‘Past 12 months a rollercoaster ride’, says Baldivis Senator Jordon Steele-John
The past 12 months can best be summed up as a ‘rollercoaster ride’ says Greens Senator for WA Jordon Steele-John.
Last July, he was just one of thousands of young Australian university students, studying politics by correspondence, with a long-held passion to fight for the under-represented in the community.
No stranger to politics, having put his hand up as a candidate at three previous Federal elections, run for the State seat of Warnbro and been on a local government election ballot, the 24-year-old from Baldivis was violently catapulted into the national spotlight in the wake of the dual citizenship scandal when Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters were forced to resign.
Officially taking Mr Ludlam’s seat on November 10, 2017, Mr Steele-John believes his passion to help has been a trait that has stood him in good stead and allowed him to provide a voice for the under-represented in Canberra.
“I’ve always been passionate about ensuring the voices of young people, disabled people, of folks from communities who don’t get heard enough are at the centre of the decisions and decision-making spaces that shape our life,” he told the Sound Telegraph.
“I pursued that passion through disability advocacy, volunteering, through youth work volunteering and this time last year through an accident, really, of the parliamentary system.
“I was catapulted into the Senate and it has been an incredible experience to be able to take those voices to the house and ensure that they are heard. Democracy only works when everybody is involved. Democracy only works when it represents the folks who make up a community.”
Diversity is the key he said, and Australian politics has for far too long suffered a diversity crisis.
“There needs to be more younger people in parliament, there needs to be more disabled people, there needs to be more people of colour, there needs to be more women, because the decisions we are making and conversations we are having are completely out of step with the community we are meant to be representing,” he said.
That is what Mr Steele-John has sought to redress, and in his short time in Canberra is most proud of establishing an inquiry into lowering the voting age to 16 and bringing to light the need for a royal commission into violence, abuse and neglect of disabled people.
“(The need for a royal commission) into violence, abuse and neglect of disabled people is an issue both sides of politics have ignored for too long and it is a crisis in our community that desperately needs to be addressed. I am very happy to have put that on the agenda,” he said.
“More young people submitted to the Senate inquiry (to lower the voting age) than any other ever before in Australian history, hundreds of thousands of Australian young people made their voices heard; between 600,000 and a million young people may be able to vote at a future election because of the work we have done.”
He acknowledged a portion of society may think 16 year olds too immature to be given the right to vote, but pointed to a raft of other ‘adult’ privileges already deemed acceptable for 16 year olds.
“The reality is at 16 Australian society says you are old enough to drive a car, work full time, make your own decisions about your health care, have sex and pay taxes,” Mr Steele-John said.
“But you can’t make your voice heard at the ballot box? I don’t think that’s right. There is no knowledge test before you cast a vote on election day, so (The Greens’) position is that at the age of 16 if you want to vote you can.
“It should be optional between 16-18 to serve as a transition period so that young people who want to make their voices heard can. After you turn 18 it becomes mandatory. I think that we could do with more energetic, youthful ideas in our political system, now more than ever.”
Another reason Mr Steele-John wants to younger people involved in Australia’s democratic process is to combat political malaise and discontent, and hopefully avoid the recent rise of populist politicians seen in other parts of the world, particularly in the USA, Brazil and Eastern Europe.
“I find it very concerning that all around the world people are angry with the status quo and in some cases turning to very dangerous people,” he said.
“I do think that Australians are right to feel incredibly frustrated with the political system, with the self-interested nature of it... its disgraceful reliance on corporate donations, the opinions of radio shock jocks and television personalities. They are right to be angry that our democracy is hijacked by these forces.”
The key to policy, he said, is to “put your idea on the table and try to bring people with you”.
“If I put forward an idea to solve a problem and somebody wants to come on board with that, great, let’s get an outcome for everyone!” he said.
“What I don’t have time for, and what I will always call out, is when an idea is put forward and it is shut down because it upsets the corporate backers that run the major parties. When that happens, and I’ve seen it happen again and again and again, I will always call it out.
“It is not our job to serve a small section of powerful corporations. It is our job to serve the people of Australia, full stop.
“That is why it is absolutely vital that the Greens and our movement clearly articulates the alternative, meet people where they are at in their frustration about the failure of politics, create a future for everyone and put the blame for that failure where it belongs.
“Our infrastructure in this country, our health service, our education system is failing to deliver what people need and it is not failing to deliver those things because of immigrants or refugees. It is failing to deliver because for decades both sides of politics have failed to invest in it properly.
“They have given tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy rather than invest in health care, public transport and public education. They are the reason people are experiencing stress and strain. They are the reason people cannot make ends meet. Those are the people to blame, not vulnerable people.
“That is something i am passionate about taking to the people of Baldivis and WA as a proposition for (the next Federal) election.”
With the strong possibility of Australians going to the polls in May and Mr Ludlam having sorted out his citizenship issues, does Mr Steele-John fear for his political career?
In fact, he feels the opposite and is optimistic he can continue the work he has started.
“Scotty is happily writing a book at the moment and is not planning a return to politics so I will be the Greens lead WA senate candidate at the next election,” he said.
“What I’m most excited about is running a people-powered campaign which does not take a cent of corporate money, founded on a platform of getting that influence out of our system, capping donations, real time donation disclosure and a federal independent commission against corruption so that our democracy is returned to the people.
“I’ve been really clear that we need to get corporate money out of our political system because they are shaping our democracy in a way that decisions are not those that benefit the entirety of our community, and that is not OK.
“I think that is perhaps the most revolutionary proposition that has ever been put to an electorate at an election.”
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