The Greens face in Higgins: @gemoo4 interview

Greens candidate for Higgins, James Harrison,

Greens candidate for Higgins, James Harrison,

By Georgie Moore

22 July 2013

In Conversation with The Greens’ candidate for Higgins James Harrison

This is the second of a series of Q&As, where I talk personal and party politics with the candidates for the Higgins electorate. Next, I will speak with Liberal incumbent Kelly O’Dwyer.

Georgie: James, how long have you been involved in politics?

James: Well I’m relatively new to the world of politics. So, last October was the first time I ran in an election, which was the [City of Stonnington] council elections.

Georgie: By how much did you lose in last year’s council elections?

James: I missed out by 28 votes of being elected.

Georgie: Before that, what drove you to enter politics?

James: Well it’s not that I had a specific interest in politics as such. It was more my passion for the issues—so passion for things like social justice and environmental issues and sustainability. And I guess politics is just an avenue, one avenue to make a positive contribution and try to influence change. And like a lot of people now days, particularly a lot of young people, I was pretty disengaged with politics for a long time because I just didn’t feel like there was really a positive choice or a positive option out there with the old parties. And I wasn’t really relating to what I was hearing from many of them, particularly, you know, in today’s world where we’re facing things like global climate change… the destruction of our natural environment. So it wasn’t until I sort of I looked more into The Greens and became more aware of the work they were doing that I realised there was a positive choice and there was another option.

Georgie: What made you decide The Greens were the avenue through which to engage with the issues of social and environmental justice?

James: I guess, working in the not-for-profit area, and with their social enterprises I recognised that they are doing fantastic work and they are doing really important work on the ground addressing issues, helping people in need – but I started just thinking about the root causes of some of these problems, things like why do we actually have poverty and such inequality in the first place?… Here in Australia we have abundant resources, all the food and water we could ever want, yet there are still millions of people around the world who have to go without. And yet we have political leaders like Tony Abbott who tell us that our primary focus in the years ahead should be on building “a strong and prosperous economy and a safe and secure Australia”. To me, this just seems so narrow minded and self focused. We already have one of the world’s strongest economies, we already have some of the highest living standards on Earth and we already live in one of the safest and most secure nations in the world. Surely we can aspire to more ambitious goals—like sharing our wealth and prosperity with people who truly are in need? So, I think one of the key solutions to tackling poverty and inequality is for wealthy countries like ours to direct more of our attention outwards and to prioritise helping people in need, instead of pursuing unnecessary wealth for ourselves and the accumulation of unnecessary possessions.

Georgie: Can you tell me some specific policies the Greens have to address inequality and social injustice?

James: In terms of social justice and social inequality, The Greens have been outspoken in areas campaigning for marriage equality, for example, which is a big issue in my electorate and a big issue for me personally as a gay man. The issue of marriage equality isn’t just about me personality or my friends or my family, it’s also an issue that has far reaching consequences for so many young people as well. We know that young people, for example, who are same-sex attracted are at far greater risk of suicide than any other group. So by our government showing leadership on this issue and sending a clear message to young people is saying that you will be welcomed and you will be a valued member of our community regardless of your sexuality.

Georgie: Was the fact that The Greens is currently the only party to support same-sex marriage the major pull factor for you, as a gay man, to join the party?

James: To be honest it wasn’t one of the driving factors. It for me it was more actually the reens were the only party that were standing up and speaking out about climate change and global warming and really prioritising that. I mean global warming is the biggest issue of our time. It’s an issue that is affecting every single person on the planet and will continue to do. So for me what could be more important then that?

Georgie: Aside from the Greens’ well-publicized position on same-sex marriage, what specific policies does the party have in place to address inequality and social injustice?

James: The Greens have recently released proposals to help make our economy more fair. This includes a call to end fossil fuel subsidies to some of our country’s biggest polluters. This measure would help fund things like our disadvantaged schools, as recommended by the Gonski [Better Schools: A National Plan for School Improvement] schools funding review, as well as an increase to Newstart allowance – helping some of Australia’s poorest families. This measure would also create more incentive for big business to implement more efficient and environmentally friendly practices, and it would have the added effect of reducing pollution to tackle global warming and climate change.

Georgie: Higgins is one of the safest liberal seats in Victoria. What do you think your chances are?

James: Look, I’m being completely realistic. I understand that there is some way to go and I’m not under any sort of false sort of illusions that we’re going to suddenly take tens of thousands of votes from Kelly O’Dwyer. But as we’ve seen in the result we had in the [Stonnington] council election in October, there is a strong desire for change in this community. And the fact that two Greens were elected in October is evidence of that and I think that when our community is given a positive alternative, they’re more than happy to take that opportunity. And I think there’s a lot of potential for growth in this area. We have a lot of growth happening particularly in the western end of the electorate. A lot of young people moving in, lots of students and young professionals and young people are really the ones who really want to see a change in politics and who want to see more progressive policies. The last federal election we got a swing of nearly 8% [actually 7% swing] and I think it’s my aim this year to run a really strong and positive campaign and campaign for issues that I’m passionate about raising awareness of issues and to give people a positive choice.

Georgie: Beyond empty political platitudes, what are you referring to when you talk about the Greens as a ‘positive choice’?

James: While we have people like Tony Abbott with his relentless campaign of fear mongering and negativity, the Greens’ are the only party that is proposing a genuine shift to a more fair, caring and sustainable society. Abbot has once again proven that he holds the science of global warming in utter contempt with his comments this week, branding the ETS [Emissions Trading Scheme] as “a so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one’” While Abbott continues to mislead the Australian people with his cleverly crafted catch phrases like “stop the boats” and “axe the tax”, the Greens’ are calling for refugees and asylum seekers to be treated as human beings. We are also calling for a rapid transition to clean energy, which is what the science community is telling us we have to do if we’re to have any hope of limiting the effects of global warming.

Georgie: How much of the seat do you aim to get?

James: Um, look I’m not going to put a specific number on it. Like I said it’s my aim to run as strong and positive campaign as I possibly can. So that’s really my aim. I’m not going to put a number on it. But like I said, there’s huge potential in this seat and I think it’s really important that we keep up our momentum. And as we’ve seen by the result last October, you know, there’s a huge amount of potential here and I think this seat could very well become Green in the new future.

Georgie: With the Greens’ influence waning since the 2010 election—

James Why do you think it’s waning?

Georgie: There’s been a backlash against The Greens since the 2010 election.

James: From whom?

Georgie: Do you fear the Greens won’t be able to keep up with the momentum form the 2010 election?

James: Absolutely not. I think the Greens are the fastest growing political party in this country. And as more awareness is raised and people start to realise that we are a positive choice and that we have the interests of our community at heart more and more people are choosing to support the Greens. So the Greens are going through rapid growth. I don’t think support for the Greens is waning at all.

Georgie: Do you feel threatened by the Labor candidate?

James: Um no I don’t feel threatened at all. You know Wesa Chau looks like a wonderful candidate, a wonderful candidate who’s passionate about her community and I think that’s a fantastic thing. I don’t feel threatened by that at all. Essentially, you know, we’re all working towards the same goal but we have very different ideas obviously as to how we go about doing that… I mean, in terms of Labor, I think there is a distinct difference between Labor and the Greens. You know Labor really has lost its way in a lot of ways. And I believe Labor has let down our environment in many ways. And you know really the Greens are the only party that really put the health and protection of our environment at the very core.

Georgie: How do you feel Kevin Rudd’s—and, by extension, Labor’s—revival in the polls is impacting or will impact your chances in Higgins?

James: To be honest, I’m not concerned about that.. You know the greens have a very strong platform. We’ve got comprehensive policies that have been online for you know for years. They don’t just get put out leading up to an election. So I think we’ve got a really strong platform and we’re a really positive choice.

Georgie: Can you take me to your Greens policies as they apply to the seat of Higgins?

James: There’s [sic] hundreds of pages of policies online so I’m not going to be able to recite—

Georgie: But can you talk about the main policies as they pertain to Higgins?

James: Well action on climate change is an issue that affects not only out local community but every community on the planet. So that’s a major one. The protection of our environment – here in Higgins, for example, our Yarra River is quite polluted. You only have to walk a few metres along the Yarra to see plastic pollution floating by, and the greens have been campaigning strongly for a national container deposit scheme for example to end pollution ending up in our waterways. Prioritising sustainable transport is a policy of the Greens—giving more priority to things like trains, trams and buses. And this has positive implications in so many ways. Not only is it a way of reducing out emissions and tackling climate change but it’s also about addressing cost of living pressures because owning and operating a car is becoming just increasingly out of reach for so many people. So prioritising sustainable transport is about easing those cost of living pressures as well as easing congestion. Public transport is just a far more efficient and cost effective way of moving large umbers of people around.

Georgie: Can you take me through any other Greens policies as they apply to Higgins?

James: Yep, again, marriage equality. The Greens have been the driving force behind marriage equality in Australia… So that’s an issue that’s very close the hearts of many people in our local community here.

Georgie: Any other policies?

James: Um, well I’m sure that there are lots of issues but I think that are sort of the four real key issues that I’m particularly passionate about at the moment.

Georgie: Moving on to the education demographics of the seat of Higgins, there are 43 different schools in the seat of Higgins, almost all of which are private. Does this concern you?

James: Well I know that there have been a number of groups campaigning locally for the state government to set u a public high school within Stonninton within Higgins and I think that’s an ongoing campaign. I know that there has been a feasibility study undertaken and I know that there are many residents who are concerned about that issue.

Georgie: Are you concerned?

James: Well I definitely think that people should have the option of sending their children to either public or private schools. I mean we have some wonderful private schools in Higgins with incredible facilities, world class facilities offering fantastic opportunities to young people but I also believe that all of our young people should have the opportunity to get the best possible education and access to world class facilities regardless of which school they go to so that’s I’ve been quite passionate about seeing the Gonski funding education reforms [Better Schools: A National Plan for School Improvement] implemented so that we have more equality within our school system as well.

Regardless of the electorate outcome, will you be getting behind any of the campaigns to see another public school?

James: To be honest, that specific issue hasn’t been major focus of mine. A major focus of mine has obviously been action on climate change, marriage equality, public transport, sustainable transport, but it is defiantly an issue I would like to look into more.

Georgie: How?

James: Well our local Greens councillors, I’ve been spending some time with them and speaking to them about this issue. I believe the result of the feasibility study that was conducted by the state government came out that there wasn’t enough demand for a public school in Higgins, but I guess it remains a fact that there still are many residents who are concerned about that and who have children in public primary schools in the area who are concerned about their children having to travel great distances outside of their home area to go to school.

Georgie: Moving onto a slightly different issue, the early moment from a carbon price to an Emissions Trading Scheme. Do you think we should stay with the carbon price or do you support a move to an ETS?

James: I mean it’s a complicated issue and I probably prefer not to comment on that issue right now. It is a complicated issue but I’ve been very much supportive of the price on carbon because it has achieve what its set out to do, which is reduce pollution and to drive an investment in clean renewable energy (FACT CHECK). So I want whatever system is going to give us the best result. And so, and looking at the price that emissions trading is running at in Europe at the moment, it’s not a strong price. So, you know I want whatever’s going to give us the best result, whatever’s going to be most effective at cutting pollution.

Georgie: Do you see that as the carbon price at the moment?

James: I do yes. I do. Yea I’m very much in favour of a carbon price and I’m quite proud that our government has implemented that.

Georgie: What’s next for you after this election?

James: Well I guess we have to wait and see what happens after the election. But I will continue to campaign on these issues that I’m passionate about. I’ll continue to work with the Greens and yea we’ll just see what opportunities present themselves after the election.

Georgie: Just to finish up, there was controversy earlier this year when you failed to declare you candidacy when quizzing opposition deputy Julie Bishop on climate change on ABC’s Q&A. Fellow guest Greens leader Christine Milne also failed to declare your position as she used the question to defend the carbon pricing and $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corp. How has this impacted on your candidacy so far?

James: I don’t think it’s had any impact on my candidacy at all. You know the people that chose to pick up on that did so in quite an aggressive way. It’s unfortunate that I’ve received some pretty nasty correspondence from that episode. But like I said then, it was never my intention to mislead anyone. I made my membership quite clear to Q&A and so you know that really wasn’t my intention to mislead anyone at all.


When asked after this interview about his response to Labor’s new asylum seeker policy, Mr Harrison directed NoFibs to his Facebook comments:

“As long as there is war and conflict, there will be people who need our help. Instead of spending billions punishing desperate families in offshore makeshift prisons, we should be bolstering support services and increasing our humanitarian intake. As one of the world’s wealthiest countries, we can afford to extend our hand to people in need.”


More Higgins Reports

Costello country: Higgins by @gemoo4
@gemoo4 in conversation with Labor’s Higgins candidate Wesa Chau

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