climate change protest
(Image: AAP)

The climate change election has finally come to Warringah and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s not even a candidate for the Greens who’s cashing in. Their candidate for Warringah, Kristyn Glanville, likens it to when a band you love suddenly blows up and everyone jumps on board.

She laughs and adopts a faux-outraged tone: “‘I bought this band shirt vintage, and you bought yours new in a store, I can tell!'” She promises to tell me about the thesis she wrote on mosh-pits later, and she heads off to assail more commuters around Manly Wharf who haven’t gotten their phones out quickly enough to avoid eye contact. It’s 8am, and the campaigners been there for roughly an hour beneath chilly Turner-smudged grey skies. 

“You don’t run as a Greens candidate out of overwhelming personal ambition — you run to defend principles and ideals,” she says. “As much as I’d love to see Richard Di Natale become prime minister, I’m realistic. Climate change is the biggest issue and it’s good that candidates are really talking about it.” 

Di Natale arrives soon after, and immediately starts mucking about with a volunteer’s dog. “Oooh, he’s a… Rhodesian Ridgeback?”

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“There ya go! Dog-spotting, it’s my hidden talent.” 

There’s a guy in a sombrero with a sign reading “Adios Tony” — it’s written on the back of a corflute for former Pittwater mayor David James, which can’t be less than 10 years old. He’s not an official Green, I don’t think, but Di Natale gives him a warm handshake and a pat on the back as he goes by. NSW Senator Mehreen Faruqi is also here, walking around the wharf and bailing up commuters.

At the student strike, convened outside Tony Abbott’s Sydney Road office, ‘Imagine’ starts playing, inevitably, and a woman behind me is quietly weeping. Di Natale, beaming, tells a Channel 9 journo “the kids are setting the example for the politicians!”  

The whole thing is pleasingly ramshackle — the homemade art project signs, the debate club cadence, the heartbreaking earnestness of it all — and occasionally the girls leading the multi-syllable chants stumble and fall into giggles.

“That’s bull! Get off it! This land is not for profit!”  

I talk to a few bystanders — some supportive, one committed to be irresolute (“I don’t knnooowww”) and one who thinks these kids need to get a job.

Faruqi is particularly impressive at the strike. Groups of kids drift towards her, all nervous smiles and braces, and she’s warm and involving. She tells me she “absolutely loves” campaigning, and I believe her. It’s a good thing too — she’s one of six Greens senators facing the electors in 2019. She’s only been in federal parliament since August 2018, when she replaced the resigning Lee Rhiannon, giving the former state parliamentarian limited time to build her brand at a federal level. Faruqi says the last NSW Senate spot could well be between her and a One Nation candidate.

“If you look at some of the people of the Senate at the moment, and the use of race, it’s really important that I do everything I can,” she tells Crikey. “Parliament isn’t properly representative, of, well, this…” 

She gestures at the mass of people around us and beams. “I mean, how good is this?”  

Di Natale is spruiking her every bit as much as Glanville. “It’s in the Senate we’re going to hold them account” is a recurring line for the day. It’s going to be a tough election for the Greens, and while Di Natale talks with some confidence about making inroads in progressive Liberal seats, the real priority is surely holding what they have. They have not been helped by their NSW colleagues over the past few years.

Still, environmental issues remain front and centre in Glanville’s campaign.

The Balgowlah Golf club seems like a strange place for an activist meeting. It has that reassuring, faintly smokey scent common in bowls clubs and RSLs. But it also has a wall of windows looking out over an exquisite green swoop, much of which will be dug up when the proposed Northern Beaches tunnel emerges from here. Reddish orange chairs, worn to a muddy brown on the arms, line the windows. There is a bar on one side and broad Gothic arches leading through to a red velvet buffet table on the other. Behind the table, the championship results for years and years prior. It’s been here 90-odd years, nearly as long as the electorate of Warringah. 

Glanville meets here with the Viable Transport Solutions group to go through their concerns over the tunnel, which will see the club shuttered for years. “We weren’t consulted at all.”

The president is a life-long Liberal voter who tells me he’s dramatically shifted to the “time’s up Tony” view, as have many of his friends and family. This jolts my gut feeling that Abbott will hold on. If he’s losing the Liberal-voting 60-70 year-old golf crowd, maybe he really is gone? 

An hour earlier, she had met three members of the Save Manly Dam committee — a long-running conservation group in the area, looking at the bush land that will be cleared for the tunnel and the effects on the wildlife. She talks through planning permission and environmental law as they huddle around a small table in a covered barbecue area at Manly Dam, while the rain buckets down around us. 

Both groups are angry at the lack of consultation, the lack of alternatives considered, and the silence of their local member in response to their concerns. Now that “Abbott has made tunnels a federal issue” by selling his government’s fairly miniscule contribution to the project, Glanville sees a chance to get their concerns into the conversation.

Abbott has declared he is “120%” behind the tunnel, while the challenger-most-likely, Zali Steggall, has expressed support for the project, qualified with a need for proper environmental mitigation. 

My day with Granville is a reminder of the pure slog of being a candidate for office; taking shit from some older guy on the wharf, talking to three conservationists in the rain, two people in a golf club. All in a seat Glanville can’t win, for the party, for the ideas.

Charlie Lewis is reporting from our special Warringah bureau for the length of the election campaign. Follow his coverage here.