A Right Now Politician: An Interview With the Australian Greens’ Matthew Thompson

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Australian Greens’ Matthew Thompson

In many ways, this coming federal election is an anomaly in its disconnect. According to the ABC’s Vote Compass, the number one issue that concerns Australian voters is the environment, which for the most part means climate change at present.

However, the fractured government is made up of politicians that are completely deaf to the public’s major concern. These MPs prefer to make sly deals with their former colleagues on the boards of corporations, as they sell out their grandkid’s future from underneath them.

Meanwhile, the opposition are sitting across the chamber, trying to work out whether its supporters actually count the Adani coal mine as something that falls under the category of the environment. And instead of coming to a conclusion, they’ve decided to continue pondering.

Dinosaurs is the term that’s being increasingly applied to the politicians of the old parties, who are taking up most of the seats in parliament. And we all know what happened to those large reptiles that used to occupy much of the space on Earth.

Campaigning like its twenty nineteen

A quick perusal of the Australian Greens website reveals that not only is the party focused on climate change, but it’s talking about free tertiary education, affordable housing, drug law reform, greater healthcare accessibility, as well as ending the offshore incarceration of refugees.

Indeed, the Greens seem to be reflecting the desires of a growing number Australians, who feel the 1950s values being prioritised by government are unsurprisingly leading them down a dead end, as they’re looking towards the 2020s

And that’s why the Greens are running Matthew Thompson in the key seat of Sydney, as he speaks to this present. He’s a guy that screams diversity. And this irked Newscorp so much that it did some muckraking and dragged him over the coals for what amounts to having a life.

A destructive cycle

Besides the gap between the major parties’ platforms and real concerns on the ground, another unique feature of the current election is the growing call on social media for voters to avoid the old parties at the ballot box.

Although, this loss of confidence in the majors has unfortunately seen a rise in the popularity of parties representing the extreme right. And while it might have been Hanson who held open the door, she certainly has no control over what they get up to once they’re in parliament.

And we all know that a vote for this disaffected racist rabble simply ends up in the back pocket of the Liberal Nationals, allowing them to stoke up the coffers of major corporations that are investing in further automation of destructive industries that are fast running out of time.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Matthew Thompson about the issues that count, Bronwyn Bishop’s concerns that Labor is plotting to undermine the capitalist system with drag queen operatives and the rising ring wing faction in Australian politics.

Firstly, we’ve had a federal Coalition government since 2013. And since August last year, we’ve had an unelected PM, who many believe has let his religious point of views get in the way of running a secular society made up of people who hold a spectrum of religious and non-religious beliefs.

Matthew, how’s the nation fared under six years of the Liberal Nationals government, and around eight months with Morrison at the helm?

You only have to look around to see that things are getting worse. They’re not getting better. We’ve had six years of a government that doesn’t care about the broader community. It’s hellbent on serving this ideologue conservative agenda: punishing the poor and rewarding the rich.

I’m a queer person. And I sat under the immense strain of the marriage equality debate. The Liberal Nationals Party forced that awful discussion on marriage equality and queer rights. And we were subject to it. That’s their fault. And now, they’re trying to take credit for it?

The truth is, we shouldn’t have had to fight for our basic human rights. It’s the government’s job to lift people up, not push them down. It’s the government’s job to support everyone and bring society with them. They didn’t lead. They followed the Australian public. And that’s disappointing.

There’s a lot to be said about this government’s economic policies. They continuously follow this trickle-down economics myth that if you give tax breaks to corporations and big business that will trickle down to everyone below.

But, we’ve seen that this isn’t the case. The cost of living is rising. Wages are stagnant. And workers’ rights are under attack. This government is hellbent on crushing all grassroots democracy and community. And it really shows.

We definitely should not do another six years of this.

Climate change is rightly a growing concern in Australia. Yet, we’ve got a PM who heads up a government of climate change deniers. And meanwhile, the opposition is trying to sit on the fence over an issue like the Adani coal mine.

What do you think about the major parties’ form on climate change? And in your understanding, what needs to be done to start addressing the issue?

The Liberal Nationals Party is a total catastrophe when it comes to climate change, to the point where most of them have got their heads in the sand. The dinosaurs in the Liberal Party don’t really see climate change as a real threat.

Either that’s because they’re wilfully ignorant, or because they see it, but the corporations and the people who donate to their party don’t want them to see it.

Labor is not much better. They’re sitting on the fence when it comes to Adani, which is a huge catastrophic project that can’t go ahead if we want real action on climate change. And just the other day, they announced they’re going to open the Northern Territory up for fracking.

These are completely inconsistent actions and positions to take if you’re serious about bold, strong action on climate change that protects our planet for future generations.

We need 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. We need to assure a just transition for all workers, so that no one is left behind. People currently working in the fossil fuel sector should have fruitful jobs in a vibrant, renewable economy, which we can be a world leader in.

And we need to say no to new coal mines. There’s so much that we need to be doing. And sitting on the fence like Labor, and putting your head in the sand like the Liberals, just isn’t good enough.

We’ve got 12 years to get this under wrap. We need a government in the next parliament that will be bold and strong on climate change. And the community is going to have to demand and vote for that to make it happen.

Another key issue the Coalition seems unable to approach is the situation of unemployed people on Newstart. This allowance hasn’t increased in real terms since 1994. What’s it like for unemployed people trying to survive on this payment? And what needs to be done here?

Newstart hasn’t gone up once in the entire time that I’ve been alive. And I was on it just late last year. And it was a fundamentally soul crushing experience.

There were weeks where I had to decide whether I would pay my bills or buy food. Was I going to eat that night, or was I going to pay my rent? And that’s a life choice I had to make continuously. And that’s not an isolated case.

Across Australia, people on Newstart, Youth Allowance, and other social security payments, live below the poverty line. And they have to make these decisions every day. Things that you and I take for granted and aren’t acceptable, are real for those people.

It’s really disappointing that Labor hasn’t committed to raising this. I expect the Liberals and the Nationals to not want to lift up and support the most vulnerable in our community. But, to see Labor not commit to raising it – even by $75 a week, which still isn’t enough – is frustrating.

Having lived in the social security sector, it’s absolutely soul crushing. It feels like there’s no way out. You feel like you’re trapped. It’s like no one is supporting you. And that’s ridiculous.

In 2019, in a country as rich and wealthy as Australia, which deems itself to be progressive and morally modern, we should be lifting each other up and supporting each other. We need to return dignity to our social security system.

That means raising the rates. And getting rid of punitive matters like work-for-the-dole and ParentsNext, which has been a catastrophe for single mothers. We need to return dignity to the system and treat people with respect and compassion, rather than putting these extra barriers in place.

And in what appears to be another show of how out of touch the Liberals are, former MP Bronwyn Bishop appeared on Sky News last week, warning that a Labor government might fund drag queen story time for the nation’s kids, which will be part of a plot to undermine the family unit and destroy capitalism.

How do you react when you see something like this? And what’s the Australian Greens’ plan when it comes to the LGBTIQ community?

Whenever Bronwyn Bishop appears on Sky News and talks about the end of capitalism or the family unit, I just have to laugh, because it just shows how out of touch and scared these people are. These people have no idea how it is to be in the community existing with others nowadays.

By the way, drag queen story time sounds fabulous, as far as I’m concerned. It’s something I would definitely attend. And if I had more time on the campaign trail, I would definitely organise such a fundraising event.

For queer and gender diverse people, there’s still a long way to go. There’s this idea that since we’ve got marriage equality – since we fought that battle – we’ve now got equality. That LGBTQIA people have achieved that and we are all going to move on, because we’ve won that war.

But, the truth is, that’s not the reality. Marriage is one component of a larger struggle. And it doesn’t actually affect all of the people in the LGBTQIA community, because a lot of people, like myself, don’t actually want to get married.

There’s a lot of people whose pressing issue is the fact that their parents have sent them out of their home, because they’ve come out as gender transitioning. There’s trans youth on the streets that don’t have a safe place to go. Mental health is a huge problem for people in the LGBTQIA community.

The Australian Greens have always been steadfast in their support of the LGBTQIA community. And I’m proud to stand with that party. It’s actually the reason I joined the Greens, because I saw that they had backed my community 100 percent. They vote for our equality and rights every time.

It was a really important for me, because that sort of solidarity is paramount to achieving real equality.

We will be standing for anti-discrimination rights for trans and gender diverse people. We need to ensure that trans people can determine their identity and their gender as they see fit.

We need to be building tailored mental health programs that address the needs of LGBTQIA people, specifically those transitioning or those who face hardship at home or lack of acceptance from their community.

And we need to be looking at anti-discrimination laws for schools. Labor and the Liberals both don’t want to protect the rights of queer students and teachers at schools. Labor is a bit better. They said they’ll protect one, but not the other. But, they’re not actually firmly committing to either/or.

We need to be protecting queer students and queer teachers in institutions, so that they can be themselves with pride, comfort and security, without facing being fired or expelled.

During this election campaign, there’s been a strong call from constituents on social media recommending people avoid the major parties. But, this shift has also brought a number of emerging right-wing parties spouting racist rhetoric.

What’s your take on the rise of Anglo-centric racism in the political arena?

It’s scary that in 2019, we have a literal Nazi in our Senate. That should not be happening. And it shows a breakdown of the neoliberal market that we’re in.

People are being crushed. The rich are getting richer, while we’re all left to fight over the scraps. And as all these people are getting ahead, and the country is getting wealthier, the broader society is not seeing a share in that wealth.

People are noticing. They’re noticing they’re working longer hours. They’re noticing that the trains and the buses are breaking down. People are noticing that the healthcare system is under strains. And it’s the rich who are being rewarded, while we get no reward from the prosperous economy.

When that sort of thing happens. And people are disillusioned, and they feel like the political parties aren’t representing them, it’s very easy to be swung by this nationalist argument: that the reason everything is falling apart, isn’t because successive governments have failed, but because all these people are coming to our country.

The truth is we don’t have that many people coming to our country. And our xenophobic border policies are garbage. The real problem here is that the neoliberal consensus from both parties has fundamentally failed to address and build a good life for everyone.

So, it’s really easy when this has happened for people to be swung, because they’re scared that they’ve been left behind.

It’s not the voters’ fault that this hatred is rising up. It’s successive governments failing to show leadership. It’s successive governments failing to show political courage to stand up and do what’s right for the community and not the big end of town.

With that said, of course, when far-right extremists start rallying, you have to stand up and fight back. You have to stand up and make yourself counted.

There’s a line in the sand between being despondent and being swayed by One Nation or the United Australia Party, and then actually attending a neo-Nazi rally. There’s a big difference there.

When people in the extreme right stand up and make themselves heard, we have to stand up and be brave, bold and fight back with courage.

And the people leading that side should be people who are at the frontline and affected by that racism, like Dr Mehreen Faruqi: our Greens Senator for NSW. In this state, in this election, the last Senate spot is between her and One Nation. And that’s the choice.

We need to be pushing forward voices that are affected by this and standing with them in solidarity, fighting against racism and putting forward an economic plan that lifts people up instead of tearing them down.

An issue that’s important to many of our readers is drug law reform. Indeed, Nimbin Hemp Embassy president Michael Balderstone questioned on Tuesday why the major parties aren’t addressing the issue of cannabis legalisation. What’s your position on cannabis?

The Greens position and mine is legalise it. It’s ridiculous that in 2019, a drug that so many Australians have admitted to taking, that so many regularly use, and has proven benefits in a medical context, is illegal.

It’s not a radical proposition to say, “Legalise marijuana.” We should be making it accessible, legalise it and then ensure its sale and distribution in the same ways that we do alcohol and tobacco.

And what about pill testing?

Pill testing is not a radical concept. It’s done across Europe. And it’s hugely successful. The trials that we’ve had here have all been successful as well.

It prevents deaths and it’s also a really good first point of contact for a lot of people that do drugs like ecstasy. Having that contact with professionals and being told what’s in their drugs, is a really good thing.

It’s educating people and giving them the tools and knowledge to be safe, when they’re taking drugs. We know that outlawing drugs doesn’t work. If you tell people that they can’t take something, they’re still going to find a way to.

Let’s make it safe. Let’s decriminalise drug usage and ensure the safety of people that are using them. Teach people, give them the knowledge and the tools, and give them the safety net.

Ecstasy isn’t really that harmful either. If it was sold and regulated in a proper way, we wouldn’t see the deaths that are happening, because the drugs wouldn’t be laced with all sorts of additions that aren’t safe and aren’t actually ecstasy.

Our approach to drugs is prehistoric. And we need to move forward and treat people with respect. They’ve obviously made this decision, let’s support them and give them the tools, so that they’re safe when they’re doing these things.

And lastly, Matthew, you’ve been subjected to a number of attacks in the local press, as well as on social media, over the last couple of months for, as you’ve put it, not looking or sounding like people who traditionally run for parliament.

How have you taken this reaction to your candidacy? And what does it mean that people who aren’t your usual political mould are now taking to politics?

Before I ran for preselection in the Greens, I sat down and had a chat with my partner. I was talking to him about what it would mean and checked if he was fine with it. And he was reluctantly OK.

I expected this sort of thing to happen. But, I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. I had announced that I was preselected on Instagram. I didn’t have any meaningful profile at that time. We hadn’t done any campaigning.

Within a few days of that, I got a call from the campaign team saying the Daily Telegraph had told them that they were running a story based on my Instagram posts. And it was quite frustrating. And really, it was a bit of a joke. It shows how out of touch the conservative media is.

They don’t have any idea of what’s actually happening in the real world. The fact that someone like me is covered in glitter, or may enjoy going out on Oxford Street, these things terrify them. But, they’re everyday realities for you and I. We know people who do these things and we’re not scared of that.

So, they’re scared of what the Greens are putting forward. Instead of debating our platform or our ideas, they mock us. They try and paint us as the looney left.

But, the good news is, if they wanted to debate us on our platform, they’d struggle. Australians want real action on climate change. Australians want fully funded free education. Australians want universal healthcare that includes dental and mental health. These things are not radical concepts.

And the conservative press knows that if they talk about our ideas that they’re going to struggle. So, they try and paint us to be these caricatures.

It’s important that our parliament represents the diversity and vibrancy of our country. Right now, it doesn’t. Right now, it’s mostly a bunch of older men, who all went to private schools and are lawyers. There’s a very small subset disproportionately represented in our parliament.

I’m not saying a diverse parliament is going to answer all of our questions, it won’t. But, it will ensure that there’s different people at the table with different viewpoints, strengths and backgrounds.

That means having people that have lived on Newstart, people from lower incomes, people who’ve struggled through mental health, people who’ve struggled through the housing crisis, and people who know and have felt the effects of what the government has done.

These people will know how to fix it, because they’ve lived it. That’s really important. We’re at an age now, when people are rising up and realising that those who’ve held power for so long – and the archetypes of what that looks like – aren’t working.

Career politicians and the political class have got us into this mess. And we need real people in our parliament to undo that.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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