Stephen Bates MP – a seismic shift in Aussie politics

Stephen Bates MP
Image: Amsnel Gorgonio

The 2022 federal election saw a seismic shift in Australian politics. Voters embraced progressive politicians, electing increased numbers of the Greens, including Stephen Bates in Brisbane, and the new Teal independents.

Post-election, conservative pundits attempted to make hay out of the decreased Labor vote. But that ignores that all three usual parties of government — Libs, Nats and Labor — lost votes to PROGRESSIVE minor parties and independents. Indeed, Australia voted overwhelmingly for progressive politics — including in previously blue-ribbon Liberal electorates.

In Queensland, Amanda Stoker, Clive Palmer, Campbell Newman and George Christensen all failed to win election. Pauline Hanson scraped in on preferences from Palmer’s UAP. That despite Palmer spending a reported $100 million on election advertising.

I was born during the prime ministership of Sir Robert Menzies. As a Queenslander, I endured the long, bleak years of the Bjelke-Petersen kleptocracy. For me, this election felt transformative. Like the election of the Whitlam government or the collapse of Sir Joh’s corrupt regime.

Voters embraced the urgent need to address climate change and they repudiated the conservative adoption of American far-right truthiness.

Stephen Bates

In Queensland, Stephen Bates MP prevailed in the seat of Brisbane despite a strong Labor campaign and the Liberals throwing everything they had to keep the seat. The party even scheduled visits from the Prime Minister. But with Morrison very much on the nose, his visits probably increased the non-Liberal vote.

Stephen Bates faced the usual barrage of anti-Greens hysteria. ‘Woke, radical, tree-hugging, road-blocking, communist, terrorist harbingers of end times.’ According to conservative media commentary, the anti-Christ has nothing on the Greens.

But the superlative-laden hyperventilating ignores that we now take for granted numerous reforms that previously attracted ridicule when proposed by the Green years ago.

Stephen Bates also faced an offensive whispering campaign focused on his age and work experience. The 29-year-old works in retail. ‘Too young,’ intoned some wizened conservative elders while wannabe Rhodes Scholars sniffed that he was ‘just a sales assistant’.

What would they prefer? More lawyers? If lawyers were locusts we’d declare Parliament House a plague zone. And we certainly don’t need more accountants in Parliament. Not that I know how many there are currently. But Barnaby Joyce is an accountant so that’s already one too many.

Voice for the community

Stephen Bates told Jan Bowman from the Westender that he entered politics, in Don Chipp’s famous words, to keep the bastards honest.

“I took a bit of annual leave (in 2020) from work to do volunteering. Some people go on holiday; I decided to do volunteering for a political party.

“I went back to work after that, and I wasn’t 100 per cent happy in my job. That was my moment. I thought, ‘I think I found where I’m supposed to be: being out in the community, talking to people, showing people that politics can be better than it currently is, that you don’t have to settle’.

“I wanted to elevate people’s voices and be a voice for the community – for lack of a better phrase, to get in there and keep the bastards honest.”

Aside from Brisbane, the Greens also won the nearby seats of Griffith and Ryan, something Stephen Bates puts down to voters wanting substantive change.

People are angry. They are fed up with the status quo and fed up with inaction on climate change.

“Voters told us they want 100 per cent publicly owned renewable energy. They want dental and mental health services into Medicare, and they want action on the housing crisis.

“And it’s turned into a victory for us.

“It’s very surreal.”

Greens mandate

The new member for Brisbane also said the election wins gave the Greens a mandate.

“The Greens vote proves that people don’t want politicians bought by the fossil fuel industry.

“They want politicians who are accountable to the people and accountable for the science. The science tells us that the emission targets we’re proposing are necessary.

“We were frank about this before the election — this is a mandate for us — for the Greens — to work with the Labor government to go further on climate, to go further on housing, restore faith in our democracy again.

“Albanese has to deal with the parliament the voters decided on. He doesn’t get a say in that.

“Although Labor has a majority in the House, we are still in the balance of power in the Senate.”

Hung Parliament

Following the election, Greens leader Adam Bandt announced Stephen would take over as Greens spokesperson on LGBTIQA+ issues. He has big shoes to fill. Senator Janet Rice proved a staunch and effective advocate during her time in the position.

And Stephen Bates will no doubt have noticed the fate of other recent openly gay members of parliament. While the LGBTIQA+ communities initially celebrated the election of some gay MPs, when those men proved less willing to bat for us than straight allies in their own party, queer voters deserted them in droves. Our communities want more than visibility. We insist that parliamentarians elected as members of our communities deliver tangible results. We want representation that speaks for us and will no longer tolerate those who instead parrot partisan talking points.

As an out gay candidate, Stephen Bates famously advertised on Grindr and in QNews during the election campaign. One ad referenced Labor and the LNP’s attempts to scare voters with the prospect of an allegedly unmanageable hung parliament. Stephen’s ads insisted otherwise.

‘The best parliaments are hung’, he declared in banner ads.

Others promised ‘You always come first with the Greens’ or invited voters to ‘Spice up Canberra with a third’.

Of course, the hung parliament never eventuated but Stephen Bates assured QNews that new parliamentarians would work with what they’ve got. It’s not how hung the parliament is. It’s what we do with it.

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