Friday, March 23, 2007

Chris Harris interview

Book-end to my Edward Mandla interview, here's the one with his Greens equivalent, Chris Harris (also available online here).

And now dear reader, I'm off to the Land of the Long White Sheep for two weeks of making sexually-suggestive jokes about said sheep - which I'm certain the locals will find hilariously unexpected and frightfully witty, and only reinforce their positive image of Australians.

Might try and blog from there but no guarantees. Toodles.

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“Sexuality should not be a determinant of human rights.”

This Saturday’s State election is conjuring up many strong emotions in voters: anger, depression, disappointment and fear for the future, to name a few. Enthusiasm, hope and anticipation of better things to come are much further down most voters’ emotional checklists.

After 12 years of incompetence, corruption and strangling bureaucratic red tape that defines the Carr/Iemma Labor governments, voters know there’s likely to be four, perhaps eight more years of the same. They’re furious with the current lot, but have even less confidence in the alternative, personified in the ‘Frank Spencer’ of State politics, Peter Debnam.

Now would seem the perfect time for a legitimate third party to flourish and consolidate protest votes of both frustrated Labor and Coalition voters. The Greens have emerged as the closest we have in NSW to a third force that can wield any significant influence. And yet even with such an unprecedented national and global focus on environmental concerns, such as the drought and climate change – causes that define the Greens as a political party – opinion polls suggest the party is still only accounting for around 7% of the vote.

Chris Harris, the Greens candidate for Sydney, appears unconcerned about his party’s apparent inability to capitalise on its traditional strengths with the electorate: “Living sustainably, consuming less, living more modestly, recycling, saving – it’s not a sexy message we’re pushing. But we think it’s important and increasingly, history is proving us correct.” He believes that, because we haven’t yet reached an “ecological crisis point”, voters still are not as concerned by climate change as much as would suit the Green agenda.

Harris has been charged with the momentous task of ousting popular long-term independent member for Sydney – and Lord Mayor - Clover Moore. Like Moore, he also serves on Sydney Council (as Deputy Lord Mayor), but sees no hypocrisy in criticising Moore for attempting to hold both jobs simultaneously, even though he appears to be doing the same: “I’m only a part-time councillor, paid $25k a year” – which he does on top of running his own printing business. But even with such a full schedule of his own, he firmly believes Moore has taken on too much, and her constituents are wanting for the sort of representation in State politics she provided prior to becoming Lord Mayor: “I think Clover’s been a very, very good local member, but the huge workload, particularly the ceremonial duties – it’s illogical. Not to mention the conflicts of interest in the dual role.”

Harris also believes he will be a stronger voice for the GLBTI community. Unlike Labor and Liberal, where expressions like “GLBTI” and “same-sex” are nowhere to be found on their 2007 policy websites, it is difficult to fault the Greens’ extremely comprehensive policy on all things GLBTI.

But is there any point in compiling such a policy for an area that, sadly, is only likely to appeal to a small amount of voters in a handful of concentrated seats? Why push so hard for same-sex marriage, for example, when the majority of voters both within and beyond the GLBTI community appear so ambivalent to the concept? Harris identifies two older gay male friends, one who “looks terrible in white” and one who’s “a bloody aethiest. But even if they want to reject marriage, as many straight people do, we still support their right to be married. A human right denied to one group of people because of their sexuality is unacceptable. Sexuality should not be a determinant of human rights.”

The Greens’ main focuses for the GLBTI community are reforming adoption and anti-discrimination laws further. Harris is quick to highlight Lee Rhiannon’s current bill that would end exemptions for schools from anti-homosexual discrimination provisions, even going so far as to accuse Moore of taking credit for Rhiannon’s bill.

Harris is clearly hunting a large chunk of the “solidly-Clover gay and lesbian vote”, hoping especially that older Moore loyalists who remember her “glory days” might swing to the Greens this election in frustration. “I’d like to get 25-30% of the primary vote, 10% of which would be swinging Clover voters.” It’s a bold prediction, but inner Sydney remains the Greens’ stronghold. When questioned whether he considers a parliamentary system genuinely democratic in which a party scoring less than 10% of the vote across the State could conceivably hold the balance of power in the upper house, Harris points out the Greens’ advocacy for proportional representation – that is, the four members that the party is hoping to get elected into parliament would roughly to 8% of the overall vote. He argues that the Greens are therefore different to Steve “1.9%” Fielding, the Family First senator who cruised into federal parliament largely due to Labor preferences.

The Greens’ motto for this election is “Vote for tomorrow, today”. When I ask Harris for his personal vision for the future, he request one of his party’s pamphlets that he’s handed me. Truly, this is a candidate staying ruthlessly on message! Although his own perspective on Australia’s “money politics” is tinged with cynicism, he is also keen to point out that the Greens believe in positive solutions, not just whinging about the status quo.

And the key, unedited message Chris Harris wants to get across to SX readers? Again, Harris is so specific he sounds almost like he’s reading from a cue card: “Three things – firstly, I want to be a hard-working and accessible member; secondly, I will base all my work in and around the community, and finally, I’ll be looking for positive solutions.”

This election will be a watershed for minority political forces. The overriding criticism against Clove Moore is that since taking on Lord Mayor, her work as member for Sydney has been compromised and her constituents have suffered in the process. If Moore is returned comfortably on Saturday, however, it’s hard to argue this as anything other than a vindication of independent politicians and testament to her enduring popularity. If, instead, the Greens perform the minor miracle of knocking Moore out of Sydney, it will be fair to conclude the Greens is the party, in Sydney at least, to whom frustrated Labor, Liberal and Moore voters are turning.

Either way, it makes for a fight worth watching.

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