What it’s like to be a volunteer in a high-stakes election campaign

All political parties and candidates depend heavily on volunteers during election campaigns. Photo: The Greens/supplied.

By TILEAH DOBSON

With Australians to head to the polls tomorrow to vote on who should run the country, the federal election campaign is at fever pitch.

From the Liberal Party’s announcement on allowing Australians to dip into their superannuation in order to buy a house, to Labor’s promise to raise wages in order to meet the cost of living, disseminating the messages of these campaigns wouldn’t be possible without the help of volunteers.

While the big players tour the country in order to secure specific seats, the army of volunteers is there to help out at a local level. The Sydney Sentinel spoke to three volunteers working across the political spectrum to showcase their hard work – and the abuse that’s sometimes thrown at them.

Kate Zarb is a volunteer for the Labor candidate for the seat of Lindsay, Trevor Ross. While this is her first time helping out in a federal election, she had been a member of the ALP for a couple of years.

“One of my former uni lecturers, Diane Colman, was running for Cumberland Council last year, and she approached me to ask if I’d be the communications manager for her campaign,” she told The Sentinel.

“I loved every minute of it, and she was successfully elected. So when Trevor Ross was calling the local party members earlier this year to see if they’d be able to volunteer for his campaign, I offered to help and I’ve been on the team since March.”

Trevor Ross’s campaign in Penrith has received visits from other members of the Labor Party, including Chifley MP and Industry and Innovation Shadow Minister, Ed Husic (middle). Photo: Trevor Ross/Facebook.

Despite being more progressive than the current Labor Party, Zarb is also a pragmatist and recognises the necessity of no one being left behind – including the workers at Australia’s controversial coal mines.

 “Any party forming a government has to look after everyone. We have to look after coal miners, for instance. Nobody wants the gruelling poverty in coal mining towns that England saw in the 1980s, when Thatcher closed all the mines and just left all the miners with nothing. When progress is made, we have to bring everyone along with us,” Zarb said.

“I believe one of a government’s jobs is to look after the most vulnerable – the poor, the disabled, the elderly. The Liberals don’t have a plan for that; in fact, they’re quite happy to let people’s circumstances continue to decline.

“That’s not OK. A person’s worth is not determined by their income. Healthcare, education, safe housing – they’re all human rights, and it’s a government’s job to make sure people are provided with them.”

Zarb’s sentiments were shared by Claire* – a volunteer for Rachael Jacobs, the Greens candidate in the seat of Grayndler.

“I’ve only been volunteering for a few weeks, but since I started, I’ve been hooked. I volunteer about five days a week, either in the evenings or on weekends when I’m not at work,” she told The Sentinel.

“Already I’ve been part of amazing initiatives, such as door knocking, calling supporters, participating in discussions about building momentum and even performing at our arts policies evening and partaking in a ‘crafternoon’.”

Despite being unable to vote this time around, as her citizenship test is two weeks after the election, that hasn’t stopped Claire from doing whatever she can to help the party.

Claire (front, centre) has enjoyed volunteering for Greens candidate Rachael Jacobs and has described it as finding a second family. Photo: supplied.

“I felt I needed to find a way to contribute, and so I chose to volunteer. When it comes to the Greens specifically, they are an obvious choice,” she said.

“I am passionate about social justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, women’s rights, mental health, disability rights, racial justice, healthcare, housing affordability, criminal justice reform, climate action and basically every other progressive approach you can think of.

“I believe that for a fairer society, our policies need to come from the heart and they need to take care of our most marginalised and vulnerable. Only the Greens align with me on this.”

At the other end of the political spectrum, university student Paris Butchmann is helping out Liberal candidate in the Division of Macquarie, Sarah Richards.

“I’ve been volunteering for about four months now and I’m loving every second of it,” Butchmann told The Sentinel.

“I already knew Sarah from before and when she became the Liberal candidate for the seat of Macquarie, I knew I wanted to help,” she said.

“She’s been such a good mentor to me as I dip my toes into politics and honestly, the party aligns with the values I hold dear and what I’ve grown up with.”

When asked if any of them have received negative feedback from their communities, all three answered yes – although to differing degrees.

“The Inner West is a bit of a bubble, so people here tend to be progressive and friendly. We’ve had a few disappointing comments from some people, but I approach them with respect and kindness,” Claire said.

Zarb, meanwhile, said: “People have commented with some really ignorant comments on Trevor’s Facebook page, but that’s to be expected on social media. Some people have been very rude, and I feel a bit sorry for them.”

Butchmann said: “I have received the occasional swearing from cars and people making snide comments personally, however much worse has happened to other Liberal volunteers in our electorate recently, with one [allegedly] being beaten up, which was in the news,” Butchmann said.

Despite the negativity experienced this time around, all three volunteers have said they don’t regret helping out and encouraged others to do the same.

Having known her Liberal candidate prior to the election, Paris Butchmann was more than happy to help out and even found a mentor under Sarah Richards. Photo: supplied.

“Don’t let fear of being bashed get to you. Just stay true to what you believe and don’t be scared about what others say – and definitely do not let it sway you from helping out,” Butchmann said.

Claire also opined that the experience was worthwhile.

“If you find a candidate whose policies you back this much, you’ll never regret it. I’ve had such a renewed sense of energy and hope for the future of society since joining the volunteer team – I know that there are so many of us who care about making the world a kinder and more equal place. I’ve made some friends for life, and this is hopefully only the beginning,” she said.

Zarb described volunteering for an election candidate as a way to help your community.

“If you’re passionate about your country, and you want to make it better, sign up to help out. You don’t even have to be a party member, you just have to be someone who cares about your community and your country, and who cares about making it better,” she said.

“Not everyone is going to agree with you, but that’s OK. At least you’re doing something.”

*Claire requested that her full name not be used in this story.

Tileah Dobson is the news editor and sub-editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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