Max Chandler-Mather has had a busy few months following his win in Griffith and last week was our first opportunity to talk with our new federal representative.

I met Mr Chandler-Mather at his new offices on Old Cleveland Road in Greenslopes. The team is still in the process of moving in – there is no signage yet, and it can be a little hard to find – an A4 page stuck onto the door told me I was in the right place.

Mr Chandler-Mather has been interviewed by all mainstream media over past months. Most of these pieces have focused on the Green’s campaign strategy in Griffith and other Brisbane electorates. So, before our meeting, I asked a range of individuals and organisations based in West End what they wanted me to ask their new MP. While many said they were impressed with Mr Chandler-Mather’s first speech, a rallying call to “transform Australian politics in favour of everyday people”, they said they are now looking for details on how The Greens will deliver on their commitments.

My time with Mr Chandler-Mather was short, squeezed into a space between meetings, but we managed to cover a lot of issues, though some warrant a more in-depth revisit later in the year.

To get things rolling, I asked Mr Chandler-Mather how The Greens will meet the challenge of keeping the Government accountable while also seeking to be at the negotiating table.

Early in the life of this new Parliament, the Greens have given a pretty clear indication of how they intend to work with the Government. On 4 August, in spite of a number of ongoing concerns, the Greens supported the Government’s Climate Bill in the House of Representatives and has indicated they will support the Bill in the Senate.

Mr Chandler-Mather told me he thinks the Climate Bill provides a good example of how The Greens will work in the Parliament and outlined a three-pronged approach – parliamentary pressure, social and community pressure, and protest action.

“I think, from our perspective, there are three forms of pressure. There’s parliamentary pressure, so the leverage we wield in the balance of power in the Senate in particular. If the Liberals oppose a Bill in the Senate, Labor may need us to get it through. The second form of pressure is electoral pressure. For instance, we won Griffith from Labor, and I think that is a signal to Labor that if they ignore certain issues, for instance, on climate change or wealth inequality or dental into Medicare, then they will lose seats to The Greens. That is a form of pressure that will continue into the next election.”

“And the third component of pressure is social and community pressure. That’s organising protest actions, petitions, mobilising people in the community to realise their own collective power.”

“We see our role across all three spectrums. We’re helping organise rallies and protest actions as we have in the past. …And, obviously in parliamentary pressure, we’ve proved capable of negotiating in good faith. And we’ll continue to do that.”

Q. You observed during the election campaign that voters were telling you they are over the polarising way that politics is done in Australia. What does that mean for The Greens’ approach to politics? How can you make it a more positive experience for the electorate?

“I think we proved that during the campaign. Beyond polarisation, we found people are just fed up with politics; they feel like it’s completely disconnected from their lives. And that’s from both major parties. The first component of that is reconnecting politics to people’s lives. And that means face to face conversations. We plan to run a series of town halls around the electorate over the next few months. It is an open invitation to everyone to come along. We are continuing door knocking, continuing face to face engagement, and making sure that we actually represent people.”

Mr Chandler-Mather said he also thinks people feel their material day-to-day issues are not being addressed. Issues such as the rising cost of living, rising rents and house prices, and access to things like dental care and university education. West End, he said, provides an example of how residents’ concerns have been side-stepped by corporate interests.

“The way property development has been done has been completely against the wishes or interests of people who live there and often without any real public consultation. So, I think, for us, it’s about reconnecting with those communities and doing that on-the-ground organising, and certainly I think we proved that during the Griffith campaign.

Q. As a local representative, how do you see your role in the Greens party room?

“I have the housing and homelessness portfolio, and so a big part of my role in the Party Room is continuing to develop that policy and run housing and homelessness campaigns. We’ve already been in the media highlighting that. I think also making sure that the things that we’ve learned in the electorate via community forums and the public consultation processes is brought into party room. We have a natural advantage in that we have this huge network of volunteers and community groups now that are constantly feeding information up to us. We want to make sure that we establish that connection, so the Party Room hears the voices of everyone in Griffith, and ideally across Queensland as well.

Q. There are some differences within the party room around some policy positions. What are the non-negotiables for you?

“I disagree. One of the amazing things from the Federal Election Campaign was that the party collectively came together on a quite transformative and very popular platform. And my experience having now come into the party room, is that there is actually a collective consensus on that. We are a collective consensus-making body, which means decisions sometimes take a little longer for The Greens, but it means when we get out of it, we have we reached a consensus.”

Q. Some businesses in West End have recently closed, and this can have a depressing effect on the community as a whole. The recent floods, staffing shortages and cost of living pressures are significant contributors. The traders are saying they need something similar to the Government assistance arrangements available during the COVID lockdowns. Do you plan to meet with the West End traders, and how do you want the Government to respond to their concerns?

“Yes, I’m very happy and very keen to meet the West End traders.”

Mr Chandler-Mather said the Federal Government has proved capable of providing subsidies, to small business as they did during COVID, but he said, subsidies continue for big corporations.

“There’s going to be about $10 billion worth of federal subsidies, or there abouts in the next federal budget, in the form of a whole bunch of different subsidies for big multinational corporations. So, we see no reason why there shouldn’t be subsidies for small businesses or support in some way.”

“I think a really practical thing we can do is look at commercial rent caps. Because I certainly know from a lot of West End traders, one of the big things is the cost of rent on Boundary Street. So, I think controlling rents in commercial precincts to ensure that local small businesses can stay would be a really good practical way of supporting them.”

Q. You’ve also proposed rent caps for the residential market. One of the organisations I have been speaking with is asking how you think rent caps will work in practice and what level of Government needs to be involved.

“In the 1940s the Federal Government did coordinate a national rent cap as part of their emergency powers back when fifty per cent of people were renters. Constitutionally a lot of this has to be done at the state level. But it’s really crucial to know that industrial relations functions in a similar way, where a lot of constitutional and other powers sit with the state, but there’s been a national agreement on IR and national pieces of legislation and coordination within the states and territories. So, our point is that there needs to be a similar level of coordination on renting. That would involve the Feds coordinating with the states. We think there should be a National Rental Tenancy Agreement, and that it should look at rent caps and minimum conditions. Housing is a national issue, as much as it is a state and territory issue and having some national minimum standards could be achieved by a COAG agreement. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t happen.”

Mr Chandler-Mather said the rental caps have been in place in many countries, particularly in Europe.

“Functionally, one way a rent cap would work is to take the current market rent on the property, and the rule is that rents can only go up by a certain amount, every year, or every couple of years.”

Q. You attended the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Homelessness Conference this week and met with some key organisations involved in homelessness policy and support – a couple of which are based in your electorate. What are they saying to you about the need for a mix of social and supportive housing?

“Their key concern is that there’s a massive shortage of social housing. If you look at AHURI figures they think that currently there’s a shortage of social housing across the country of just over 550,000 homes. So, the strong message I’m getting is to push for more. Federal Labor’s policy of only 20,000 new social homes over the next five years, and then nothing, would actually see the wait list for social housing increase. So, that’s the strong message we’re getting, that, and increasing job seeker above the poverty line.”

Q. If the Federal government were to commit the necessary funds now, I’ve been told it would still take up to five years to build new stock. So, what can be done in the immediate term to provide relief to the people needing social or affordable housing?

“There are a few strategies we could look at right now: phasing out negative gearing and capital gains tax abstentions – that can be done in the next budget. The next big thing is a Vacancy Levy, whether at the state or federal level. Increasing job seeker and rent assistance above the poverty line would be another thing we can do. But on the building of public and affordable housing, the entire stock build might take five years, but we could bring a lot online in the next twelve months.”

Q. Some have proposed vacant office buildings could be converted to social housing, though architects have told me it is difficult to do. Are you aware of that work being done anywhere?

“I think probably what we need to look at is the vacant homes. The latest census data shows there was a million vacant homes across the country on census night. Realistically, that number is probably smaller. If you talk to the housing organisations they think 30 to 40 per cent of those homes are genuinely vacant. So, the first thing we need to look at is the 300,000 to 400,000 homes across the country that are currently sitting empty.”

Q. I don’t know whether you’ve got any capacity to influence the way that Labor is planning to deliver what it has promised, but could you put some pressure on them to deliver new social housing for 4101?

“We know that needs in urban areas, including in West End are high for public and affordable housing. So, we’ll always fight to make sure that every urban area across the country, including in those places, gets public and affordable housing.”

Q. Are you heartened by calls from the ACTU for the Government to abandon the legislated stage three tax cuts?

“That is crucial. So, we now have ACOSS, the ACTU, the peak body for unions, The Greens and pretty much any organisation involved in the provision of social welfare or representing workers, saying the stage three tax cuts are destructive. We can’t spend $224 billion giving cash handouts, via tax cuts to people like Clive Palmer. That money needs to be spent on housing, dental health care, and education. I think it’s untenable now for Labor to continue to support these tax cuts in the middle of this huge revenue and cost of living crisis. And I’m incredibly heartened to see that the industrial arm of the Labor Party now is opposed to them. I don’t see how they defend keeping them when they kick in, in 2024.”

Q. Will The Greens use the coming budget session to force concessions from the ALP in any other policy area?

“Adam gave a really good speech at the Press Club about this, that yes, we plan on applying pressure in the lead up to the budget around the rest of our election platform, pushing to get dental into Medicare, pushing to get much more investment in public and social housing.”

“Dental in Medicare is one of those areas where it seems abundantly obvious that it should be covered, it will have enormous social and public health benefits if we ensure that oral health is included under our public health system.”

Additional Responses.

Mr Chandler-Mather kindly responded to my final questions in writing.

I asked him some questions how he proposes to support and give voice to our many local community organisations, and what federal resources he will be seeking for local flood and disaster management initiatives.

He said he will be consulting the community widely, including on how he should best support community organisations and assess grant applications.

“We’ll be running a large-scale community survey in the coming weeks where we’ll directly ask these things, and endeavour to get responses from thousands of residents across the electorate.”

“I’ll absolutely be seeking federal resources for flood management and resilience initiatives in the local electorate and would be very happy to work directly with Resilience Kurilpa.

Finally, I asked him, by mid-term, what would he like to look back on as a critical achievement.

“One of the key achievements I’d like to look back on is to have secured meaningful improvements to the government’s inadequate housing plans. Given the state of the housing crisis right now it’s clear we need urgent action to protect renters and build more public housing.”

Pop-up information sessions

If you have your own questions for Mr Chandler-Mather, he is holding pop-up information sessions this month at Coorparoo and Highgate Hill.

Cover image provided