Why drug dealers vote Liberal
By Richard Cooke
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Mitch may have stopped dealing drugs but he still wears the uniform of his former profession. His outfit is an expo for man-made fibres – nylon and rayon, teflon and polyester. His phone rings constantly, bathing the underside of his face in light. Most drug dealers have an eye for human weakness and a misspent bravery that makes them detestable. Mitch has these qualities but they’re tempered into warmth; the bravery is gall rather than restrained violence, and the eye for human weakness is most often turned on himself.
Over the past decade a powerful social current has swept up men like Mitch. Lower-middle-class men – or “yobbos”, as Mitch prefers – have become estranged from their traditional base in the Labor Party. All their adult lives Labor has been an enervated force, and rather than join a losing side they have turned to the Liberals. Mitch is an aspirational voter with the aspiration fuelled by amphetamines – a Sydney graffiti artist dealing drugs to junkies and johns from a Kings Cross sex shop, who voted for John Howard and spent his spare time helping an organisation called Young Angry Capitalists put up stickers urging “Mine Jabiluka Today”. Even his graffiti unconsciously reflects Liberal Party philosophy. He never tags private property.
Imagining diamond-earringed Mitch driving through the Cross in a Datsun ute (numberplate: SEX XXX) with $15,000 worth of body-kit, or sitting at home on a beanbag with a sawn-off shotgun underneath it and a stolen police badge on the coffee table, it’s tempting to see a contradiction that he doesn’t. He’s never had trouble reconciling conservative politics with a criminal lifestyle. “Looking back now,” he says, “I think it’s because I was born into an affluent society. I came from N-------. That’s not a poor suburb. Houses there are reaching over a million dollars now. I think when I was younger, it was an aspirational thing. And for me, dealing was just so easy.” What is a drug dealer but a small businessman who doesn’t want his business excessively regulated? When the conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter identified the “entrepreneur” as the pivotal figure of capitalism, his definition may not have extended to someone who bakes his own crack. But Mitch has in his soul, as Schumpeter specified, “the dream and the will to found a private kingdom”.
Perhaps what kept Mitch alive was the sheer comedy and chutzpah of his business model, which was the Kings Cross underworld’s answer to Crazy Johns. “Instead of selling constantly for the highest price, my attitude was to sell on the night for whatever profit I could get. I was selling $25 half-weights of speed, $80 quarts of weed. Everyone started coming to me and the other dealers were making no money. I pissed a lot of people off.” He was making $5,000 a week and spending it all. “I had TVs, DVDs, an amazing stereo, digital cameras, laptops, a PlayStation 2, 50 games. My whole wardrobe was Nautica. I had more shoes than a woman. TAG watches, diamond studs. I ate at Golden Century four times a week with a bunch of mates, paid for all of it. Salt-and-pepper mud crabs, pippies in XO sauce. It was just unbelievable.”
As his spending grew, so did his respect for the Liberals. “When they introduced the GST I thought it was a good idea. I thought – do you know how many people I know who are earning shitloads more than I do, who spend shitloads of money, who are now going to get taxed on everything they fucking buy? It’s creating a stronger economy.”
Labor, on the other hand, was always represented in Mitch’s mind by the police. “I’d always blame Bob Carr and Labor for his cops coming to gank me. Labor came across as the regular Joe Blow like me who’s just getting up and saying stuff. And if I was me and I got elected as Labor leader, I’d just be rambling off my fucking Australian point of view. I’m far from an academic, I’m a yobbo. But I respect people who come across as having an academic point of view, and the Liberals always seem like that to me.”
The Liberals’ zero-tolerance policy on drugs presented no obstacle. “There is no zero-tolerance policy on drugs,” says Mitch. The conviction of his opinions is unchanged by his opinion of convictions. Arrested twice for possession, his deepest excursion into the justice system had nothing to do with drugs. “I stole a giant stuffed wombat from a souvenir shop during the Sydney Festival. It was supposed to be a present for my girlfriend. I was pissed, I didn’t think anyone saw me steal it. But of course they saw me – this thing was massive. It was life-sized.”
Mitch had chosen Centrepoint Tower for the heist’s location, which made a getaway difficult. He narrowly managed to stash the contraband animal in the toilet roof before security hauled him off to a broom cupboard for questioning. Meanwhile a friend escaped, running 1,504 fire-stairs to freedom. “It got to court, and it was such a ridiculous charge, and I thought: ‘I’m going to defend myself. These cops are fucked.’” The security guards had searched the toilets and missed the wombat. They could not produce the body.
“The police prosecutor presents his case and says: ‘These security guards saw you take a wombat, they couldn’t find the wombat you took, so they took this picture of a wombat.’ But they had yet another wombat in court that day, as evidence. So I said to the police prosecutor: ‘You said I stole a wombat, yet there was no wombat found on me. You’ve taken a photo of a different wombat, and you’ve brought another wombat into court. Am I led to believe that there is three wombats involved in this case?’ And the judge lost it. The more I said ‘wombat’, the more the judge laughed. They didn’t even record the arrest.”
It wasn’t the cops who put an end to Mitch’s criminal career but the robbers. “I made my mates into customers, and my customers into mates. They knew my address, my name, my mobile number, everything.” The robbers shoved a gun in his face and took everything he had. A day later he spotted a junkie outside the Kings Cross Hungry Jack’s, who looked much like all junkies look except that he had Mitch’s $3,000 TAG watch on his skinny wrist. Mitch could have made a phone call to certain people about the junkie. But since the robbery he’d lost his stomach for that kind of thing. He was having panic attacks. “It fucked me. I worked out that you can know the hardest bastards in Sydney … but when you’re being robbed, when there’s a gun pointed to your head, they’re not fucking there. It made me more conservative. I started thinking: ‘I’ve got to get a job.’”
Mitch’s job turned out to be a copier salesman, graphic designer, chef, DJ and graffiti artist. He entered the New Enterprise Initiatives scheme. One night he got through a chef’s shift with a heavy flu thanks to Codral accentuated with speed. He finished his shift, cleaned the kitchen and checked himself into hospital with heart palpitations. He fainted and woke up on the floor because the hospital had no free beds – an event he thinks typical of Labor.
“Labor has been really, really weak. What’s that fat fucker’s name? Beazley. Why would I vote for him when he spent X millions dollars buying the Collins class submarines, which we couldn’t even fucking use? I’m coming from an Australian yobbo point of view. I’m fucking far from academic. But I’m a smart person when it comes to business, with the gift of the gab – I still have points of view that I think are valid. There’s a lot of blokes who think like me.”
Mitch is not selling drugs anymore but he’ll never stop being a dealer. He is selling 50 posters at the moment, posters which show the Newcastle Knights rugby league team drinking cans of Tooheys Draught under the legend: “Our Team … Our Beer.” When the posters were made in the early 1990s, a print run of 50,000 was produced and checked by the photographer, the proofers, the printer and the ad agency, before a celloglazer noticed that one of the Knights was yanking his Stubbies aside. The 50,000 posters were pulped. The player yanking his Stubbies aside never played again. The printer ran off 50 copies in secret. Mitch’s asking price for them is $100 a poster. The Knights have not got back to him yet. “I just want $5,000 – enough to get a tinny for me to go fishing in. That’s not greedy, is it?”