STREETVIEW: Tales from the frontline
“What is it, politics?”
The man, middle-aged, bearded and bleary-eyed, stands defensively behind a locked screen door, sleepily hiking up a black singlet emblazoned with a bikie logo to scratch his hirsute belly.
It seems Hazel Wainwright’s loudly good-natured cry of “knock knock” may have awakened him from a late afternoon slumber.
“Yeah nah, all good,” he mutters as he peers through the mesh barrier at the campaign leaflet being proffered by her outstretched hand.
“Yeah not interested, all good… have a good day,” he adds as he turns and shuffles back down his front hall.
“Well, at least we could see him,” muses SA Best’s Mawson candidate as we slink away.
Plenty of residents leave their screen doors closed when greeting visiting politicians – and aspiring politicians. Which can make cordial discourse difficult, when you can’t actually see the person you’re hoping to convince to vote for you.
“A lot of the older generations don’t want to open the doors and get really frightened… and I don’t push it,” Wainwright tells me.
“I think a lot of people are really disinterested about politics at the moment,” she says.
“I think people want to do something about it, but they don’t really know what to do about it.”
SA Best’s chances of becoming a legitimate third political force in South Australia, it seems, hinge on convincing enough voters that there is indeed something they can do to register their disenchantment with mainstream politics – by lodging their formal support for Nick Xenophon’s fledgling state party.
But they have less than a week left to do it.
It’s a really diverse electorate
I meet Wainwright at Aldinga’s Victory Hotel – a name she no doubt hopes is a portent for her election hopes – and tail her four-wheel-drive, wending along the picturesque Sellick’s Hill coast road, which peers down on the Nan Hai Pu Tuo Temple and its towering statue of Buddha.
It’s not hard to keep sight of Wainwright’s car – emblazoned across the back is a large photograph of the candidate with her SA Best leader, and the words: “Hazel gets it done for Mawson.”
“Someone’s taken my posters down,” she laments as we alight on a quiet street off the main road through Myponga.
She insists her likeness used to line the street, but now it’s few and far between.
Wainwright was one of the first candidates Xenophon unveiled for a campaign that has certainly generated plenty of sound and fury, whatever it ultimately signifies.
She is taking on incumbent Labor frontbencher Leon Bignell in the southern seat of Mawson, which takes in parts of the outer suburbs of the Onkaparinga local government area – where Wainwright serves as a councillor – and stretches down the coast and through the southern vales.
“It’s a very diverse area… a really diverse electorate,” Wainwright explains.
She cites biosecurity as a big issue for the wine-growing region of McLaren Vale, but argues domestic violence and lack of jobs as concerns affecting areas such as Aldinga and Sellicks Beach.
She says “70 per cent of people have to leave the area to work”.
In Yankalilla, she says, the pressing concern is a lack of bus services.
“How do you get from Yankallilla to Colonnades? There’s a bus once a day and that’s it,” she says.
Health is also a concern, with a lack of after-hours services “if you’re sick after 9 o’clock on a Friday”. Wainwright also singles out access to services, including bolstering the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme. She initially mentions this using the acronym – PATS – but then makes a point of spelling it out. In a recent profile on the seat, Wainwright appeared to have a preoccupation with women’s health, because her emphasis on PATS was misinterpreted as “pap smears”.
It is, then, a problematic electorate – an amalgam of distinct pockets with very different characteristics. A boundary distribution that saw Kangaroo Island shifted from neighbouring Finniss into Mawson has helped shift its margin from more than five per cent in Bignell’s favour to a nominal marginal favouring Liberal hopeful Andy Gilfillan.
The son of one-time Democrat Legislative Councillor Ian Gilfillan, he is hoping to become a second generation parliamentarian but a first generation Liberal.
Despite the major party refrain that Xenophon’s candidates are largely anonymous, if you’ve followed the campaign there’s every chance you’d recognise Hazel Wainwright. For starters, she’s one of the more prominent of Xenophon’s candidates singing and bopping along with gusto to the refrain of his contentious viral jingle.
The ad –deliberately cheesy and much-debated – has been received with a mix of shock and awe.
“I think it polarises people – you either love it or you hate it,” Wainwright reflects now.
“Most people I know love it, but some people say it’s ridiculous… I’ve had a couple of people say: ‘It’s ridiculous, I won’t vote for you because of the ad’ [so] I think it does polarise people.
“But I think the ad really did attract people’s attention… people don’t like the negative ads, and they really like the fact we’re positive.
“I think it is a point of difference – something a bit more positive and upbeat, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing.
“A couple of friends said they couldn’t get the jingle out of their heads – it’s one of those jingles you can’t get out of your head.”
But the broader campaign has also provoked a fair degree of backlash, much of it directed at Xenophon himself. Wainwright says she recently visited a retirement area in McLaren Vale, and “they all thought it was terrible how the media was treating Nick”.
“One guy said to me ‘can you give him a hug from me?’” she says.
Wainwright wends her way through the emerging cul de sacs of Myponga: up Mudlark Way and down Shiraz Court.
It’s a developing neighbourhood: new homes, with plenty still half-built. Two houses we visit have tenants still in the process of moving in.
At most houses we visit there is no-one home. If there is someone home, the first sign of it is usually the barking of a dog at the front door.
“Just leave in on the mat,” suggests one tenant from behind their screen door as a large Labrador noisily welcomes Wainwright and her election pamphlet.
If they’re not home, she jots down the time of her visit on the handout and slides it under the mat, perhaps with the odd observation about the homestead.
“If I really like their garden I always write ‘love your garden’,” she tells me.
“I actually had someone thank me, they were actually out the back working in the garden at the time – they posted it on Facebook.
“Otherwise it’s so impersonal, and I really want to relate to people.
“Sometimes people say ‘no, not interested’ but I haven’t had anyone that’s nasty… You know what they say? ‘I’ve never met someone from politics before – I’ve never had anyone knock on my door’.”
Anywhere where the ground war is dominant, SA Best is going to struggle
“When I was at McLaren Flat there were a lot of people home,” she says after yet another doorknock goes unanswered.
Since starting her ground campaign, Wainwright says she’s door-knocked Willunga, McLaren Flat, McLaren Vale, Yankalilla, Normanville “and a little bit of Sellicks”.
“I haven’t done much of Aldinga either, but I’ve still for a week to go,” she says.
“I’ve been on Kangaroo Island… there’s so much wrong with KI – they’re really shafted by people – but they’re so resilient.”
She reflects that she began her door-to-door campaign “probably before Christmas”.
“It feels like I haven’t done a lot, but probably I have,” she muses.
Mawson is the final in InDaily’s series of reports from the frontlines of the battle for SA. We’ve tracked candidates from across the state and the political spectrum, to gauge the mood of the voters that will determine some of the state’s crucial seats.
According to Labor’s Tom Kenyon in the north-eastern suburbs seat of Newland, the theory goes that “there’s an air war and a ground war in every campaign”.
“The air war is pamphlets, advertising – it’s a B52 that flies in and bombs the crap out of everything [and] that’s Xenophon’s game.
“But the ground war is door-knocking, street to street, that kind of stuff. And that’s not going to be their strength… it takes time. You can’t roll out an electorate-wide campaign in a few weeks.”
According to Kenyon: “Anywhere where the ground war is dominant, SA Best is going to struggle.”
Mawson is one of the seats where that theory will be tested.
A leaked YouGov Galaxy poll in January had Wainwright at polling 38 per cent of the primary vote, ahead of Gilfillan on 25 per cent and Bignell on 22. However, an Advertiser-Galaxy poll published today tells a very different story, with Wainwright now in third place, on just 20 per cent, behind the Liberals (37) and Labor (30). Which suggests while SA Best’s preferences will play a decisive role in determining who wins the seat, it’s unlikely Wainwright will be claiming victory herself.
At length, we approach a house with signs of life – two young girls are riding their bikes in the front yard.
“Is your mum or dad home?” Wainwright inquires enthusiastically.
“She’s working,” one of the girls tells her sternly, but consents to fetch her anyway.
At length a woman emerges with a quizzical smile, to be handed a pamphlet bearing Wainwright’s likeness.
“I just thought I’d introduce myself,” the candidate enthuses.
“So if you’ve got any questions or issues…?”
“No, not really,” says the woman, as her two daughters circle closer.
“Can I have one?” the older girl beseeches of Wainwright.
“Do you want one too?” she asks the younger one, who nods enthusiastically.
Three pamphlets dispensed, we move on to the next house.
The SA Best foot-soldier doesn’t seem to work to a script.
“It’s me without the hat!” she beams at one resident as she hands them the leaflet and removes the black wide-brim she’s sporting in the Friday heat.
“I’m the Mawson candidate for Nick Xenophon – there’s some information about me in there,” she tells another.
To another, she says: “I’m the SA Best candidate for Mawson, I thought I’d come and introduce myself.”
The exercise appears to be more about making introductions and handing over the election material than in gauging issues of local concern – a symptom, perhaps, of Wainwright being a candidate rather than an incumbent.
But it’s likely also a symptom of the fact that she, like most of SA Best’s hopefuls, are doing this for the first time – feeling their way through a campaign with an endgame no less audacious than holding the balance of power in the state’s parliament.
“I want to really improve the public transport down here, and there’s no after-hours medical… there’s a whole lot of things,” she tells one man as he peruses her leaflet.
“So I hope we can get the balance of… government,” she adds.
“I don’t think there’s any right or a wrong way,” she tells me when I ask about how she approaches her door-knocking task.
I ask whether the SA Best candidates were given any guidance about how to go about approaching residents in the 36 seats the party is contesting.
“They had a woman talk to us once, and she said it was probably a good idea if you go out doorknocking with other people,” Wainwright offers, before conceding that it was not advice she took on board.
“I feel quite confident with people, so I think that’s a waste of someone’s time really,” she says firmly.
But as to whether she approaches the electorate in a systematic way, based on where SA Best’s latent voters are most likely to be found?
“No, I haven’t got any metadata or anything,” she says, inadvertently pointing to another area in which the fledgling operation runs at a considerable disadvantage to its major party rivals.
“I wish I did.”
As we walk, Wainwright gives me the potted history of SA Best’s Mawson candidate. Once an artist, she migrated into childcare to make ends meet, eventually running her own centre for several years. From there, she transitioned into the building industry, working at Homestead Homes with former Family First senator Bob Day. She worked her way up the ladder in the property industry, before a seachange prompted her to quit. “It was too far to drive,” she says.
She worked as an advertising manager for Fleurieu Living magazine, although she didn’t much care for the gig because “you’d walk into a room and people would want to be in the magazine so they’d rush over to talk to you, or run away from you because they thought you wanted money from them”.
It was a “local issue” over a fence at the end of the esplanade that saw her run for council.
“Out of four candidates I came second, which wasn’t too bad… the person who came first was the deputy mayor,” she says.
“The other two were incumbents, so I didn’t feel too bad.”
She’s quick to distance herself from recent controversies about council spending, saying she “found the Onkaparinga Council really dysfunctional”.
“What’s happened at Onkaparinga shouldn’t have happened,” she says.
“Everyone voted for that [expenditure] but no-one had any idea because it went through a risk and audit committee, so they wouldn’t know about it… you can’t have your finger on every pulse so you trust people are doing their job.”
She is also dismissive of the priorities and processes of council meetings.
“You can spend three or four hours arguing about a dog park, and spend 15 minutes on a $150 million budget – go figure.”
I haven’t got any metadata or anything…I wish I did
Another door, another dog.
The high-pitched yap greets us as Wainwright greets it with delight.
“Cute dog!” she tells the woman at the door.
“She can be, yes.”
“I’ve got two Maltese shih tzus.”
“She’s a cavoodle.”
Small talk aside, Wainwright continues: “I’m the candidate for SA Best” but is stopped short when her interlocutor tells her: “Yes, I was sitting next to you at lunch today.”
“Oh… sorry Sue,” Wainwright exclaims, slightly mortified.
They had shared a table with others at a Southern Vales fundraiser for the Smith Family earlier today, but Wainwright, firmly in campaign mode, hadn’t placed her.
The lapse doesn’t, however, appear to cost her a vote.
Ironically, a few doors on, she is greeted as an old friend by a complete stranger, a young woman with a glowing smile and two young children cavorting at her ankles.
“Oh HI!” she beams. “How are you?!”
They discuss a push to upgrade Sellicks Road, an issue that has galvanised a local action group.
“Wouldn’t that be a blissful thing?” the woman swoons.
Wainwright asks her if there are any issues she wants to raise.
“Oh, no concerns – none at all. Just trying to get these little munchkins all sorted…” She gestures to the two tykes.
We knock on several doors, but no-one wants to talk politics today, and Wainwright seems reluctant to push the matter.
“Sometimes they ask me about ‘what are you going to do about public transport or health’,” she says.
“One guy was saying how his wife had to have a colonoscopy because she’s got bowel cancer in the family. He said ‘Now, we’re pensioners and it costs us a fortune’… $1100 it cost him to go and get a colonoscopy, and they had to have this every three years – and they’re pensioners.”
Wainwright used the issue to spruik SA Best’s call – criticised by the major parties – for a Royal Commission into the health sector.
“So he can find out actually what’s wrong with the health system,” she notes.
Bring on Saturday and we can move on
“I’m from the SA Best Nick Xenophon Party,” she tells a man backing his car down the driveway, proffering her leaflet.
“I’ve already got one,” he answers grumpily.
Wainwright’s husband, high-profile academic Haydon Manning, has already done a run of leafleting through this area, and has been rather too industrious – Wainwright’s election material is still sitting on several doorsteps we arrive at.
“Bit over it?” the candidate asks the man sympathetically.
“Yeah,” he agrees.
“I think a lot of people are,” she nods.
“Bring on Saturday and we can move on.”
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