November 15, 2014 – 4:35PM
By Andy Hazel
A lot of political parties form with the express intention of promoting a cause. Some even wind up in parliament. Of these, only the Animal Justice Party (AJP) can claim to be campaigning on behalf of billions. Unfortunately for them, their base is unable to vote.
Represented in Brunswick by Ward Young, a first time campaigner, AJP are committed to eradicating legislation that results in cruel and unjust treatment of animals.
‘It’s what the public overwhelmingly want the government to do,’ Mr Young tells me over the phone on his way to the World Vegan Day Festival, ‘particularly on the topic of jumps racing.’
He believes the current batch of politicians don’t reflect the views of their constituents. ‘If they don’t do what the public expects of them it’s our job to kick them out,’ he says.
Key to the AJP’s campaign is preference distribution.
The last federal election saw them receive more Senate votes than the Motoring Enthusiast Party, but a savvy preference deal saw Ricky Muir beat them to a seat in Canberra.
Mindful of this, in the Victorian election Upper House representative and campaign manager Mr Bruce Poon is in the midst of keen negotiations. Both he and Mr Young have experience in meeting with politicians about the key issues on which they’re campaigning; a ban on duck shooting, jumps racing, breed specific legislation, and puppy farming.
‘We’ve been negotiating with a number of parties to convince them of the merits of changing their policy to get new legislation that helps animals,’ Mr Poon tells me. ‘Where they have agreed, we want to give them some reward.’
Mr Poon and his fellow party members have drawn up a pledge that they are taking to other candidates. While its contents are for their eyes only, it effectively asks the candidate to promise to work with the AJP on their key aims once they assume office in return for preference distribution.
So far, Mr Poon will only admit that some have agreed, others have not, and some are yet to consider it.
Mr Poon describes his experiences working with the incumbent state government as ‘very very poor’.
‘They have been awful to deal with,’ he says tiredly. ‘They’ve either done nothing or done worse than nothing or they’ve promised things and not delivered on them. They won’t be preferenced too highly.’
Newer parties such as People Power Victoria however seem more receptive. Brunswick candidate Stella Kariofyllidis told UniPollWatch that the AJP ‘are going to preference me’. Putting this to Mr Poon, he sounds surprised.
‘Did she? Well we’re in discussion about that,’ he says before pausing for a very long time.
While Labor are committed to banning puppy farms, its lack of commitment to ending jumps racing and duck shooting puts them slightly below the Greens in Mr Poon’s estimation. The Greens, he says, are a party with whom the AJP has had extensive conversations.
Mr Young believes now is an excellent time to be a small party in Australian politics.
‘Wouldn’t it be great if the governments we elected did what we wanted?’ he says. ‘Then we wouldn’t need minor parties to exist at all!’
Mr Poon agrees, arguing that smaller parties are more susceptible to public pressure than the majors and easier for activists to work with.
Free of the political polarity of other minor parties, Mr Poon says he’s only interested in finding out whether a party is pro or anti animal cruelty when it comes to negotiations. Animals are the overwhelming majority affected by legislation, he tells me. ‘We see it as a big issue.’
The death of two racehorses at the Melbourne Cup earlier this month put animal welfare on the front page of newspapers and news websites across the country, giving AJP an opportunity for turning anger into action.
‘The racing industry will say “these are freak incidents”, but it does shape public opinion,’ Mr Young explains. ‘For the first time ever we’ve seen people calling for a ban on horse racing because they’ve been outraged. This time it’s the general public that is prevailing the social media discussions.’
Brunswick’s younger-than-average mean age and left-wing political bias lead Mr Young to be optimistic about the electorate caring passionately about animal rights.
Despite public opinion, as reflected in last week’s the ABC’s Vote Compass poll, resistance to the AJP’s policies at Spring Street has pushed the party into political action.
While the government accepts the economic argument for banning jumps racing, and agreeing it’s ‘bad PR’ for the racing industry, the Liberal politician with whom Mr Young met told him only one issue mattered: “How many people are actually going to change their vote on this?”
‘I think that’s a terrible way to look at things,’ says Mr Young. ‘The horses who are being killed don’t care who’s going to switch their vote, they just don’t want to be killed.’
To the AJP, the 500 million animals killed for food production in Australia every year constitutes a suffering that dwarfs that of the country’s human population.
‘It’s harder for some people to change themselves than to change the world,’ he says. ‘The most pertinent thing people can do that they’re simply not doing is changing themselves.’
While there might be a lot of reasons why people find it hard to change their lifestyle habits, the AJP are hoping their voting habits are an easier place to start.
To connect with Mr Ward Young
Andy Hazel is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne