Shaking things up – the Greens candidate for Higgins
Jason Ball shot to prominence in Australia in 2012 when he ‘came out’ as the first openly gay Australian Rules footballer. In August this year he was chosen as the Greens candidate for the Melbourne seat of Higgins, currently held by the recently promoted Kelly O’Dwyer. But there is much more to Jason than merely these two identities as I discovered in a recent Q & A session with this science and mental health advocate, and secularist.
1. Kelly O’Dwyer won Higgins in a 3% swing in a by-election in 2009 in what appears to be a safe Liberal seat. How possible is it that you could feasibly take the seat? And what issues might swing the seat in your favour?
A. I think the Greens are in with a chance in Higgins. The Greens are growing fast, and part of that growth is from people who voted for the Liberal Party of Malcolm Fraser, rather than the conservative anti-science Liberal Party that we currently have.
The Greens, just last year won the former Liberal seat of Prahran and are appealing to moderates who are alarmed by the lurch to the right of the current Liberal government. They are switching to the Greens because we offer a positive vision for the future.
2. Having come into public life with a high profile as the first ‘out’ gay Australian Rules footballer, do you see this as an advantage or disadvantage in the minds of voters? Sexual preference is automatically an issue attached to your candidacy while not so for Kelly O’Dwyer.
A. While it may be an advantage to the LGBTI community who would like to see more diversity represented in Parliament, to the rest of the community I don’t think it will be either an advantage or a disadvantage.
3. Do you think voters will see you as just the ‘marriage-equality’ candidate? How do you demonstrate that your interests and passions are broader than this?
A. Other aspects to my advocacy that I hope to communicate during my campaign include my work in the mental health sector and my passion for science and reason. Over the past two I have I held a role at a research centre that explores the role of new and emerging technologies to improve mental health and wellbeing, so I will be able to bring innovative and fresh ideas to this area of public policy as a result. Other passions include combating climate change, championing renewable energy and the humane treatment of asylum seekers.
4. What qualities do you think are currently lacking in Australian politics and what contribution do you think you can offer that is lacking now?
A. I think honesty and integrity are missing in politics today. Most people don’t trust politicians, and often for good reason. Through my advocacy in the community to date I have built up a lot of respect and goodwill in the community and I hope to be able to bring that with me into politics and shake things up as a result.
5. There has been rumour that the ALP is considering preferencing the Liberals above you in an attempt to shut you out of the race. That would be an incredible disadvantage wouldn’t it?
A. While such a move would be unlikely as a result of the negative backlash it would inevitably bring to the ALP, the Greens have faced similar challenges before. In the seat of Melbourne the ALP and the Liberals struck a deal to try and shut the Greens out of the race at the last Federal election, and in response, the voters of Melbourne delivered Adam Bandt a victory in his own right.
6. Isn’t the fact that Labor will probably give their candidacy in Higgins to Carl Katter, another high profile gay man, be inclined to split the gay-sympathetic vote in Higgins?
A. More important than a candidate’s sexual orientation is their track record and their party’s track record in standing up for the rights of the LGBTI community. The Greens have had a comprehensive set of LGBTI policies since their inception. Christine Milne played an integral role in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania. Sarah Hanson-Young’s first bill to Parliament was a bill for marriage equality. Only the Greens support equality with every MP, every vote, every time. My own advocacy has seen huge steps forward in the fight against homophobia in the AFL and in society in general. As an ambassador for beyondblue I have spoken to schools and workplaces around the country to share my story and raise awareness about the impact of discrimination on the mental health and wellbeing of the LGBTI community. I believe strongly that the LGBTI community can feel confident in my ability to represent their needs in Canberra if I was successful in Higgins.
7. Research conducted by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University in 2003 estimated that around 2% of men identified as gay. On that basis possibly 2% of Australian rules footballers are gay. How can we create a situation where they will feel comfortable to ‘come out’ and why do you think sportspeople particularly have been slow to publicly admit their sexual preference?
A. Athletes often don’t come out as a result of the high levels of homophobia that are prevalent in the sporting world, as well as the perception that they might be sidelined by fans or even their own teammates. Homophobia includes the use of the word ‘gay’ to mean weak or soft or the use of homophobic slurs right through to verbal and physical assault of people who do come out. The key to creating a more inclusive and welcoming culture in sport is education at all levels of the game, to help people understand the unique challenges the LGBTI community face in sport and understand the steps they can take to be visible in their support of acceptance and diversity.
8. Why are you standing as a candidate in Higgins in the next election?
A. I am standing as a candidate because I believe the people of Higgins deserve better than the current politics of fear and division that characterise the current government’s approach. With the onset of dangerous climate change I am inspired and motivated by innovation and optimism to help us transition to a clean energy economy to stay competitive in the 21st century. We need to move away from cruelty and instead look towards compassion to find solutions to the current global refugee crisis. We need to communicate powerful stories of love to change hearts and minds in the fight towards equality for the LGBTI community.
9. Does the change in PM alter the way you now approach the next election?
I believe that even with Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, the Liberal Party is dominated by the powerful right wing faction led by the likes of Cori Bernardi and Eric Abetz. This is why Turnbull retains the policies of Tony Abbott on marriage equality, children in detention and many others.
My approach is to highlight the positive policies of the Greens in promoting renewable energy and the clean economy, a humane approach to refugees including children out of detention, marriage equality, better funding for mental health and many more of the Greens progressive policies.