James Mathison Wants To Create A New Progressive Political Movement To Target The Far-Right
When former Australian Idol host James Mathison announced he would run against Tony Abbott in the 2016 federal election he struck a chord with plenty of young Australians. The contest between Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull had failed to excite the voters, but Mathison’s announcement drew national headlines and his video interviews quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of views.
“We know the system is broken. We know young people are completely ignored and locked out and think their vote doesn’t count, that they’re disenfranchised, that they have no voice to be heard and that’s exactly what the major parties want,” Mathison said at the time. “My idea is that we go ‘No, our voice does count.’ Let’s rock the boat, let’s rattle the cage.”
Despite running a people powered campaign and enlisting some help from old mate Osher Günsberg, Mathison wasn’t able to defeat Abbott, securing just over 11 percent of the vote.
But Mathison isn’t done with politics yet. Far from it. In an interview with Junkee, he explained why he thinks Australia needs a new, progressive political force that targets the likes of Tony Abbott and the far-right of the Liberal party.
“If Tony Abbott runs again, I’ll definitely run in Warringah again. I just think he’s so dangerous,” Mathison said. But even if Abbott chooses to step down before the next election, he has his eyes set on helping create a new, progressive political organisation in Australia.
“Outside of the Greens I don’t think there is, in Australia, a really strong and really organised, progressive political voice. I feel like with One Nation having a strong voice, there’s definitely space for that,” he said. “Imagine if GetUp! was a political party. They would do really well. I definitely thinks there’s space for that.”
But what would this new organisation look like? How would it differ from existing progressive political parties like the Greens, and what role would Mathison actually play?
“I think the Greens, in many ways, have ambitions to be that legitimate third party and I think in doing so, they have to sort of be a bit more careful with their message. At the same time, they also have this perception problem among part of the population,” Mathison says. “Whether that’s true or not, I think that’s hard them for cut through.”
According to Mathison, the Greens, through their desire to be accepted as a third major party in Australian electoral politics are at risk of becoming too much like the political establishment. He cites the success of Bernie Sanders in the US, the rise of the Five Star Movement in Italy and Podemos in Spain as examples of “really progressive, organised movements” that have broader appeal.
“I think for a lot of people who vote Green, they are like, ‘That is my best progressive option.’ Whereas I think there is room to be the truly progressive option in the federal system,” said Mathison. But the Greens aren’t the only minor party trying to tap into a sense of political disenchantment. What about the Nick Xenophon Team, who won three Senators at the last election and elected a member to the House of Representatives?
“Xenophon is sort of like, ‘We’re in the centre. We want good outcomes. We’re not striving for anything extraordinary. We think it’s important to have a strong centrist movement.’ And that’s the space they fit into,” Mathison says, reaffirming he thinks the opportunity for a new political movement in Australia is on the progressive side of politics, not somewhere in the middle. In terms of issues, Mathison thinks the key things progressive activists should focus on are the environment, mental health, refugee policy and marriage equality, as well as broader LGBTI issues like the Safe Schools program. If Abbott doesn’t run in 2019, Mathison has hinted a potential senate tilt, with the backing of this potential new political organisation. The goal would be to weaken the influence of the hard right of the Liberal party.
Creating a new political movement is not an easy task, especially in a country that already has dozens of registered political parties. But it’s pretty clear that plenty of Australians, particularly young people, aren’t feeling too enamoured with our political system. James Mathison might not have succeeded in taking down Abbott this year, but what kind of threat could a GetUp! style political party, fronted by a high-profile media personality, pose to conservative politics? If all goes to plan, we might find out at the next election.
James Mathison will be talking about issues like this as a delegate of this year’s Junket, which takes place in Canberra from September 27-29.