Monday, November 05, 2007

An interview with the Democrat candidate for Lilley – Jennifer Cluse

As part of a continuing exercise in interviewing all candidates for the Queensland Federal seat of Lilley, this time it is the turn of the Australian Democrats. The Democrats stronghold is the Senate where they hope Andrew Bartlett will retain the seat he has held since 1997. However they are also contesting every House of Representative seat in Queensland. In 2004, the Democrats took one 1.5 percent of the vote in Lilley and the candidate this time round is Jennifer Cluse. Woolly Days interviewed Jennifer Cluse yesterday.

By her own admission, Jennifer Cluse is not a politician. She is a retiree who worked in the air force as a radio technician and then as a commercial pilot. She is a mother of two sons and lives in Chermside where her dream is to make her home completely carbon neutral. Cluse said she was compelled to put her name forward as a political candidate after John Howard won control of the Senate in 2004. Since then she has seen “appalling legislation” pushed through such as workchoices and the anti-terror laws passed almost without debate. She compared the current situation to when the Democrats had the balance of power. “We checked every line and queried every problematic bit of drafting,” she said.

Cluse said she was the classic swing voter and had elected the government in the lower house in every election for the last 40 years, except in the last one. She said she voted Democrat each time in the Senate. “Don Chipp rang all my bells and pushed my buttons,” she said. She denied that the Democrats were a spent force. “[The media] were saying we were finished after Cheryl Kernot left,” she said. “They were wrong then and they are wrong now”.

Cluse praised the Democrat Senate candidate Andrew Bartlett as an “amazingly stable, patient, and listening politician”. She said most politicians only want to talk at you but Bartlett was a great listener and he has the gift of finding a way of precisely expressing what he has heard. If Cluse had one minor criticism of him, it was that his voice modulation tends to be even and there were “no oratory flourishes”. Cluse said he was “an honourable politician”.

I then asked what she was hearing from the electorate out on the hustings. She said there was “universal agreement we’ve got to get control of the Senate back”. She hoped that people would vote Democrat, or else the Greens. She said she was not happy with the way Labor was going. “I’m starting to worry that Garrett WAS joking,” she said. She said John Howard had done “admirable things” in the past such as changing the gun laws in the wake of Port Arthur and restructuring the superannuation scheme. But against that, she said he had caused anguish for refugees, denied the problems of global warming and promoted selfishness in Australia.

She said that while the Greens were on the right path, they were not yet ‘good enough’. Cluse heard Larissa Waters speak recently where she (Waters) said they ‘had 40 policies’ now. “That was the problem", said Cluse. “They have too narrow a focus.” She said that Family First were a sinister party associated with a Church that practiced manipulation on the young people that joined it. “They are too extreme,” she said. “Balance is what we need.”

Cluse said that the environment was the single most important issue of the election. She said that she knows from her radio technician days how a runaway positive feedback situation can have dire consequences. "This is happening with CO2 emissions NOW," she said. "Electronics can control runaway positive feedback with a fuse which blows. The earth has NO fuse.". She believes we have a maximum until 2018 to stabilise our emissions though she notes that CSIRO are now saying we only have until 2015. She believed the message about this “desperate situation” was not getting through to people because of selfishness. She heard it best put in the phrase that goes “the economy is me, the environment is us”.

Cluse was depressed by the role of the local media in the election. She said she had stopped buying all local newspapers and subscribed only to The Economist. She said it was the only publication not to give the name of its reporters. The local media was all about opinion pieces, grabs, sound bytes, and was lacking in in-depth reporting. She blamed the journalism schools at universities who were commercially driven to produce what employers want. She concluded by saying that Howard had slashed education budgets and deliberately created a “dumbed down society”.

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