via a third party to email my questions to the Australian Conservatives (SA Parliament) Media advisor which I duly did. As a courtesy I also copied in Hon Robert Brokenshire MLC into the email.
Mr Brokenshire made time to personally call me. However, he did question my motives in wanting to meet with Rebecca and said that I could meet with her, but he would be present. I explained my reasons for reaching out to the Narungga Candidates. He offered some dates (6/7th March) and said he would come back to me with a time. A follow up call has not been forthcoming and as at the time of publishing this piece I have not received a response to my questions either. I understand that Rebecca was given my number and said she’d call me, I’d still be happy to take her call.
My conclusions: This exercise has been hugely informative for me. It is interesting that my thoughts not only focussed on policies and party positions but also took into consideration personalities.
For a local member to be effective, first and foremost they need to be accessible and respectful. Whether in Government or in Opposition a local Member is there to serve his/her constituency.
On any given day a constituent may make representation to his/her Member on a diverse range of matters. Some matters may be very complex and sensitive, so for me, should I need to access my local Member I would have an expectation that I am treated respectfully, that I am listened to intently and that my issue or concern is taken seriously.
Based on this exercise there are two candidates with whom I would feel confident in making representation to. Both Fraser and Jason (undoubtedly their communications styles are very different) gave me a sense that if I presented with an issue that my voice would be heard and that there would be a willingness to broker a solution for me and importantly, with me.
My views align with policies of the Centre-Left of the political spectrum blended with a shade of Green.
In terms of policies – at this election, the SA Greens and Dignity Party are clear winners. From matters ranging from human rights, creating awareness and enshrining greater equity into law, better patient access pathways to medical cannabis, justice reinvestment and caring for our environment, (which without we would have no economy); they show leadership.
When voting in the electorate of Narungga I will be casting my number 1 preference with Jason Swales based on his Party’s policies and on Jason’s personal disposition.
Even thought I do not agree with some of the Liberal Party’s positions, for instance their willingness to legislate to raise the maximum penalties for Cannabis possession from $500 to $2,000 (this is not, as they claim, aligned with community expectations) Fraser Ellis will receive my second preference because of his willingness to be an accessible member.
Although Doug Milera blocked me on Facebook, his Party’s policies mean I will be placing him third.
With a lack of policies in general and limited understanding of some of the issues I am known to advocate strongly for, I will be placing Sam Davies fourth; and the Australian Conservatives candidate Rebecca Hewett will be fifth on my ballot paper.
In the Legislative Council I plan to vote 1-12 below the line.
I will be starting with the Dignity Party. Kelly Vincent’s outstanding 8-year term deserves another, as does Tammy Franks of the Greens. Following voting for Kelly and Tammy and others on their ticket, I will continue to number my ballot paper below the line, selecting candidates from the Animal Justice Party and the Liberal Democrats (based on drug law reform policy) until 12 places are marked.
Voting – some interesting facts: In Australia women who were British subjects, 21 years and older, only gained the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament in 1902. South Australia was a bit more progressive and allowed women to vote and stand for parliament in 1895.
Sadly, it wasn’t until 1962 that the right to vote in federal elections was granted to Australian Aboriginal women who, together with Australian Aboriginal men, had been specifically excluded from the franchise in Australia by the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902.
If you are unsure about how you can cast a valid vote, follow this link to learn more:
My prediction for Narungga. The Liberal Party will retain this seat.
However, I believe the margin (currently 14.1% in favour of the Liberal Party – Two Party Preferred – which does not take into account the SA Best factor) will receive a hammering.
The margin may well be decreased to 5-6% largely due to what is expected to be strong polling by the SA Best Candidate.
Making Narungga closer to marginal, if not marginal, would be a good outcome whichever way you look at it.
Closing remarks: I say emphatically to everyone, especially young people (those voting for the first time) you have the right and freedom to participate in this democracy, so do so.
Be informed. Be motivated to make your vote count.
Your vote is a powerful and precious thing.
Foot note: I was employed by the Crown for four-and-a-half years (2009 – 2013) as Principal Assistant to Independent Member for Frome Geoff Brock MP. In 2013 I ran as an Independent Senate Candidate.
I have been an ally (for want of a better word) of several political figures, including Tammy Franks MLC, Kelly Vincent MLC and Kyam Maher MLC in my advocacy for Medical Cannabis and Drug Law Reform. Each Member from diverse and different Parties but each with progressive, people-focussed views.
I did consider running as an Independent Candidate for the Seat of Narungga at this election however a few factors meant that the timing simply wasn’t right for me.