When Derryn Hinch spent three months in prison in 2014, he made sure every episode of The Bold and the Beautiful that aired while he was locked up was taped so he could catch up when he was released. Even though he is known as the Human Headline and there is little doubt about his opinions on the criminal justice system, there’s still a lot to learn about Derryn Hinch as he runs for the Senate at the upcoming election.

And learn I did, as I boarded Hinch’s campaign Winnebago from Melbourne to Ballarat for Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party’s official campaign launch on Saturday morning. It seemed prescient that the morning papers bore the headline that Jill Meagher’s death in 2013 was preventable — her killer, Adrian Ernest Bayley, shouldn’t have been on parole when he attacked her on Sydney Road in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick on that September night. It was for naming Bayley and his previous offences that Hinch served 50 days in prison in 2014. Harsher sentences and reform of the parole system are one of the major planks of Hinch’s platform, though he’s quick to assure me that the campaign has more than just one issue. Hinch is angry that the Fairfax papers branded him an “anti-paedophile candidate” — Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party (yes, that tedious mouthful is its full name) has eight key issues, he tells me, including voluntary euthanasia, marriage equality and animal cruelty.

“A lot of the issues that we stand for spread over into each other,” he says later in the day at his campaign launch.

Hinch has had more first-hand experience with the justice system than your average politician — serving two jail terms for contempt of court and one stint in home detention. But he doesn’t plan on going back soon.

“I’m not keen to go back to jail again in a hurry. I’m not saying I won’t, but I’m not keen to go back in a hurry.”

The first thing he wants to get done if he’s successful is a Senate inquiry into the Family Court system and child welfare agencies. “It’s like the Masonic Lodge, it’s a secret court that abuses the rights of people.”

“We know there’s kids being put into foster care who should never go into foster care, there’s kids being taken out of foster care who should never be. We’ve got kids sent back to biological fathers who have molested them.”

“I understand why we have to protect the identity of children, they’ve suffered enough,” he says. But he’s sick of the rule that prevents reporting on Family Court proceedings.

It’s an easy drive to Ballarat, and Hinch is generous with his answers to my somewhat impertinent questions. The veteran broadcaster says he is a picture of health, and that a recent check-up with his surgeon revealed that his body barely shows signs of the liver transplant that saved his life in 2011. He does have a magic number, though — 2190. That’s the number of days the 72-year-old needs to stay alive to serve a full six-year term in Parliament (plus the 33 until election day). If he doesn’t get elected, Hinch says he would hope to go back to his show on Sky News and write for his website, but a quiet retirement isn’t on the cards. He doesn’t ever switch off, and he is on top of all of his social media — even Snapchat.

As we drive up to the Lakeview Hotel in Ballarat, there’s a small crowd waiting out the front, and a man in a kilt is playing John Farnham’s You’re The Voice on the bagpipes. There are fewer than a hundred people at the launch, which looks out on a grey Lake Wendouree. Ballarat was chosen as the location for the launch because of its history with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Church fences throughout the regional city bear ribbons tied for victims of sex abuse at the hands of priests. Hinch’s Victorian running mate Stuart Grimley is at the launch on Saturday; he stood down from his role as a police officer on Friday in order to nominate on Saturday.

While the party bears Hinch’s name, he’s not going down this road alone. A small team of volunteers are running the campaign; many of them have worked with Hinch or his causes for many years. His driver, Peter, says they have done 7000 kilometres so far this campaign, and he’s driven for Hinch before — following the Jail to Justice walk from Langi Kal Kal prison to the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne. There are Senate candidates in every state, and the possibility of a few lower house candidates as well. He jokes that his campaign is funded from his own superannuation, not other people’s superannuation like Clive Palmer.

Preference whisperer Glenn Druery gives Hinch the best chance out of the minor parties of gaining the 12th Senate spot in Victoria, and Hinch is optimistic of getting to Canberra. “I need three MCGs worth” of votes, he tells me, to make it to a quota on his own (that’s about 300,000 votes for non-Melburnians) and about two MCGs to get over the line with preferences. He gives away very little when it comes to preference deals, saying those conversations won’t happen until all parties have confirmed who they are nominating. He doesn’t see Australian Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir as a threat, believing his public profile will work in his favour. And the public profile is undeniable. As we are about to leave Melbourne, a woman walking her dog calls out “we’re right behind you, Derryn”. At a roadside service station at Ballan West, an elderly woman approaches Hinch to say hello and express her support. A couple also says hello, with Hinch handing out fliers to them both.

When it comes to the possibility of a hung parliament and minority government, he says that it would be up to the Greens and Nick Xenophon to do deals in the lower house. He’d respect the mandate of whichever party got into government (he expects Malcolm Turnbull to win, for the record) and would pass the budget. This doesn’t mean that he won’t play politics. A senior Liberal senator has already approached Hinch about the possibility of co-sponsoring a bill to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act — so it looks like those in power are already taking this bid seriously.

Peter Fray

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