Marriage equality and the Queensland election: yes campaign amplifies Greens threat to Labor

An electorate filled with celebrations is a sight to gladden Jackie Trad’s heart, but the campaign had unexpected consequences in her South Brisbane seat

It’s 9pm on Wednesday, the night the yes camp triumphed in the marriage equality survey, and Queensland’s deputy premier, Jackie Trad, is sitting in a South Brisbane bar with a frangipani in her hair, cloaked in a cloud of happy exhaustion.

Just down the road, her main opponent, the Greens candidate Amy MacMahon, is celebrating with friends at another bar. But for now, West End, the suburb they both find themselves in, is a place of joy.

It’s a rare break to just be in the moment, during what has been a tough election campaign, with Labor keeping Trad – one of its better media performers – mainly within her electorate, sandbagging against a Greens’ insurgency led by MacMahon.

For this night, Trad is not the under-siege member for Brisbane. She’s a member of a community that has just won a fight it has spent more than a decade preparing for. Her phone won’t stop ringing. Names flash up from across the state. “I’ll call him back,” Trad says to no one in particular. “He’s probably scared you’re losing,” someone replies. Trad just flashes a smile at a glitter smeared face, which comes her way for a hug.

“Not tonight,” she says. “It’s not about us.”

She leaves the bar as the song I Will Survive comes on. The next day, Brisbane ABC publishes video of Trad caught in a dance-off with a supporter on the footpath. But the night ends, and the election campaign is still going, and, come Thursday, Trad is still fighting for her political life.

South Brisbane has always been political. But those politics are changing. Following the Greens’ win in the local council elections in March 2016, with Jonathan Sri taking a ward with very similar boundary lines to Trad’s state seat, the Greens are feeling energised.

Coalition voters in this electorate may have a Liberal National party candidate running dead, but they are interested in the local message MacMahon is pushing. Trad has responded, lobbying her government for more levies on developers, setting aside land for green space and finding room for more schools. But perception can be brighter than reality.

South Brisbane had the highest rate of any seat in the state enrolling or updating details for the same-sex marriage survey. Trad directed yes campaign fundraising, helping supporters get the word out to enrol.

The end result, taking into account population growth, is an electorate with about 50% more enrolments than the last state election in January 2015. And a jump of just over 30% since the July 2016 federl election.

It’s a lot of new voters, and in a demographic most likely to vote for the Greens in Saturday’s election. That has Labor worried, despite the 13.8% margin in the seat. But Trad, a Labor warrior from way back, has been in this position before. It was her job to convince a sceptical and battle-worn electorate that Labor still believed in it, after former premier and South Brisbane MP Anna Bligh reneged on her promise to stay in politics, quitting when Labor was reduced to seven seats following the Campbell Newman-led LNP slide of 2012.

The Adani issue hasn’t helped. While the Carmichael coalmine is still an attractive proposition up north, and seen in some areas as the economic saviour of central Queensland, the south-east has moved on from coal. But for Trad, who has been asked to explain Labor’s position on Adani more often than most, the issues at play are bigger than the Carmichael mine.

“Taking action on climate change is a lot harder than saying no to one mine – it is actually about getting a national, coherent, consistent framework in place to meet our Paris requirements, and that is not happening,” she said.

“And if you look at the whole debate around national energy policy and actual climate change and reducing emissions, it is, as Malcolm Farr said, a mad dog’s vomit. So it is harder for people to engage in that arena.

“And to try and get an outcome that will see real changes around emissions reduction and our responsibility around action on climate change. That is really hard.

“It is really easy to say no to this mine. But let me say, if Adani doesn’t get finance, if Adani doesn’t go ahead, our emissions are still increasing and there is still no consistent framework around national energy policy and reducing emissions.”

Trad goes on to talk about Labor’s plan for 50% renewable energy by 2030. But she comes back to the Adani issue to discuss Palaszczuk’s decision to remove the state completely from the process of Adani’s federal loan application, after what she said was a planned “smear campaign” to highlight her partner Shaun Drabsch’s role in preparing the billion-dollar loan application.

“I am incredibly proud of that decision,” Trad said. “I’ve always thought that Adani should stand and fall on its own two feet as the premier has always said.

“I know that there are plenty of people right across Queensland, people who are pro-resource sector jobs, who actually don’t want to see Adani get $1bn from Malcolm Turnbull. So, I am incredibly proud of the fact that we are not going to be participating in that.”

The Greens, and MacMahon, don’t think it is enough.

“Adani is definitely an issue,” she said. People are talking about this, in the context of this being another example where the government has left the people behind, where you have a big corporation which has gotten special deals, at the expense of local people.”

MacMahon points to Sri’s council win as the turning point for the Greens, who have struggled in the past to get a toehold in Queensland’s one-house parliament.

“I think it is partly because of this erosion of support for the two major parties, the sense of disillusionment that is really prevalent in the electorate,” she said.

“I think in this area we are really lucky to have Jonathan Sri as the local councillor, who has demonstrated to people the power of having a Greens representative, what one Greens representative can do.”

It is not just South Brisbane. The inner-city seat of McConnel is considered vulnerable, while the LNP would-be treasurer and probable future leader Scott Emerson is fighting his own battle after a boundary change put his seat, Maiwar, under pressure.

At the weekend the Greens took the Victorian state seat of Northcote, which sent a shiver across the Labor camp.

For MacMahon, the demographic shift in South Brisbane opened a door. “We are connecting with people right across the electorate,” she said. “We have been talking with lifelong Labor voters, lifelong LNP voters, who are feeling frustrated and are really excited by this new vision.”

For Trad, it’s another battle in a career full of them. “I don’t take my community for granted,” she said. “It’s always been at the top of my mind. There are a lot of factors, and it’s always tough, but I won’t stop fighting for them.”


Amy Remeikis

The GuardianTramp

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