April 2016


Scott Ludlam goes viral

By Sam Vincent
Scott Ludlam

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. © Tim Bauer

The Greens senator with mass appeal

DJ S-Ludz would rather you not call him that.

In the stop-start traffic of a Perth Tuesday morning, Senator Scott Ludlam rolls his eyes and smiles when I mention the alias he uses for his oft-cited adventures in turntablism. “A bit of fun, that’s all,” says the federal Greens’ co-deputy leader of his second and most recent set playing “dad stuff” at Disconnect Festival, south of Perth, late last year.

It’s forecast to reach 40 degrees in Perth today, and by 8 am white light is already blasting the backs of schoolboys on the footpath. With their khaki shorts, long socks and giant rucksacks, they look like infantrymen marching to war – the Boer War. My back is plastered to the passenger seat, but behind me, reading on his phone, Ludlam is doing little to dispel his reputation as the country’s coolest legislator: impeccable navy suit with slim-fit white shirt sans tie; black boots with red stitch; just-showered helmet of dark wavy hair, one lock falling over his forehead.

Ludlam’s hair – part Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, part Darrell Lea liquorice strap – gets even more attention than his DJ’ing. The Guardian and the Monthly cartoonist First Dog on the Moon regularly depicts it independently of its owner, and calls the ’do “Gary”. It even has its own fan Twitter account, @scottludlamhair.

The previous day Ludlam revealed he was participating in the Leukaemia Foundation’s annual World’s Greatest Shave fundraiser. But in a novel take on the campaign, he started a competing account for those wishing to stop him shaving his head. Whichever account raises the most money will dictate whether Gary stays or goes.

As we drive to the first of a string of media appearances for the fundraiser, I catch fragments of Ludlam’s phone conversation with a reporter:

“… I figured my hair – which isn’t really anything special – might as well be put to good use. The internet has turned it into this weird cult, and it’s time it stopped … I might have to wear a hat for a while. I might have a weird-shaped head or something …”

Over the coming days, I would come to learn that this is typical Ludlam: bemused by all the fuss over something so trivial, but actively encouraging it.

Ludlam’s commitment to shave his head – update: Gary’s gone – is the latest of many notable engagements with social media: a 2014 YouTube appearance as Gandalf smiting a Gollum-like Tony Abbott; a popular ‘Ask Me Anything’ forum on Reddit; and, the week before we meet, an ‘Address to the Nation’ in which Ludlam, hands clasped at his desk, sarcastically congratulated Environment Minister Greg Hunt upon receiving the inaugural Best Minister in the World award. The Australian flags, the deadpan tone, the carefully placed coat-of-arms mug … Ludlam’s address wouldn’t have looked out of place on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

But there’s one missive to cyberspace that has given Ludlam a profile well beyond the internet. At 10.09 pm on 3 March 2014, Ludlam rose in the Senate to make his adjournment speech. He was contesting Western Australia’s half-Senate election re-run the next month, following the Australian Electoral Commission’s misplacement of 1370 ballot papers at the 2013 election, and figured this might be his valedictory speech. But its brevity (eight minutes), mien (quiet authority) and content (a withering takedown of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership) meant it was well primed to light up social media.

“Tonight I rise to invite Prime Minister Tony Abbott to visit the beautiful state of Western Australia,” he opened. “I do this in good faith, because we are only a matter of weeks away from a historic by-election that will determine not just the final make-up of this chamber after July but will decide much more of consequence to the people of Western Australia, whether they are thinking of voting for the Greens or not.”

From there the content became openly contemptuous: Ludlam advised Abbott to think carefully about what “baggage” he packed for the trip across the Nullarbor, requesting the PM leave his “excruciatingly boring three-word slogans at home”, along with the stereotype of Western Australia being “some caricatured redneck backwater that is enjoying the murderous horror unfolding on Manus Island”.

Instead, he advanced an alternative to the mining-state cliché: more than merely “Gina Rinehart’s inheritance to be chopped, benched and blasted”, Western Australia was a community of people who didn’t appreciate the PM waving his “homophobia” in their faces, and who found his obsequiousness to foreign media oligarchs and predator capitalists “awkward, and kind of revolting”. But lest anyone watching get stuck in the moment, Ludlam offered some long-term perspective. “[T]he truth is Prime Minister Tony Abbott and this benighted attempt at a government are a temporary phenomenon.” In years hence, Ludlam suspected, political scientists drilling back in time would consider the Abbott government to be “nothing more than a thin, greasy layer in the core sample” of 21st-century politics.

Ludlam ended the Abbott-directed salvo with the finger: “[T]he reason that I extend this invitation to you, Mr Prime Minister, to spend as much time as you can spare in Western Australia, is that every time you open your mouth the Green vote goes up … Prime Minister, you are welcome to take your heartless, racist exploitation of people’s fears and ram it as far from Western Australia as your taxpayer-funded travel entitlements can take you.”

What was perhaps most revealing wasn’t the reach of Ludlam’s speech (700,000 YouTube views in ten days) but the conservative commentariat’s failure to interpret it. The Daily Telegraph’s Miranda Devine superfluously highlighted the lack of senators in the chamber at the time, before dismissing social media users as disconnected from the voting public. (“The twitterati might have gone weak at the knees for Ludlam but he might as well have been howling at the moon.”) On Sky News, Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger told Ludlam that many viewers of his speech “would have been shocked rather than in support”, before changing his argument mid interview, claiming “there’s a freak-show audience out there to support extremist views like the ones you expressed in the Senate”. A freak-show audience that helped Ludlam take the Greens vote from 9.5% to 15.6% at the election re-run and become one of only four Greens senators ever to be elected without having to go to preferences.

Only Paul Sheehan, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, came close to nailing it when he labelled Ludlam’s speech “political pornography”. But he, too, ultimately showed himself to be a dinosaur when he assured his readers that Ludlam was catering to “the territory of trolls and zealots” – titillating, but only for “the fringe” of the internet. Then as now, Sheehan should check his facts. Millennials love porn.

When Ludlam dropped his Hunt bomb I was 40 kilometres north of Parliament House, chasing escaped sheep. My phone wriggled with an incoming email from a reporter friend. “Tell me you’ve seen Ludlam’s latest video. The yoof on my FB are loving it.”

Mine too. No fewer than 50 of my 418 Australian Facebook friends – all in their 20s or early 30s – “like” Ludlam’s official page. Three of them are enrolled to vote in Western Australia. Granted, I don’t live in North Queensland, but I don’t live in inner Melbourne either.

These are my people, a generation that increasingly gets its news from social media and from satirical news programs like The Daily Show; a generation, we are repeatedly told, that is selfish, apathetic, politically disengaged and, according to recent surveys, unconvinced that democracy is worth the effort.

Now, in a Mount Lawley juice bar, awaiting an interview at the community radio station RTRFM, Ludlam is dismayed when I ask why Gen Y loves him so. “You didn’t come to WA just for this?” A few minutes later, when we walk into the RTR office, the largely Gen Y staff all look up from their computers and smile broadly. Ludlam waves and puts his hands in his pockets – a habit, I will notice, when he’s uncomfortable.

When I ask Tasmanian federal Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson why his colleague connects with young people, he says he’ll get back to me after asking his 16-year-old daughter and her friends “why they are such Ludlam groupies”.

He never does, but Mark Di Stefano, BuzzFeed Australia’s political editor, explains that “young people see themselves in Scott Ludlam”. I point out that Ludlam is 46. Di Stefano points out that Ludlam “is hot”.

Political advertising specialist Dee Madigan tells me Ludlam’s social media “stacks up very well” compared with that of other politicians, but she emphasises it is the personality more than the literacy that counts. “He’s not afraid to have a really good stoush. So many politicians are overly careful or polite on Twitter because they’re afraid to appear to lose control … Scott isn’t so risk averse, and it gains him respect.” (When the Australian’s Chris Kenny tweeted @SenatorLudlam to ask if he would be interviewed about his ‘Welcome to WA’ speech on Kenny’s Sky News show, Ludlam, who tweets for himself, replied, “m8 i don’t want this to sound harsh but the reason i won’t be going on your show is that *nobody watches it*.”)

“With Scott, what you see is what you get,” independent senator Nick Xenophon tells me. “I wouldn’t say he’s shy, but I think social media allows him to come out of his shell a little bit.”

Labor senator Sam Dastyari agrees: “There’s an earnest nature there that people really connect to … [Ludlam] doesn’t sound like he’s been rehearsing in the mirror.”

Di Stefano, Madigan, Xenophon and Dastyari agree that it’s not young people that have disengaged from politics – it’s politics that has disengaged from young people. Dastyari goes so far as to put Ludlam in the same sentence as UK Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders … and Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen: politicians who “cut through the crap”. For a cynical generation with well-attuned bullshit detectors, Ludlam, in Madigan’s words, “cuts through because he’s kept his edges”.

Whenever I ask for views on Ludlam the same word keeps cropping up, a word so hackneyed I was hoping to avoid using it in this article. Madigan uses it for me. “I hate using the word ‘authentic’ because it sounds like a wank, but I think young people think Scott’s authentic.”

“I’m a hopeless greenie,” confesses Ludlam.

It’s the next morning, and we’re bush-bashing through a copse of banksias on Perth’s southern outskirts. Ludlam wants to show me the Beeliar Wetlands, which are slated to be bulldozed for the Barnett government’s Roe 8 tollway; I want him to tell me what dug the burrow currently before us. Ludlam shrugs and takes a sip from his takeaway coffee. At least it’s a KeepCup: not exactly Bob Brown taking Graham Richardson for a walk in Tasmania’s World Heritage wilderness, but you get the picture.

If some divide the Greens into “deep green” (conservationist) and “watermelon” (socialist) factions, Ludlam seems less easily classified. He’s been described as a “hipster with gravitas”, “enigmatic” and “the senator for the internet”. A lover of Japanese whisky, science fiction and the Tokyo public transport system. (“Even Shibuya Station at rush hour?” “Especially Shibuya Station at rush hour!”)

Back at Ludlam’s office, a quiet retreat from central Fremantle’s backpacker tat, his life story unfolds. Ludlam was born in New Zealand in 1970. He and his younger brother spent their early years living like “gypsies”: their artist mother and civil draftsman father are “natural born travellers”, and from 1973 until 1979 the family travelled overland through Asia to Europe, followed by periods living in the UK and South Africa, before eventually settling in Perth.

The Ludlams weren’t party political, but had a strong social conscience. He can remember conversations “about social justice stuff” around the dinner table, a Palm Sunday rally in Perth in the mid ’80s (“still one of the biggest rallies I’ve been to”), and, while living in apartheid South Africa, coming home from school and appalling his parents with the God-given racism his teacher espoused.

Ludlam didn’t care about politics until he was nearly 30. At Curtin University, where he studied design (he also has a degree in policy studies from Murdoch University), student politics seemed like it was “just about beer”. He thinks electoral politics isn’t much better.

Although he was initially attracted by the Greens’ anti-nuclear stance, Ludlam soon discovered that the party also shared his values on forests, biodiversity and social justice. “But from outside the bubble it just looks like a dismal pile of shit, of people shouting at each other, and that their factional allegiances are more important, and more intensely focused on, than what they’re trying to deliver.”

His focus on issues over political point-scoring goes a long way to explaining Ludlam’s appeal. In an era of record-low party membership and for a generation that no longer grows up knowing their party affiliation because of their postcode, Ludlam, unlike tribal warriors in the mould of the Liberals’ Christopher Pyne, Labor’s Sam Dastyari or even the Greens’ Adam Bandt, could hardly be labelled a political animal.

When I ask Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm what Ludlam is like to work with, he emails that Ludlam is “relaxed, civilised [and] a decent person (which is more than I can say for several of his Greens colleagues)”; when I ask for a weakness, Leyonhjelm writes Ludlam has “an absolutely blind objection to anything nuclear”.

Ludlam’s interest in nukes had developed gradually. While laying out physics and chemistry textbooks as a designer (“not graphically brilliant; some of my more mediocre work, to be honest”), he started reading popular science. Through James Lovelock, Roger Penrose, the Gaia hypothesis and chaos theory, he developed an appetite for subjects that had previously had “all the juice squeezed out of them by high school”.

Ludlam’s consultancy landed a job for Canning Resources Australia, who at the time held the lease to the Kintyre uranium deposit in Western Australia’s north. It was his job to design the brochures. He quit on ethical grounds.

Ludlam sold his car (he hasn’t owned one since) and started a graphic design company with some friends. In time he grew restless. “I ended up off the back of a marriage that didn’t work and I just thought, Shit, I’m not very happy being a commercial artist, but I dunno what I want to do.”

He heard about a Perth rally against a proposal to mine the Jabiluka uranium deposit, which is surrounded by Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. He wondered if the protesters needed a graphic designer.

Jo Vallentine, who was elected to the Senate in 1984 for the Nuclear Disarmament Party and later became the first federal Greens senator, can remember the day she met the man who fondly calls her his mentor.

“It was December 16, 1997. A rally against the Jabiluka uranium mine. This young man was just sort of hanging about. I said to him, ‘Would you like to join us for a cup of tea? We’re going to assess how the rally went.’ He was very shy.”

As it happened, the campaign did need a graphic designer. (Ludlam still does a lot of design work for the Greens.) He spent the next few years working with Vallentine on various anti-nuclear and anti-logging campaigns. “I said, ‘Scott, you simply must get arrested!’ I was always encouraging him to go to jail.”

He did get arrested, both at Jabiluka and at Wattle Forest in the south-west of Western Australia. Ludlam then served his political apprenticeship in the field with Vallentine (“she kind of wrote the book on the idea of an activist-legislator”) and, later, in the office of WA Greens state upper house member Robin Chapple, observing how he would “use parliamentary tools of accountability to find stuff out that we were using in our campaigns the same day”. He unsuccessfully contested the state lower house seat of Murchison-Eyre in 2005, before working for Greens senator Rachel Siewert.

Ludlam was elected to the Senate in 2007. When he told Vallentine he was thinking of running for federal parliament, she was encouraging but said, “It will cost you heaps, emotionally.”

It has, at times, but Ludlam says that his part in helping traditional owners at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory stop the establishment of a nuclear waste dump on their land in 2014 made him think that alone was “worth it”. He is now the party’s spokesperson on nuclear issues, communications, the digital economy, sustainable cities and foreign affairs.

Ludlam is extremely private. He tells me that “one of the last healthy things left in Australian political culture” is the “residual firewall” between private and public that has become porous in comparable countries. “I made a decision early on to try not to cultivate any kind of celebrity status, because I’m keenly aware of what the marketing model is for that stuff: it’s that they sell magazines putting you up there, and then they sell magazines ripping you back down again.” You’re less likely to be “pulled into that vortex if you don’t engage with it in the first place”.

I try to pull him into that vortex, unsuccessfully. He was married at 27 for a year but tells me he’s not currently in a relationship. He is close to his parents, and his brother and nephew.

How, I wonder, is the commitment to not cultivating celebrity status consistent with his burgeoning cult of cyber-personality? Surely there’s a risk of becoming a caricature?

“There is a tension between not wanting to be beige, wanting to be a human being, and wanting to be a bit real in the role. And yeah, engaging in that kind of [online] stuff, which can be seen as a bit cheap … I like to think that I’m not projecting some kind of persona. I still feel like I’m me.”

He hasn’t always been him. Ludlam tells me he was discreet during his first term in the Senate, acutely aware that if he said something stupid, “Bob [Brown] and others are going to have to clean it up.” Ben Oquist, executive director of the Australia Institute, and a former chief of staff to Bob Brown and Christine Milne, tells me a colleague used to call Ludlam “bushel” – as in he’s hiding his light under one. Before he was elected, Christine Milne asked Vallentine, “Does this guy ever say anything?”

That “bushel” moniker must feel like ancient history, especially considering Ludlam’s 2014 adjournment speech. Did he expect the reaction it received? “Absolutely not. I learned a lot, in the process of that: people coming up afterwards and saying, ‘That was an absolute masterstroke, getting a million people to watch your thing on the eve of the by-election.’ Like, ‘Well done, good strategic move.’ I was like, ‘No, it wasn’t. It was a complete accident.’”

I’ll take his word for it, but Ludlam’s is an office that takes social media seriously. David Paris, Ludlam’s communications adviser and a close friend, provides an insight: “With the Greg Hunt video, we could have done a snarky press release and watched it disappear, but instead we decided to do something fun.” Paris wrote the script, some Australian flags were found, and it was let fly.

Given 10 million Australians log into Facebook daily (just under half that read the Sydney Morning Herald across all formats each month), Paris says, “If you’re not treating Facebook seriously you’re not doing your comms properly.”

Ludlam believes the influence of the traditional print media is overstated by both itself and many politicians. Last year, he points out, Brisbane’s Courier Mail urged readers to re-elect Campbell Newman. They elected Annastacia Palaszczuk. The year before, Melbourne’s Herald Sun told readers to vote for Denis Napthine. They elected Daniel Andrews.

Although he acknowledges its role, Ludlam says social media will never replace doorknocking constituents because “it’s not an unmediated conversation”. Facebook, he says, “could switch off my page tomorrow and I would have absolutely no fucking recourse at all”.

And yet, Ludlam says with an impish grin, he loves that it is “many to many”, and you can hurl something into cyberspace and see what comes back at you. “Your ideas will either sink or swim … This is going to sound like mid-2000s management speak, but the boundary between the producer and the audience is dissolving very rapidly.”

He cites his World’s Greatest Shave announcement: within hours, some creep on Twitter had photoshopped a photo of Ludlam, Peter Garrett bald, the fresh cut revealing a tattoo on his skull.

“I love that shit.”

Lately, Ludlam has become most vocal in his advocacy for digital rights: opposing mandatory data retention and the broadening of what the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) can access under a warrant. He has hosted “cryptoparties” to help the general public gain a basic competence in encryption to protect their online privacy.

Ludlam is frustrated, not just because he believes civil liberties are being eroded under the pretences of national security but also because those prosecuting the legislation often didn’t understand it (he cites George Brandis’ public stumble over what constitutes metadata as a particularly egregious example); in his ‘Welcome to WA’ speech, Ludlam had thanked Abbott for sending him the “geeks and coders, network engineers and gamers who would never have voted Green in a million years, without the blundering and technologically illiterate assistance of your leadership team”.

“I think that’s pretty accurate,” says Jon Lawrence, the executive officer of digital-rights advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia. “We are carefully non-partisan, but let’s just say we got pretty close to endorsing Scott during the WA Senate by-election.”

“I think one of Scott’s strengths is that some of his passions do away with traditional left–right boxes,” writes Ben Oquist in an email. “Privacy, freedom – these issues are historically meant to be the hallmark of the right. But Ludlam is a champion of them in parliament.”

If the Muckaty victory was a highlight, Ludlam considers the passing of the data retention laws last year to be his greatest disappointment. You can hear the regret in his voice; it happened on his watch, he says, so he takes responsibility. Given Labor’s fear of being wedged on matters of national security, isn’t he being hard on himself?

“With the ASIO bill [National Security Legislation Amendment Bill] I think we were stuffed: there was no way Labor was ever going to not support that.” But metadata, he says, was winnable because it was “cloaked” differently. “The bill was introduced by the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull. And he talked more about traditional law-enforcement roles when he was introducing the bill than he did about national security.”

In retrospect Ludlam says he wouldn’t have spent so much time debating what did or did not constitute metadata. Instead, it would have been better to engage the blue-collar unions. They are currently fighting against the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which, Ludlam says, was using warrantless metadata access to spy on trade union organisers.

Both Ludlam and Lawrence tell me they believe the ALP was internally divided on the bill; Sam Dastyari tells me Labor “always saw it as a national security issue”.

Unsurprisingly, Ludlam has been an unfailing supporter of Julian Assange. The pair met in 2011 during Assange’s period of house arrest in the English countryside. Ludlam has since visited Assange twice, and spent Christmas 2012 with him at the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Ludlam says Australia’s decision to “selectively disregard” the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which criticised Assange’s treatment, “dramatically lowers the barrier of respect for these institutions”.

On a shelf in Ludlam’s office, near a photo of the Dalai Lama wearing a Fremantle Dockers scarf, sits a signed shot of the WikiLeaks founder:

Scott – thank you for your courage, perseverance and generosity in my long struggle for justice, big and small. As an Australian I am proud of you! Much love, Julian A. 19 Aug 2012

The suited Assange stands with his hands clasped on the embassy’s flag-draped balcony – a stateless statesman. It’s a posture I recognise: Ludlam himself, on YouTube the week before, making fun of Greg Hunt.

My final interview with Ludlam takes place at his Parliament House office, decorated with contemporary artwork and Bernie Sanders memes. It’s a busy week: the Greens have committed to supporting Senate voting reform (Ludlam’s not concerned it will affect his own prospects of re-election), and speculation is rife regarding a double-dissolution election (“we’re in good shape whenever the election will be”; voters realise, he thinks, that Turnbull is simply a more acceptable face of the same Abbott “iceberg”).

Before meeting Ludlam I figured he fit neatly into the New Greens’ answer to tired stereotypes. Richard Di Natale brought to the party the common touch of the doctor/footy player, and Peter Whish-Wilson – stockbroker, winemaker, finance lecturer – gave it entrepreneurial and economic savvy. It seemed that Ludlam – a designer of the 21st-century Australian city (expect announcements on this closer to the election), a deep thinker about post-capitalism and an unashamed techie – helped dispel the criticism that his party is “against progress”. Now I’m not so sure.

Guy Rundle has written extensively, in this magazine and elsewhere, about the existential crossroads the Greens face: as a party with minority governing experience at federal level and in cabinets in the ACT and Tasmania, are they moving beyond their activist roots?

Ludlam tells me he has great respect for Rundle, but that this crossroads trope feels inconsistent with another one of the journalist’s views: that the Greens’ “class” is “this mythical knowledge worker”. As Ludlam points out, inner-city, tertiary-educated 20-somethings are not a “non-violent, direct-action constituency either”.

In electing Di Natale as party leader last year, the Greens have gone with someone who doesn’t have a militant background, and someone who has already broken with party policy in stating he’s not convinced genetically modified crops are harmful to human health.

And yet, Ludlam claims, it is “simplistic” to assert that the Greens have strayed from their activist base. When I ask whether they would repeat the kind of protest that Kerry Nettle and Bob Brown carried out during George W Bush’s 2003 visit, interjecting during the president’s speech, he admits he’d “think very carefully about bringing some of those things into the parliament”. But he points out that the Greens in 2003 had two federal MPs, and that “we represent a broader range of interests now than we did at the time”.

He concedes that gnarled wilderness activists and young urban professionals aren’t always in agreement – the latter tend to be more open to GM crops and nuclear energy – but that “if you’re interdicting a Japanese whaling ship [on the high seas], or if you’re an architect trying to design a building that doesn’t shit all over the neighbourhood that it’s in, and powers itself, recycles its own water and grows its own food, then you’re actually working on two dimensions of the same thing. You’re leaning into the same problem from different ends. That’s kind of our job, isn’t it? To remind people that it’s all the same work.”

Their job, or his job? Ludlam, an “activist-legislator” like Jo Vallentine (but with added Gen Y appeal), strikes me as a future bridge between the ratbag and the hipster vote. And the odd nerd.

Ludlam tells me that when Christine Milne resigned as Greens leader last May he thought about contesting the leadership. In the end he decided against it, believing there were already strong candidates. It would also have meant that some of the roles he has, and loves (including keeping his hand in graphic design), would “go out the window”. Ben Oquist suspects it was simply that he didn’t have the numbers.

Ludlam tells me Richard Di Natale is “the right person for the time”. When I ask Ludlam if he thinks his own time will come, he gives me the Turnbull treatment. “Ruling things in or out is a bit silly, isn’t it?”

That evening, at a “politics in the pub” event in Canberra, he certainly acts like a leader. The Wig & Pen, usually empty but for the occasional male ponytail, is over-capacity: students, primarily, with the odd cool parent dragged along.

Ludlam is engaging and charismatic. (When asked about the Greens’ economic credentials he answers, “Some of my best friends are in the economy.”) But he’s also self-effacing. Though the crowd has turned out to see him, Ludlam consistently redirects the spotlight onto Christina Hobbs, the recently announced Greens Senate candidate for the ACT. (“You look at her CV and you think, How’s this person not 90?” he says of the 32-year-old United Nations food security expert.)

Throughout the evening I notice Ludlam leaning over and whispering to Hobbs between questions. I suspect he’s saying, “Unless it’s about Gary, you take the next question; this event should be about you.”

I’m reminded of a meeting between Ludlam and WA Greens interns at his office in Fremantle the week before. The four 20-something interns were clearly starstruck, but Ludlam was at pains to defer to them. He spent the meeting asking about their interning experience, and what they thought the party could do better, all the while taking down notes in his curly Leunig handwriting.

Afterwards, I pulled the interns aside to ask why they thought Ludlam resonates with young voters. “Because of his youthfulness,” said one of them. I pointed out that Ludlam is 46. The intern pointed out that Ludlam “seems young”, because he “gets” that young people care more about refugees or same-sex marriage than party politics. “He’s very good at social media,” said another. “He’s doesn’t talk at you.” She thought Ludlam’s strong opposition to metadata retention “resonated with a lot of young people”.

After giving it some thought, a third intern said, “He’s cool, too.” Did I know, she asked, that he’s a DJ?

Sam Vincent

Sam Vincent is a writer, farmer and the author of Blood and Guts: Dispatches from the Whale Wars and My Father and Other Animals.


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