Max Chandler-Mather: ‘The conditions exist to fundamentally change politics’

May 2, 2024
Greens training day in Magan-djin/Brisbane. Photo: Queensland Greens/Facebook

Greens federal housing spokesperson and Griffith MP Max Chandler-Mather spoke with Stuart Munckton and Federico Fuentes about the opportunities for transformative politics today.

* * *

What impact do you think the housing campaign had on people’s response to what you have said on Palestine?

When I got up in parliament and said what is happening [in Gaza] right now is a genocide, a layer of people said: “Max, I don’t agree with everything that you say, but I agreed with you on the renter stuff. I respectfully disagree [on Palestine], but at least you’re saying what you think.”

Part of that respectful response was a result of them knowing we are in their corner.

[Greens federal leader] Adam Bandt has a story from Melbourne during the [2017] marriage equality debate. He went to a lot of the public housing towers, where a lot of people are more socially conservative, for a variety of reasons. For example, there are more people of the Muslim faith who might not religiously agree with gay marriage.

Adam’s line was: “We’re always going to be in your corner and we’re always going to fight for you. I’m just asking you to back another marginalised group here as well.”

That really resonates.

Griffith has a lot of LNP [Liberal National Party] voters, but I have received almost no push back on our Palestine position — calling for a ceasefire and an end to the occupation and illegal blockade, and calling out Israel’s mass war crimes and genocide.

Partly, that is because we have this relationship with the community and we have shown we are willing to fight in their corner.

We have a political movement and platform that has solidarity with Palestine and solidarity with renters, and understands that ultimately we share a common struggle.

That politics is probably more potent and powerful in places like Western Sydney, western Brisbane and in suburban Brisbane, where there are more multicultural working-class communities. It is just a question of organisation.

That is a dilemma you have time and again returned to. On the one hand we have this disconnect that exists [between civil society and the political class], which creates openings but, on the other hand, there is a huge vacuum in terms of organisation. That seems another aspect of why door knocking is so important in your strategy in terms of reaching people who, by and large, are not in unions or other collective organisations.

Most communities have never had an experience of being in a trade union. Or maybe their experience is getting insurance or Union Shopper if they are a member.

But they have never had any experience of walking out collectively, or experiencing anything that comes close to exercising some sort of social or collective power.

Their only involvement in politics is getting a bunch of leaflets shoved through their letterbox in the last two weeks of an election campaign, voting for a party and then their lives only getting worse.

What are some issues you believe might provide openings for the type of campaigning that you carried out around housing?

One opening is to start to expand our organisation around a broader set of policies to improve people’s material lives as the cost-of-living crisis worsens, not just in terms of rent increases but mortgage increases and the cost of food.

So, not just a rent freeze, but also a super profits tax to pay for putting dental care into Medicare, or freezing mortgages, or nationalising the electricity system to halve people’s bills.

The sharper message on corporate profits resonates very well.

We are also very interested in expanding our free food programs, ideally into the more outer suburban parts of Brisbane and trying to make them a point of organisation.

Our only barrier to organising more people is our capacity to organise. I feel like we have the right strategy, but it always feels like we are straining against our resource constraints.

The sense of disconnection from politics has intensified a lot over the past 12–14 months as people’s lives have gotten tougher.

So, a lot of [our organising] is going to be based around going after corporate profits and super profits and talking about wealth redistribution.

What are one or two key lessons you have drawn from the housing campaign in terms of opportunities for transformative politics today?

One of the key lessons is how to build permanent organising capacity outside of election cycles. So much of our door-knocking and organisational capacity emerges during election cycles because we have resources to pay organisers.

But how do we keep that capacity going all the time? How do we have permanent organisations that constantly have relationships with those communities and are constantly door knocking around particular issues or holding community events?

The [other] thing I learnt in areas I had never door knocked before, out at Woodridge or Logan, was that the only barrier to those areas becoming Green seats is our capacity to organise in those areas. 

We could have hundreds of people rocking up to free dinners every week, thousands of people coming to lots of different events, lots of people being recruited to door knock. The political and social conditions exist on the ground for that organisation to thrive and be really successful [and] those conditions exist around the country.

The housing campaign probably reaffirms that we have this incredible opportunity, right now, where the political establishment is actually very weak and extremely disconnected from the groups it once had connections with.

We do not really have an organised far right in the same way that exists with say [Marine] Le Pen in France or in Italy where they have a Prime Minister [Giorgia Meloni] from the far right. So, it is up for grabs.

If we could organise 1000 people to build a movement, in Western Sydney or in Western Brisbane or in Western Melbourne, we could fundamentally change the politics of this country.

All we need to do is recruit and train enough people, and get going in those communities.

That is really exciting, slightly exhausting and daunting. There are a lot of things we need to learn and do slightly differently, but we are on the right track.

I believe the movement we are building right now should have a 10- to 20-year horizon, not a one- to two-year horizon.

We are all trying to fill this [political] vacuum — a result of the collapse of political and social institutions built up over 100 years. We should not expect to fill it in six months.

But I do really feel like there is enough evidence that the work we are doing now — not just in terms of winning all these federal seats, not just in terms of winning $3 billion [for public housing], not just in terms of recruiting hundreds or thousands of people to this movement — is challenging the Labor Party and the political establishment.

They have tried their darndest to stop us, but we have won. How often do you get to say that?

[This is the final extract from a longer interview conducted in late October and published at LINKS. It has been abridged and edited for clarity. The first part, focusing on the campaign against Labor’s housing bill, can be read here. The second part, focusing on the tension between parliament and movement-building, can be read here. The audio of the full interview is available here.]

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