I’m writing this on August 23rd, the day the Liberal Party of Australia was overrun by enmity, and we lost another Prime Minister – our fifth in five years. My six-year-old nephew told us, ‘I’m going to have nightmares tonight, I’m so worried for Australia.’ He added, ’What’s going to happen to Indigenous Australians?’ – fitting, considering Peter Dutton boycotted the Stolen Generations apology.
How are we meant to explain all this to our children – the disloyalty and ill-discipline, the thirst for revenge – from those who are meant to lead and inspire us, to build our future? I don’t have the answers, and feel glad my son is still too young to question.
Today we talk with Adam Bandt, Federal Member for Melbourne, father to daughters Wren and Elke, and champion of social justice, climate action, and racial, educational and economic equity. I can’t help but agree with Craig Laundy that modern Australian politics is broken, and generational change is required to restore purpose and compassion to our leaders. Adam is a light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Adam, thank you for talking with us today. I understand you are protective of your family’s privacy but felt compelled to speak out on their behalf a few years back to plead with parents – in your local area and beyond – to vaccinate their children. Do you think anything has changed on this front? Is it possible to breakthrough on such issues in our age of distrust and fake news?
Claudia and I feel really strongly about not putting children at risk through non-vaccination. Going public made a difference, because it helped dispel a myth about how Greens-voting, cloth nappy-using, inner-city parents act. I also think us sharing our personal story helped reinforce trust in the science, because we weren’t asking people to do something we weren’t already doing ourselves.
With the House of Representatives sitting for almost a third of the year, you’re away a lot for work. How do you remain an engaged parent and support Claudia when in Canberra, travelling the country or abroad?
I think we only get by because Claudia and I share similar values, and she thinks the work is important. It’s the hardest part of the job, and while I’m not after any sympathy for myself, because I stuck my hand up for this, I think people fail to appreciate how hard it is on partners, who spend a big chunk of time as single parents.
FaceTime is great, and I try to talk to the kids at least twice a day from Canberra. But it has its down sides: I still remember Wren before she turned two saying ‘Daddy come out of phone and read Wren a story.’ My heart swelled with pride at the grammar but ached from the content! Canberra sitting weeks end on Thursday nights, and I spend time with the kids alone on Friday mornings, often heading to the Melbourne Museum. Claudia can usually rely on that too, that she will get that break.
It is difficult to support Claudia when I’m away, beyond trying to be a sympathetic voice. If the kids have been up all night and have left her wrecked before she heads to work, I can’t be that much help. The main thing is making time for Claudia to have a rest from us all when I get back. And after getting home on a Thursday night, I usually sleep on the couch in case the kids have a bad night, so that she can shut the door and get some sleep. It’s not much, but when it’s been a tough week with the kids, it’s at least something she can look forward to.
You’ve said, ‘men need to talk about gender more… the whole world is built on the unpaid work of women and it’s time to acknowledge gender is not just a women’s issue.’ Can you tell us a bit about the legislation you’ve introduced to help give people – especially those caring for others – better work/life balance? What do you think it will take to upend our cultural norms around family and work?
We’re doing a terrible job in Australia of matching the hours people want to work with the hours they actually work. We’ve got young people un- and under-employed at record rates. But at the other end of the spectrum, too many people are overworked and women especially are reporting work negatively interferes with their lives. There are more women in the paid workforce than ever before, but that hasn’t come with a rebalancing of domestic work. And it’s not just children who need looking after; as people live longer, it’s often parents too. Rising job insecurity, with people working more irregular hours and having less say over it, is also making things worse.
So I’ve been pushing to give people more control over their working hours. I’m trying to change the law so that people have an enforceable right to change their working arrangements, especially if they are carers, with the federal workplace commissionable to adjudicate disputes. I’m also pushing bills to start winding back the negative consequences of insecure work. We want to start the push to shorten the average working week, to help share available work around more fairly, and give people more time off.
Changing the law will help change cultural norms, but people need to join their unions and the growing social movements pushing for a better deal. We will only get work/life balance and job insecurity laws through Parliament if MPs can see a groundswell for change. That means more people – and especially men – speaking out about the pressures that overwork, expensive childcare, and runaway housing costs are having on our personal and family lives.
As a mother and human, I’ve watched in horror as ‘migrant families’ have been separated in the US. I sense most Australians feel the same, yet when it comes to our own approach to refugees, that humanity slips away – the hearts of so many remain hard. With an election looming and the issue bound to be abused, how might we restore a sense of compassion for refugees?
It’s heartbreaking. On Nauru, there are 119 children that we have effectively been locked up, including a 14-year-old with muscle wastage so severe he may not walk again, a 12-year-old at imminent risk of dying, and a two-year-old whose mother is in a ‘catatonic’ state. Labor reopened this camp, and the Liberals are keeping people there. What we’re doing isn’t that different from Donald Trump’s ‘children in cages,’ there’s just less media access.
Consecutive governments have sought to dehumanise these people, calling them ‘illegals’ and making them appear a threat to our security. Key to turning it around is telling their stories, reminding Australians that these are children and people that are just like you and me, and making the case that our cities and regions are so much better because we accepted ‘boat people’ in the past and didn’t lock them up. I always remind people that Melbourne is the great place it is because of boat people, refugees and migrants. If we did 40 years ago what we’re doing now, we wouldn’t have the Vietnamese community making Richmond great, for example. It gives me hope to remember that only a few decades ago we did it differently in this country, and I think we can get there again.
And the one language politicians understand is votes, so when it becomes clear (as it did in Melbourne) that people don’t want their politicians to engage in a race to the bottom on refugees and will switch their votes accordingly, MPs will start to shift.
When you’re at home in Melbourne, how do your days start and end with Wren and Elke?
Generally, I’m the one who gets them up and gives them breakfast. If one of them gets up at 5.30 or 6.00, there’s sometimes a half-hour on the couch with the lounge lamp on, where we get to cuddle and talk in a quiet house before anyone else wakes up. It’s a really special time for me. Wren and I spent these moments during summer and autumn looking out the window at the changing fig tree in the backyard, discussing how fruit grows and leaves fall off. At the end of the day, I give them a bath and get them ready for bed while Claudia cleans up after dinner. I haggle with Elke over brushing her teeth. I read them each three stories of their choice and then put them to bed.
Moving across time, what kind of adults might you like the girls to grow into? How would you like them to remember you to their own families, and what hopes do you have for the country they call home – a future Australia?
I want them to be strong, loving and to know what makes them happy. If they talk to their children about their lives growing up, I hope they say their parents unconditionally loved them and helped them follow their own path.
I’m also worried about what a warmer world will mean for them, both in terms of a changed climate, rising sea levels and more bushfires, but also what society will be like. Society may become meaner and conflict may get worse, so I hope they get from us some core values of compassion and equality.
If they say that their parents did everything they could to stop global warming and make society a more equal place, I’ll be happy.
Activity or outing
If we can make a day of it, we’ll go to the Toolangi forest just over an hour out of Melbourne, which I hope will one day be part of a Great Forest National Park. If it’s just for a few hours, we’ll visit the Collingwood Children’s Farm where we’re members – another good way of being surrounded by trees while entertaining the kids.
We started the kids on phở early on, deciding that they’d eat what we ate, so Pho House in Flemington – or the ‘noodle soup shop’ – is a firm favourite.
Book, film, or show
Across the whole family, ‘Where is the Green Sheep?’ has been on highest rotation over the last three years, but it now has ‘Hairy Maclary’ breathing down its neck. Our next outing is to see Justine Clarke perform; seeing Australian live music has gone next level for us.
Place to travel
We still can’t work out whether travelling with two kids under four is a nice break or hell in a different location. From time to time we rent a holiday house near the beach at Balnarring which has a cubby house, trampoline, and secure fence, so if we’re lucky that can give us up to 20 minutes at a time kid-free. We did take them overseas to sit on a beach for 10 days, which I currently remember as being fun, but which Claudia says I swore at the time was never to be repeated.