I picked up only one bad habit the last time I was in jail.
Believe me, that’s a great conversation stopper at cocktail parties.
After 15 years of abstinence from hot drinks (while consuming far too many cold ones) I started drinking coffee again while serving 50 days for contempt of court in January, 2014. There wasn’t much else to do unless you were a smoker, and they were forced to huddle on the pavement until the total ban came in a few months later.(My less than salubrious sources tell me the desperates now are boiling Nicorette patches and tea bags, drying the residue and smoking that concoction. A tricky habit which has put a few in hospital.)
Even coffee had its moments especially in the big, red brick CBD prison on Spencer St, Melbourne, where I was held in solitary confinement for two weeks.
It was during the heatwave of the Australian Open. Each morning, a 600ml carton of milk would be pushed through the cell door slot. With the temperature around 40 degrees, the milk had turned to custard by lunchtime. I knew the tennis was on because, with no clock or watch, and dinner being served around 3.15 pm, I used the small plastic TV set to check the time on the centre court Rolex.
Was great until they had replays. That completely stuffed me.
This really isn’t about coffee or culinary habits while incarcerated, but I have gone from barristers to baristas since forming Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party and standing as a Senate candidate for Victoria in the July 2 double dissolution election.
Unlike most major party Senate candidates who rely on party largesse for a sinecure I am out campaigning daily and have been, at shopping centres and farmers’ markets, since Malcolm Turnbull announced the DD to rid Canberra of those pesky and impertinent cross-benchers.
The way things are going, and from what I’m hearing out on the hustings, there is a genuine Shakespearean feeling across the country of ‘a pox on both your houses’ and the new line-up could include 12 minor party Senators including some of the ones the PM was so cleverly trying to dislodge.
I doubt that will include Ricky Muir, the ‘preference whisperer’s’ adroit creation, who got there with less than one per cent of the primary vote.
I didn’t like the dirty deal between the Coalition and the Greens, to forever disenfranchise voters supporting minor parties and independents in the Upper House, but I couldn’t defend a system that created a senator through the clever use of algorithms.
I mean, I was the guy on radio saying that Steve Fielding’s party, Family First, was aptly named because only his family had voted for him.
And so I’m out on the campaign trail spending hours drinking coffees and chatting with punters in shopping mall cafes and even supermarkets.
(I have learned one lesson from Bill Shorten, so I’m not offering to help surprised women fill their shopping trolleys or discuss the merits of iceberg lettuce for the TV cameras. Rocket is better, Bill.)
We travel on the Jayco Justice Bus, which is modest by major party standards and certainly a far cry from the modes of transport, and Hunter S. Thompson fear and loathing moments, I experienced when covering several US presidential election campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s.
I have to confess, with a huge portrait of a sombre yours truly on the side and our slogan ‘ It’s just common sense’ and ‘Vote 1 Hinch’ emblazoned on the wagon, I do feel like a genuine political aspirant. And when I meet people, old and young, and start talking issues, I know that after five decades as a journo (talking to every Australian Prime Minister from Menzies to Turnbull) Hinch has finally ‘ jumped the shark’.
I know the never-subtle Paul Keating reportedly once said that ‘voters are stupid’ and my campaign already has had its moments.
It is scary how many people are ignorant of the Senate voting system old and new. I’ll never forget one earnest bookworm at a cafe in Cowes who shared her warm sunlit table, listened to my spiel, and then said: ‘Great… so you’ll replace Turnbull’.
And another: ‘The Senate? I wish you were running in Geelong’.
The issues that are being raised the most early in the campaign? For older voters, understandably, the Government’s new super deal has generated much anger and not just among the 4 per cent who’ll be affected by the retrospective changes they are flatly denying are retrospective. Even those not affected are suspicious.
And with younger voters, it’s the same sex marriage issue. Where does your party stand, they ask? It’s not just 18-20 year-olds who are homosexual or who have gay friends.
It’s a passionate argument that the federal government, and the churches, have no right dictating who can be married and who can’t. And they are well aware of the trail-blazing in other supposedly conservative countries like that one across the ditch.
I mentioned Ricky Muir. After a national newspaper carried a headline suggesting Hinch could replace Muir in the Senate, some smart-arse tweeted:
‘So, we’re going to replace a kangaroo poo thrower with a shitkicker’
I can live with that.
And a final electioneeering warning to other campaigners. This is the social media election. Selfies are a prerequisite. Whatever you do, don’t glance down, no matter how impressive the cleavage. You don’t want a wandering eye caught, à la Kevin Rudd, and preserved forever on Facebook.
See you in Canberra.
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The author is the founder of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party and is standing for the Senate as a candidate in Victoria
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