If people watching national politics tuned into the multiverse media appearances of Brisbane Greens’ Max Chandler-Mather, they could be excused for thinking there was nothing more critical than the national rental and housing crisis.
Chandler-Mather, the scion of a redoubtable West End radical Labor family, won the seat of Griffith from Labor’s Terri Butler because he was everything she wasn’t.
He was on the ground, fighting issues that mattered to families and young new voters whether it was totemic signals like climate action or hard-to-escape things such as aircraft noise and punishing rent increases.
Butler was seen by local voters as missing in action. Even in Oxford Street, Bulimba she was known as the “Member for Q&A” because of a preference for the high profile ABC talk show rather than Saturday morning mobile voter clinics in her local neighborhoods.
Now Chandler-Mather is skating on the thinner edges of the political ice as he looks like he’d rather talk to David Speers or Sarah Ferguson on those other marquee shows than attend community events at the Beelarong Community Farm in Morningside.
This might catch up with the silver-tongued quote machine but maybe not in time to do him any damage at the next election, due in the first half of 2025. In the meantime, he’s going to stir up that crisis talk around housing and renting all the way to whatever ballot box is handy, whether that’s the Brisbane City Council next March or the state poll later in 2024.
People with a passing comprehension of housing economics can see Chandler-Mather’s arguments for the populist gibberish they are, but that’s never stopped politicians from gathering votes by any means available.
This Greens politician could be the best three or five word slogan generator since good old Scotty from Marketing. Shout “crisis” often enough and a significant proportion of the population will believe there is one, even though the reality of rental increases might be another burden in the overall cost of living pressures people are carrying, they are not the back-breaking straw some suggest.
Most renters have regulatory protection from any greater imposition than one increase a year and while a minority of landlords might price gouge, the usual experience is more in line with general inflation levels.
Making arguments on nuanced bases is hard and not the easy road to populist vote farming which is why Chandler-Mather is not interested. He’d rather stamp and shout, use the issue as a way to promote his personal profile, boost that of his party and harvest support from his Labor opponents on the centre-left.
One fascinating aspect of this housing and renting policy argument is how the Greens are playing it. The party of climate action is either shifting ground or expanding its area of interest. Absent too much fuss or bother, the Greens waved through all of Labor’s climate agenda with only the flimsiest fake argument over the size of the font on the documents.
This was climate action, the die-in-the-middle-of-the-road issue for the Greens – just four years ago they led a convoy to Central Queensland sealing the fate of Bill Shorten and helping create the sham dragon-slaying reputation of Gold Medal political fraud Scott Morrison.
Chandler-Mather is not shy about his strategic aims or tactics. He boasted about them in the Australian edition of the global socialist magazine Jacobin (https://bit.ly/3PrxWWN), saying the current housing and rental conditions provide “an emerging self-conscious renter class who form the core of our organizer (sic) and volunteer base, as well as our growing voter base”.
The Greens are using the Parliamentary stand-off to “create space for a broader campaign in civil society’’ while Chandler-Mather agrees passing the current Labor legislation would ‘‘demobilise the growing section of civil society that is justifiably angry about the degree of poverty and stress that exists in such a wealthy country”.
This is political theory 101 and exposes the Greens as being more concerned about broadening their appeal from the area which previously identified their core concern – climate and the environment – and taking on hip pocket economic issues leveraged by way of fear about swingeing rent increases.
The Greens arguments are not backed by history or current conditions, as Alan Kohler explained in an excellent column in The New Daily this week (https://bit.ly/3jzOCgH).
A close look at the electoral maps of inner-city Brisbane federal seats help to understand the ambitions of the Greens. The seat of Brisbane stretches from the CBD to Stafford in the north west, Ashgrove in the west and Eagle Farm in the east.
Ryan sprawls into the hills as far as Mount Glorious after winding along the south side of the Mt Nebo Road, south to Bellbowrie and into the more populous suburbs of St Lucia, Auchenflower, Toowong and Bardon.
On the other side of the Brisbane River, Griffith fans out from densely populated West End, South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point suburbs down to Holland Park and Mt Gravatt in the south and up to Carina, Cannon Hill and Murrarie in the east.
By any measure this is a big slice of suburban Brisbane and is a formidable electoral base for the third force in Australian politics (sorry Nationals, you really don’t make the cut any more).
The Greens want to defend it and expand the map. They have their eyes on Lilley and Moreton (both tough hills to climb with hard-working popular Labor incumbents) with other seats outside Brisbane with high renter proportions such as Longman to the city’s north east, Blair north west of the capital and Leichhardt in the state’s far north.
There are also some seats with similar demographics around Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, especially given the high percentage of renters. Near the top of likely seats the Greens will be looking at are Reid, Dobell, Parramatta and Lindsay in New South Wales and Chisholm, LaTrobe, Dunkley and Jagajaga in Victoria.
The Greens won’t come close in many of these seats but you can expect them to use their new enthusiasm for old school left wing economics to chase some populist gains.
One thing is certain. Max Chandler-Mather is ready to talk to any camera or microphone that’s available.