By Andy Hazel
While a medical student at the old Royal Children’s Hospital, Dr Tim Read treated teenagers with severe asthma and children who wouldn’t – or couldn’t – stop smoking. In front of his ward stood two large cigarette advertising billboards. One night, Dr Read decided they had to go. He cites his arrest for defacing public property as a proud and pivotal moment.
A long-time public health activist, he sees a lot of similarities between the tobacco lobby he campaigned against and fossil fuel lobbies.
‘The parallels are striking. A lot of what the Greens come up against is “OK, you want to close Hazelwood, one of the most polluting power stations on the planet? What about jobs?”
‘Well, we heard that when we were trying to ban tobacco advertising, “who will sponsor the cricket?” Cricket hasn’t withered and died. Fossil fuel companies are following the tobacco companies’ playbook. First deny there’s a problem, then confuse the issue, then argue the economy depends on it.’
‘The Liberals have dropped the 20 per cent emissions reduction target, cut the solar tariff, scrapped carbon reduction measures and they want to export brown coal,’ he tells UniPollWatch animatedly, sipping coffee at one of his favourite Brunswick cafes several days after his campaign launch.
‘They’ve restricted legal aid funding and they’re building prisons. They’re making ads about public transport and building a freeway, and we can’t trust Labor to stand up against this.’
Dr Read stood for the Greens in the safe Labor seat of Wills at the last election, earning a slight swing in his favour. This is the first time he has stood in his home suburb of Brunswick, which, he says happily, has provided him with many volunteer campaigners. Unable to pay for large-scale advertising, the Greens rely on mobilising grassroots supporters.
Drawing locals from their humanitarian stance on refugee rights, their ardent opposition to the East West Link and support of renewable energy, Dr Read is proud of the diversity of the groups he sees at Greens volunteer gatherings.
‘These days the Greens are the only party that stands up to corporations,’ he goes on to say. ‘Abbott is dismantling everything we stand for and we need to send him a message with a Green sweep of the inner city.’ Dr Read is adamant that such a swing is possible. Some other commentators agree.
Admitting he will be ‘heavily outspent again’ in the coming campaign, Dr Read – like rival candidate Ms Jane Garrett – believes that campaign election spending should be capped.
‘The UK has very stringent laws regarding spending,’ he says. ‘That forces very strict campaign budgets and if campaign budgets are forced down you don’t need to accept dodgy donations, or donations that might come with favours.’
The links between politics and developers are, says Dr Read, part of the story of the East West Link, which both he and Labor’s Ms Garrett describe as a key issue in Brunswick.
‘It doesn’t seem right that donors who might have an apartment tower complex coming up are allowed to fork out tens of thousands of dollars in political donations.’
Dr Read speaks with affection of how Brunswick has changed since he moved there in 1991, and the rise of ‘sustainability’ as a key factor in local business. When asked for an example, he expresses neighbourly pride at the recent opening of a café that opens directly onto the Brunswick bicycle path. Dr Read is an avid cyclist.
He says recently relocated young people are the most likely to vote Green.
‘I think that there are a lot of young people sitting in this café who’ve been living here all year who are still enrolled with mum and dad in Camberwell,’ he smiles. ‘We’re really keen for people who’ve moved into Brunswick to make sure they’re actually enrolled here.
‘Our biggest opposition isn’t the Labor party. It’s political disengagement. It’s hard to get that message out there.’
Relying on people power rather than billboards and big bucks leaves the Greens struggling to present themselves as a viable alternative to voters outside their traditional base. Adam Bandt’s achievements are, says Dr Read, great advertising for people who think a vote outside a major party is wasted.
Traditionally the sharpest party online, the Greens are facing a bigger challenge than ever before with both parties investing heavily in social media.
‘I’m not really much of a strategy and numbers person,’ he says. ‘I like social media because it allows me to interact with people who might otherwise not get involved. It’s a good way of keeping in touch with supporters, to get people out and help with the campaign. But does it give us votes? I don’t know.’
Dr Read is proud of his civil disobedience and keen to advocate for social justice, and hold the main parties to account. The Greens support a national standing commission against corruption, and strengthening Victoria’s existing Independent Broad-based Anti Corruption Commission.
Social justice is, argues Dr Read, a key issue in Brunswick, as is strong regulation and taxation of corporations. As his website states: ‘You can fix a primary school toilet with money taken from a CEO’s bonus.’
‘Most of my key issues are not unique to Brunswick,’ he says, harking back to his small role in the public health campaign against cigarette lobbyists. ‘I’m fascinated by the behavior of corporations and how they tell us what to eat, what to drink, the way they tell doctors what to prescribe and how hard they fight when governments set limits.’
Should Dr Read get over the line on 29 November , such companies shouldn’t expect an easy ride in Brunswick.
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne