Nick Carroll: "What Do We Do Now?"
COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL
Damien Cole survives the Federal election, with bells on.
At 6am last Sunday, just after the recent Federal election, Damien Cole woke up, his tired mind racing.
“Did that just happen? OK what do we do now?”
Damo had just passed through what he describes as “the most intense and stressful three weeks of my life.” Standing for election in the seat of Corangamite – ie., Bells and environs – he’d undergone a full-on crash course in the dark arts of politics.
A surfer and labourer with a degree in environmental science and a gnarly bloodline, Damien had already run for Victorian State government as an independent, with a platform built on community, environment, and youth. (See our pre-election chat with him here.)
Encouraged by the voter response and by his young team of helpers, and neck-deep in the Fight For The Bight campaign, he decided to go one step further. The experience somewhat blew his mind.
“A huge amount happened behind the scenes,” he recalls. “You hear stories about it but it’s another thing actually being tangled up in it.”
Corangamite was a knife-edge seat, held by Liberal Sarah Henderson, but notionally Labor thanks to a redistribution. This meant it was a hot spot. Both major parties were throwing resources and promises at it, with the Greens picking away at the seat’s environmental sore points – and Damo, the small but energetic Independent, right in the middle.
He was expected to pull a vital package of votes – one that if preferenced one way or the other, could easily turn the seat.
You probably heard a lot of talk about “preferences” around this election. Maybe you know what that means. Maybe you’re like a lot of voters Damien talked with, who totally didn’t. “There’s a real lack of knowledge of the voting system,” he says. “I think the majority of people don’t know how the process works.”
Here’s how it does: when you vote for your local member, you list ‘em in order of preference, 1 to whatever. But if your number one pick isn’t in the top two, your vote is re-allocated to your number two pick – your “first preference”. And so on.
No wonder the main candidates were all over Damo like a rash. His advice to his voters was suddenly super valuable.
Damo was determined to play this card. If he could get one party to publicly support the causes driving his campaign, he might do some good without even being elected.
But instead of asking his voters to list one or the other, Damien and his team had a tricky thought: what if they gave the voters an option? Thus his how-to-vote cards were a split ticket. On the one side, a vote that preferenced Labor, on the other, one that preferenced Liberal. You choose.
“It threw them into a tailspin,” Damo says of the majors. “Both of them were breathing down my neck: ‘You have to choose!' The Greens were giving me a lot of heat too. They were saying, if you get the Coalition in, you’ll be responsible for the lack of climate action.”
Somehow, though, it kinda worked. On the Thursday before election day, both Henderson and Labor’s Libby Coker committed to Federal environmental protection of the Otways and its coasts, and to a serious impact study on Equinor’s oil drilling proposal in the Bight.
For Damien it felt like a win, even though he says the actual election night left him in tears. Of the process overall, he says: “You stress and push and pressure and have breakdowns, but in the end you do get somewhere.”
How much of his agenda actually plays out is another matter. The Cole preferences helped swing the seat to Labor. (He picked up about 5.2% of the primary vote.) But it’s a Coalition Government, and you know what they say about politicians and promises.
Damien thinks the community as a whole will have to help their new member hold the Government to account on those pre-election commitments. “Now is not the time to recoil and retreat from doing stuff. It’s exactly the opposite. Liberal and Labor seem to take it all as a big game, but there’s a lot of us who know it’s not a big game.”
He thinks that’s why he woke up with that whirring mind on Sunday. “This was never part of my plan. But… I was travelling around for Fight For The Bight and it was inspiring for me to meet so many smart people who have their communities and environment at heart.
“I dunno if it’s a Surfer’s Party or what, but there’s a lot of people with a lot of different skills and we need to link them into some kind of alliance. We’ve got less than three years before the next election. We need to be more prepared. Help just get normal people from their communities, standing up.”
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