I know Alex Bhathal. We would meet at our sons’ soccer game every Sunday for a season. She also used to ferry young African boys to the games when their over-worked parents did not have the capacity to do so. She knows the value of sport in enhancing acceptance and tolerance especially in the Northern Falcons where you’ll find Tasso, Mohamed, Con, Maria, Louisa, and Li are the norm.
Bhathal is an anthropos, (ἄνθρωπος), a human being. For Hellenes the word signifies the act of selfless benevolence to anyone that need it regardless of politics, faith, or class.
“You made my days in soccer more interesting,” she says.
I used to argue against the Greens as the then adviser to a Liberal Premier and a Keatingite.
Now, I can no longer ignore the lack of action on the environment and never could I ignore the treatment of refugees by both main parties since 1997.
Yet I have a deep aversion to the authoritarianism of the most of the Greens, but Alex Bhathal and Greens leader Richard Luigi Di Natale seem to be a counterweight to the intolerance the extreme left of the Greens.
I see me in Alex Bhathal and Di Natale more than I do in other Greens. They are products of migration, he’s Italian and she’s Indian, and they know Batman’s constituents well. Everyone knows Bhathal, she’s everywhere, and Di Natale is an alumnus of my son’s school the Catholic boys high school Parade College.
I asked what will the Greens do to garner support from those that may be socially conservative, liberal on the economy, or rusted on Labor voters in Batman?
“I’ve been out on the street non-stop and have been overwhelmed by the support I have received all the way to Reservoir, people are saying they’ll vote Greens,” says Bhathal.
“We’re getting more volunteers all the way to north-west Reservoir” she adds.
“I spoke to the St Joseph’s Senior Citizens Italian group and one of our volunteers Leo Zembekis, signed up a good proportion of the room,” she says.
Italians and Greeks in Batman are Labor voting and the largest language other than English is still Italian.
“Ok, but I don’t buy the gentrification analysis, there are families who have been here for seventy years,” she says.
She stresses that Greek and Italian children and grandchildren are voting for the Greens, and “their families talk about politics so older migrants are starting to look at the Greens as an option.”
My cohorts in the North are asset wealthy regardless having lower cash flows than those living in eastern burbs. Seventy per cent of all Italians, Greeks, Vietnamese and Arabs in Batman own their homes. A home is a buffer against recessions. Home ownership is essential to Australia’s economic development and cohesion according to the late great urban planner South Australia’s, Hugh Stretton. British sociologist Ray Pahl, went further seeing housing as production, not consumption. Unlike classical economists and Marxists, Pahl’s “emphasis on Max Weber’s trinity of ‘wealth, status and power’ meant a class analysis that scrutinized urban space and resource allocation rather than work relations as such.”
Regardless of their relationship to the modes of production when a poor migrant owns a home they transfer class position. Marxists don’t like working class ascendance, and neo-liberals see housing as a way to extort large profits.
“Old migrants own housing but they see their kids and grand-kids unable to afford housing, education and healthcare,” di Natale declares.
I say, “Many of us leverage our family homes, or our parents’ homes, to buy a house and our kids’ house, it’s the immigrant thing.”
“Maybe, but when there are four kids in the house everyone cares about housing affordability,” states di Natale.
I look at negative gearing, the way many of us seek protection for the lack of a living pension or low supper, or as an augmentation of our family’s intergenerational wealth. The migrant dream.
“I’ve never met an older Italian who is negative gearing,” Bhathal says.
She knows many tradies who have made “sensible financial decisions” but asserts that they are concerned that, “their kids who will end up in uni or trades, and will be burdened by debts.”
She explains to them – there are many tadies in Batman – “that any existing scheme would be grandfathered and they are fine with it.”
Di Natale goes on to link conservation and conservatism, “Conservation was a liberal principle aimed at protecting the environment.”
“Conservative people in the electoral, Catholics, Greek and other Eastern Orthodox are the original Greenies, they grow their own food, they are frugal they want clean air and green spaces,” Bhathal adds.
Bhathal sharply counters Liberal Party President of Victoria Michael Kroger’s sortie suggesting her past actions may be seen as anti-Semitic. He was targeting the anti-Semitism disguised as care for Palestinians by Lee Rhiannon who failed to secure pre-selection in NSW.
“I’ve never supported the BDS, ever,” she says.
“Let’s be clear” di Natale appends, “we set up an Australian Greens Jewish network and we have senior Jewish members across the community doing groundwork, to demonstrate that we support Israel and support a two state solution.”
“We are critical of the current Likud Government, we are not against Israel” Bhathal adds.
Labor did select a good candidate in Ged Kearney. Far better than David Feeney whose resignation due to dual citizenship debacle resulted in the by-election from hell for them. Their position on Adani is pure spin, and they are even trying to show compassion for refugees without shifting from the current policies. Even former Prime Minister Julia Gillard send a letter across Batman supporting Kearney and I had a call of a recorded message from her seeking my support.
Bhathal is quick to remind me that when Greens moved a notion to “increase Newstart Allowance by $75 per week and Labor opposed it.”
“On the day that Gillard gave her misogyny speech the Labor voted to cutting out a whole raft of single parents’ benefits” di Natale supplements.
This Saturday, I will go to the polls conflicted. I see the Labor slogan for Ged Kearney “ACTION. INTEGRITY. REAL CHANGE.” yet can’t help ask, what change? Will Kearny turn on her leader? If she wins will Batman be forgotten again? I have not felt so conflicted for a long time. Maybe it is time for a change.