Pages From A Political Activist's Diary

Karen Radford Treanor 


Copyright 2023  by Karen Radford Treanor

Karen and Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia.  Photo by Douglas Sutherland-Bruce.
Karen and Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia. 
Photo by Douglas Sutherland-Bruce.

In the early days of this century (heavens to Murgatroyd, doesn’t that sound strange?) I worked for a state Member of Parliament in Western Australia. She was a progressive young woman who had knocked off the conservative incumbent against all odds, to the bookies’ delight.

Three years later she recontested the seat, and many of us jumped on the bandwagon to push it over the line. A lot of old-time meet-and-greet activities went on, many of which I orchestrated or attended. The main opposition candidate had a huge budget and friends in high places, so we had to work extra hard to make up in public appearances what we could not beat in paid advertising. At one event we were lucky enough to have a visit from former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, always a crowd-pleaser. I wrote emails to my mother on the other side of the world to keep her in touch with events, in which she took a keen interest. This story was constructed from those emails.

26 January 2005

Yesterday we scored a coup and had the Premier in the electorate for a few hours. He's a nice guy; people like him, and he was a good drawcard at the coffee shop in Mundaring and the other shops nearby. He is a consummate low-key politician: he always remembers my name and makes the right sort of chit-chat.

He was preceded by two broad-shouldered men who came up to the front desk and started to speak, but I beat them to it. "Ah, the boys from State Security. Come to check us for bombs?"

"No, we mainly worry about nutters when the Premier is out in the electorates," said the bigger one.

"Well, besides me, there's Martin the research officer, going quietly mad in the back room, and the Candidate herself, of course." Big laugh.

They prowled around and then the Premier came in with his immediate entourage, which comprised a personal assistant, a PR woman, and a driver. They collected the Boss and set off for the Hills. Nobody had any guns; nobody got frisked, and there were no incidents other than one of our serial pests, an old man with a bee in his bonnet. Nobody else was anything but delighted and polite during the visitation.

I rather like living in a place where the Premier's security detail doesn't feel the need to have weapons other than their own meaty hands.

Today is Australia Day, a public holiday, not really analogous to July 4th because we still have ties to Britain and strictly speaking aren't quite 'free'. The Boss was up here at 7.30 a.m. for a dawn service--well, post-dawn, as the sun comes up at 4.30 now--and it went well. She was particularly pleased that the main opposition candidate was a no-show. His party have apparently figured out that the fewer people who meet him, the better his chances are.

Sunday we are using a vacant store right next to the open-air markets and putting up posters and handing out leaflets and so on, which should snare a few potential voters. It probably means more problems for me to work on--these things always bring out the people with problems--but we'll just have to do what we can.

There's a very firm line drawn between the ordinary work of a sitting member and the campaign work--we must be sure that not a penny of public money goes on to paying for campaign stuff. We have a separate account and that's where campaign contributions go into and out of.

I am counting down the days, the sooner the election is over the sooner we are back to something approaching normal.

5 Feb 2005

Last night they held the draw for position on the ballot paper. This probably doesn't matter much in the US where you have a first-over-the-line voting system where people mark the box next to their choice and that's it.

Here we have a preferential voting system, (often called “ranked voting” elsewhere) which means you put a 1 in the box next to your favourite, then must number the rest of the boxes in the order you prefer. Sort of like saying "I want Bloggs first, but if I can't have him, I want Smith, and if I can't have her…” until you reach Brown or whoever is your least favourite.

Anyway, there are nine candidates in the field, and my boss got the first spot on the ballot paper. Why is this important? Because a small minority of the voters are what we call "the donkey vote" They number their ballot paper top to bottom, with no thought for which candidate is which. It is believed that this section of the populace is worth 100 votes for the candidate who gets the number one spot. So we are delighted with the result, and account it lucky, as she drew number one in the last election and won with a handsome majority. Fingers crossed it happens again--it will be harder this time due to redrawn electorate boundaries. Our boundaries are set by an independent non-partisan electoral commission, and are based on population numbers, so when new suburbs open up, electoral boundaries are often adjusted. The most recent redistribution here took away some safe areas and brought in a swinging voter section from another seat. There are no gerrymandered seats here; we learned the lesson about that many decades ago.

We will have to work our butts off over the next three weeks. I am about to go off for a morning of knocking on strangers' doors and asking them to vote for my boss. It's sort of like being a civilian Mormon!

The Boss had an extra job last night, working at the front counter of a pizza shop. The owner, winner of the World's Best Pizza award in New York last December, invited her to work for him for a night, saying it would be good exposure. Also, he gets a good looking counter girl free! I stopped in about 6.30 and she was coping beautifully. I relented and didn't order the cream of octopus pizza as I had threatened to do. While I was waiting, friends turned up with the great news about the ballot paper draw, which made her happy for the rest of the night.

Feb 21, 2005

Friday night the Boss was on a state-wide current affairs show. The opposition party wouldn't let her opponent appear, apparently suspecting he wouldn't do well. They offered a candidate from another electorate instead, so it wasn't a debate about our electorate’s issues, but was a more general discussion and fairly bland. She did well, I think, but when I compare her opposition's campaign budget to ours it's scary--his ads are everywhere. I fear it may be that his name becomes so familiar that people vote for him because they feel they know him. Some folks would rather eat a toad than vote for him—and many in his own party are less than enchanted. But that doesn’t stop the unexpected happening.

Yesterday was the official launch of the Labor Party's campaign. Why, I hear you ask, would you have a launch only six days from the actual election? Why not have it when the election is announced? Your guess is as good as mine, but this is how it's done. Last week the Libs launched their campaign and this week we did ours. Some of the smaller parties don’t bother with launches at all.

The Boss was the lead-off speaker and by all accounts acquitted herself well. She introduced the party’s national leader, a very nice fellow; highly intelligent, and recently recalled to the leadership after two years in the wilderness. Very popular here in the west where he was born and educated—often called “The best prime minister we never had.”

I missed the launch because I was standing at the Farmers Markets from 8 to 1 trying to engage strangers in meaningful dialogue about the election and how they should vote for our candidate. Unhappily most of the people who wanted to talk were not from our electorate, but wanted to chat anyway. One of them insisted I must be proud of my daughter and refused to believe we weren't related. Other than we both have brown eyes and curly dark hair and are carrying a few pounds we don't need, I don't see the resemblance, but when you are standing in front of a 6 foot high poster, perhaps it's hard for the viewer to get the perspective.

I only had one nasty visitor, who said "Useless bitch; never did a day's work in her life" before turning and scuttling off. I would have been after him like a terrier on a rat had my partner at the stand not stepped in my path and made a soothing comment about some people not having been taught any manners when young. Colin was there with me for most of the morning, standing in for his wife who was ill with a bad back

I got home from that exercise, had a wash and a 15 minute nap and set off again for the campaign BBQ where everyone stood around saying positive things and trying on T-shirts to ascertain their correct size for Election Day. Ruth, Lyla and Val were all there, three senior ladies from Labor politics who were all parliamentarians in their day. Ruth is hilarious, must be close to 80 and is proof that you don't need to be a feeble old lady just because your body looks that way.

A bunch of us were discussing what to do about one of our federal senators who had been interviewed on TV and had said "If the election was held this weekend, Labor would have lost". We all agreed it was a dumb thing to say in public and that with friends like that you didn't need enemies, and what to do about it.

Someone said "Ruth, you're in his electorate; what about you protest to him?" Someone else said "Ruth will give him what for--what are you going to say to him, Ruth?" And Ruth smoothed her elegant white chignon and gave forth in her impeccable vowels, "I shall ask the stupid bahstid what the f*** he thought he was doing to go on television and say a thing like that."

After a moment's stunned silence, we all agreed that this strategy probably couldn't be improved upon.

And so to bed, to arise on T-minus-five and counting.

Footnote: The Boss won the seat again five days later and life went back to the usual things, except a bit more complicated because she was appointed to a ministerial post which took more time away from the electorate and put more pressure on us, the office staff. Sadly, shortly before her 35th birthday she died of the cancer she’d beaten back ten years before.

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