With Steve Fielding getting elected to a Victorian Senate seat in 2004 on 1.9% of the vote and No Pokies independent Nick Xenophon scoring a primary vote of 20.5% state-wide in the recent South Australian election, I’m just one of many minor party players getting their hopes up about landing a seat in the reconstituted Victorian upper house after the 25 November state election.

An obvious start was to hear from the canny Mr X who is now the most popular independent in Australian political history after 190,000 South Australians marked his box first. What was the secret? We invited him to Melbourne on Saturday for a brainstorming session and to speak at the campaign launch of our candidate in Eastern Victoria, Gabriela Byrne. She’s become Australia’s highest profile former pokies addict thanks to her passionate campaigning against the machines that cost her $40,000 in five months back in the mid-90s.

About ten of us spent two hours listening to Nick’s stories in the afternoon – the guy is clearly a genius when it comes to creative media stunts. Cows, goats, soup kitchens, pineapples, gravy trains and many other props have been used to generate coverage that have made Mr X the second most recognised pollie in the SA parliament after Premier Mike Rann.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously to draw attention to serious issues,” was one of many insights.

Poor Mr X is also ridiculously straight. He limited individual donations to $500 and is still more than $100,000 in debt from his recent campaign and even spent his own cash flying over on Saturday when surely the travel allowance would include flights to help a political start-up interstate tackle the pokies.

Mr X wasn’t feeling well and was tired and hungry after our two hour afternoon session so we took him back home, but the kids put paid to any chances of a cat nap. Still, he happily played with them and we even scored this nice photo with Alice (left) and Laura, who’d just got back from a party. Let’s hope they’ll have a pollie living with them soon.

The speech Mr X gave to about 70 guests at an old church in Lilydale on Saturday night was truly inspirational. The guy has enormous energy, gets behind numerous underdogs and community groups, campaigns against secrecy and political rorts and has mastered the arguments about why poker machines should not be sprinkled throughout the populous.

At the end of it, a number of us concluded that we had to toughen up our draft pokies policy and confront the budget black hole arguments head on. “Victoria can’t afford not to get rid of the pokies given the suicides and social damage they cause,” Mr X said. “We don’t say let’s export asbestos to make a buck out of it, so why is this hugely damaging product tolerated?”

The Liberals have promised a token cut of 5,500 machines, the Greens want pokies numbers reduced from 30,000 to 10,000, Labor’s policy is expected shortly but you can rest assured that we are going to be taking the hardest line of anyone after Saturday’s gee-up from the little Greek giant killer.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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