October 26, 2014 – 11:00PM
By Andy Hazel
If you think the election lacks edge and excitement, you’re not alone. The Basics Rock and Roll Party promises to bypass predictable politics and channel the spirit of revolution. Just don’t call them a microparty.
Typically, smaller parties in state elections hope to win over disaffected voters from the majors and, if they’re lucky, negotiate smartly on preferences and push a single policy into the political arena. The Basics Rock and Roll Party (BRRP) are anything but typical.
Announced in a blaze of publicity that focused on their celebrity member, singer-songwriter Wally De Backer – better known as Grammy award-winning Gotye – BRRP quickly got the requisite 500 votes needed to make their party official and stepped into an already chaotic political fray.
‘We’re not politicians,’ a relaxed Kris Schroeder tells UniPollWatch over raucous expletive-ridden laughter coming from a group of women sharing the veranda of St Kilda’s iconic Esplanade Hotel.
‘We’re not getting into it to be politicians. I already hate the idea that people are referring to us as such. And we’re not a ‘microparty’, that’s such delegitimising language. We’re just guys with an interest in asking questions and getting to the root of why things are done the way they’re done and finding out if we can do them better.’
Despite being difficult to pin down on policy details, Mr Schroeder rejects the idea that BRRP are a ‘reactive party’. Nor are they, or any other political party, driven by an overarching ideology.
‘The political party is essentially a formalised lobby group,’ he says. ‘It has its financial backers and its own agenda; it’s not ideology, it’s an agenda.’
‘We’re lobbying for rock and roll,’ he says eyeing off a burst of volume from the nearby table, ‘if you want to put it in those terms. The two major parties are lobbying for their backers. Our backers are ourselves so we don’t have anything to gain. We’re not going to sell more records because we’re here. We just give a shit.’
So far, ‘giving a shit’ includes policies that advocate banning alcohol advertising and sponsorship of live music events, promotion of indigenous language and culture in school curricula, compulsory first aid courses in high schools (a policy launched as the Coalition’s own ten days after BRRP announced it) and increased access to arts in rural areas.
Mr Schroeder says other parties have already approached them, eager to discuss preferences. While they may be seen to be appealing to disengaged, younger voters the BRRP isn’t open to deals. He regards the whole idea of preferences as ‘hilarious’.
‘We’re not thinking about demographics. We are young people so our words will probably appeal more to young people but we’re not going for any group,’ he says. ‘We’re well-travelled and well-educated people who care about the decisions made in our community.’
On this level, Mr Schroeder has experience. Inspired by his band’s involvement in several federally funded programs working with indigenous communities and Lifeline, he put the band on hiatus in 2011 to work as a program manager with the Red Cross in Kenya.
‘It’s not a job for the faint-hearted. It’s mostly tears and frustration, because you’re not dealing with hunger, drought, famine and war, you’re dealing with ideology and identity and meaning.’
‘I learned a lot about politics living in Africa,’ he continues. ‘There, everything is out in the open. It’s all the same stuff that goes on here, but it’s not hidden. The local term for politics is ‘African cinema’ because it’s so dramatic, as it is here, behind the scenes. The thing about getting into power is that you’re beholden to the people that elevated you there. We’ve got no one to answer to. It’s just us!
Not even the five hundred Basics fans that nominated them?
‘Well, yeah,’ he concedes. ‘But in the constitution they have no say in what goes on,’ he laughs. ‘We’re trying to keep it as pure as possible. We’re not taking donations. We’re not interested in being beholden to anybody so we can remain servants of the public; proper public servants. How do you do that? You listen, you learn and you consult. A vote for the BRRP is not a vote for Gotye.’
Over their 13-year existence the Basics earned a reputation as tightknit and indefatigable performers, playing over 1,000 gigs and touring relentlessly. These experiences have given them qualities Mr Schroeder says will serve them well in politics.
‘We’ve torn each other apart numerous times!’ he says laughing. ‘As far as synergy goes, between the three of us there aren’t any issues. There’ll always be a few…not disagreements…negotiations that go on, but you come into a discussion knowing where the other person’s coming from.’
Mr Schroeder says he sees politics as a method to magnify beliefs. He says the role of the party is to be a mouthpiece.
‘I’m the perfect mouthpiece because I change my mind every five seconds depending on whose talking to me. “Oh, you’ve got a good point,”’ Mr Schroeder says nodding to an imaginary constituent.
‘It’s not about saying “this is how it is this is how it should be. It’s about going: “well, we know that this isn’t how it should be. We know that refugees shouldn’t be resettled in Cambodia. That contravenes everything we know from international humanitarian law down to a gut feeling that we know this is the wrong thing.’
Mr Schroeder says Russell Brand’s famous rant about the need for a political revolution struck a chord. Brand claimed that democracy had created an ‘underclass that is not being represented by that political system, and voting is tacit complicity.’
‘I would have loved if he had been able to present an alternative,’ he says. ‘Power always wins out. You either win the power for the people, or you remain downtrodden and subservient.’
As with Russell Brand, righting inequity is a driving force with the BRRP, and power is something they’re happy to share. With no campaign funds, promotion is done via Facebook and interviews.
Does he think they’re cheapening serious issues with a silly party name? He shrugs off the accusation.
‘We’re just being honest. It’s not just about rock and roll, it’s the spirit of rock and roll, it’s the spirit of rebellion, it’s the spirit of revolution. Like John Lennon said; power to the people.’
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism Student at the University of Melbourne.