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Billy: You were the only Democrat at the last state (Victorian) election to get over 4%. What did you learn from that campaign? What are you going to do the same / differently this time around?
Jess: In the state election in 2002, I think the most important thing I learnt was that it's really important to have support during an election campaign - from friends, family, and fellow party members. If you don't have that support, you can burn out pretty quickly. I think I also learnt to value and talk to smaller media outlets that reach sections of the community that may not read or take much notice of the mainstream press. Often they’re also more willing to give minor party candidates a hearing.
Billy: How relevant are the Democrats these days? Haven’t the Greens taken your party’s spot on the political spectrum?
Jess: The Democrats are still very relevant – just take a look at our record in the senate for the last 25 years, protecting Australians from the excesses of power-hungry major parties. ‘These days’ the Democrats are still keeping the senate strong. Whether its Brian Greig fighting against a ban on gay marriage, Natasha Stott Despoja fighting to protect higher education and the rights of university students, Lyn Allison working to find solutions to environmental problems, or Andrew Bartlett visiting Nauru and speaking out against the mistreatment of asylum seekers… Our Senators are doing the hard work on the important issues.
Billy: You managed to beat the son of the party’s founder to win the top spot on the Democrat’s Senate ticket in Victoria. As a young person, how does this make you feel?
Jess: I’m honoured to be on the ticket with Greg Chipp, the son of the founder of the party. It’s very exciting to be leading the Senate ticket, and I hope that in future many young people – from all political parties – will be preselected and elected as parliamentarians. As a young person, it feels wonderful to know that I have the support of the party behind me – they judge me not by my age, but by what I say and do. They /value/ the perspective that I bring to the role as a young person.
Billy: Reading your blog, you’ve been to some interesting places in Victoria during the year so far. What would be your favourite place?
Jess: All of the places that I’ve visited so far have been wonderful. The visit to Echuca was great – both the meeting with the mayor and local councillors, and the meeting with members of the community in a local café gave us an opportunity to hear about the issues in the area. But by far, the best part of the day for me was meeting with a group of year 9 students from the local government high school. They were so articulate, so passionate, so opinionated. I could see them making a real difference in the world of politics one day…
Billy: You work part-time in a book distribution warehouse as well as spending time on the campaign trail. What are your top 5 recommended books to read on long train rides?
Jess: OK, I read a lot of books, so recommending only five is difficult… the best thing to do, methinks, is to list the five good books that I’m either reading right now or have read recently: /Not Happy John/ by Margo Kingston, /Good News For A Change/ by David Suzuki, /Inside Out /by Erin Shale (editor), /Jesus Before Christianity /by Albert Nolan, and /A Vindication of the Rights of Woman /by Mary Wollstonecraft.
Billy: As a bisexual woman in a same-sex relationship, what issues concern you about the current Government and their “family” agenda?
Jess: John Howard is trying to drag us back in time, to a homogenous, heterosexual era where diverse family structures are frowned upon. He wants to enshrine discrimination against same-sex couples in Australian law. To make things worse, there’s no opposition from the Opposition.
The ALP has back flipped and betrayed the gay and lesbian community by agreeing to support the Government’s legislation to ban same-sex marriage, despite earlier agreeing to send the matter to a Senate Committee first. Both the ALP and the Government are giving in to the demands of conservative religious organisations. Both parties have abandoned same-sex couples and their children to continued uncertainty in their lives.
Billy: Which Prime Minister or other Australian powerful figure (dead or
alive) do you look up to?
Jess: I look up to my Dad more than I look up to Prime Ministers or powerful Australian figures. I’m fonder of immediate, personal heroes than distant historical ones. However, I do /admire/ many former politicians and Australian figures – Alfred Deakin for getting into it at such a young age, Whitlam for his vision, Fraser for the man he became, William Dean for his conscience and dignity, Kerry O’Brien for his intelligence and wit, Natasha Stott Despoja for her guts and passion… the list could really be endless, there are plenty of historical and current Australian people for us to marvel at and emulate.
Billy: Women in politics are often accused of being more interested in “style” than “substance”. Is this an accurate reflection?
Jess: Absolutely not – there are many women of ‘substance’ in politics, including Senator Natasha Stott Despoja and Senator Lyn Allison. It’s not the women in politics who have to change, it’s the attitude and the inaccurate assumptions made by some politicians, some media, and some of the public about women, and whether they can be serious and substantial contributors to Australian politics. When we have a parliament half filled with women, I’ll start believing that attitudes might be changing.
Billy: If you win and you begin your first 6 year term in the Senate, what will you hope to achieve in that term?
Jess: I want to improve the lot of those Australians that the major parties constantly forget, ignore, or leave behind – people who are mentally and physically disabled, rural Australians, young mothers, same sex attracted people, those living in poverty and homelessness, indigenous Australians, young people and students, asylum seekers and refugees. I want to fight for social justice – a community of inclusiveness and equality, where human rights are honoured and celebrated. Obviously I won’t get all of that done by myself in one term, but in my one term i would like to be a PART of achieving even a small step towards that achievement.
Disclaimer: Aaron is currently a member of the Australian Democrats and has run as a House of Representatives candidate in previous elections. Billy is not a member of any political party.