SERIES: People Become a Political Force #WinningOfWarringah part 3
NEITHER JAMES MATHISON nor I participated in an election campaign. I donate time, a group of committed people in the community, and a room in my home in North Curl Curl as my campaign headquarters. He’s a political junkie like me and a celebrity. It aligns a YouTube video with MTV and a front page story in The The telegraph of the day. We create a website and take pictures. I learn that as an independent, he must be supported by a hundred voters of Warringah. We call friends, knock on doors, take ferries. Kirk Pengilly from INXS walks up to us on the street in Freshwater and wishes James good luck. Tony Windsor offers all the help we need.
Then James is on Nova, The project, ABC Radio and Sky News for an interview with Andrew Bolt! MTV and 7.30 follow him everywhere. Junkee and The daily mail write regular stories. We reach people who don’t follow politics. Our social media campaign is turning into gangbusters.
There are candidate panels to speak to (Tony is not running – he’s in other electorates and supports other Tories).
My nephew Sean is taking pictures for the website. My sister Kathie and daughter Madeline are joining the campaign while my husband runs our family business on his own. I have never worked so hard in my life, nor been so excited. Madeline and Steve take over the management of the house. They and my sister Kathie are my rocks.
We ask friends for the graphics, T-shirts and posters. My friend Vik is making a giant, laminated poster of a map of Warringah. We stick it to the wall. My friend Alicia is having a baby and wants to work while she’s at home – she takes care of the administration and the ever-growing roster of volunteers. Lots of people on my email / Facebook list are signing up. Everything “doing” turns into “something”! Now I have the technical and social media skills, leadership skills, and the confidence to do what I need to do.
James and I hit it off like siblings. Decisions are easy, little discussion is needed – we don’t have time. There are a lot of curses, a lot of exasperation, but what I like the most is the laughter. I have never needed so little sleep. I get three or four hours and wake up totally refreshed, ready to go. It’s a new me!
The Libs are getting serious
The day comes when the Australian Election Commission (AEC) determines the order of candidates on the ballot. Candidates and campaign leaders crowd into a small room for the draw. Andrew Woodward, ALP, gets the first place. He has consistently criticized James on social media as a “Liberal Combination.” The ALP had never tried to win over Warringah, but it seemed that mainstream political actors didn’t like to be challenged. Tony and James shake hands. Tony sees me and I don’t know if he remembers me.
It is “preference time” and the candidates are seated in cafes vying for them. We do not have time, I do not see the usefulness of it for us and I am taking a unilateral decision. “You know what? It’s politics. We don’t care. James will prefer based on his values and whatever you decide to do is up to you. Come on James, let’s come back, we have a lot to do.
The next day, we are informed that Clara Williams Roldan, the candidate for the Greens, has decided to favor James over Labor. Not “playing politics” has paid off for once.
An email arrives from a man claiming to be in the Liberal Party, suggesting that an internal poll shows it is possible that James could win over preferences. (After the election, a story by Phil Coorey in The Australian Financial Review confirms it: Tony Abbott condemns leaked polls but admits he was in trouble).
For the first time since the former Mayor of Manly and MP for the Independent State, Dr Peter MacDonald, strongly contested the seat of Warringah in 2001, Warringah is suddenly in the throes of an expensive and serious election campaign on the part of of the Libs. Billboards on motorcycles, robocalls of Prime Minister and Prime Minister Mike Baird (both of whom carefully don’t mention Abbott’s name as clearly, their poll shows he’s a disability). We have $ 15,000 for our campaign, enough for t-shirts, flyers, placards and voting cards, but no automated calls
On the eve of the election, Turnbull texted the entire electorate: “A vote for your local Liberal = a stable government and a plan for jobs. An Ind / Green / ALP vote means chaos. Together, let’s see it through to the end. Malcolm Turnbull.
In the early hours of election morning, James and my husband are out on the streets putting up posters, while I can “sleep” until about 6 in the morning.
If you had told me when our family was glued to TV in 2003, watching James Mathison and Andrew G (Osher Gunsberg) on the steps of the Opera House, announcing Guy Sebastian winner of the first Australian Idol contest, that 13 years later I would lead Osher on Election Day as he campaigned for his mate James, who ran for the seat of a former prime minister, and lead that campaign, I would have eaten an onion .
But here I am, Osher in my seven-seater car, discussing life and the universe and everything as we go from school to school. There’s a crazy moment when James arrives at North Curl Curl Elementary School, and Tony Abbott arrives too. Osher, James and Tony. What a combination!
After a tiring day, the results fall. Tony receives 51.65% of the primary vote, an oscillation of over 9pc. James gets 11.41 pc, The Greens 12.19 pc, ALP 14.79 pc and NXT (team Nick Xenophon) 6.35 pc.
We had turned the dial. We had spent five weeks and about $ 15,000 and despite an expensive Libs campaign, we had sown the seeds for change. I was exhausted but ecstatic.
These days I allow myself a wry smile at how this text by Turnbull has stood the test of time. He went out of his way to save Tony, including robocalls warning of a suspended parliament if Abbott lost Warringah. A hanging parliament with James on the cross bench may have been a very different story for him and Australia.
Turnbull’s intervention made the difference. Some people who seemed ready for a change simply went back to their boxes and voted as they always have.
But that wasn’t the end of Warringah’s story.