For a man who will be in his seventies if he assumes a seat in Parliament after the federal election later this year, Hall Greenland appears remarkably youthful. As I arrive to interview him in his suburban home, nestled in-between Leichhardt and Haberfield, he is perusing the latest Monthly and the morning’s Herald in his yard.
As a Walkley award-winning journalist, he is a potentially intimidating interview subject, but he chats openly, if slowly and deliberately, and fills in most of the gaps himself. Our interview is punctuated by the occasional thunder of aircraft noise, which Greenland wryly notes is more common than was promised under a long-term Howard plan.
Greenland, president of Save Callan Park and a former Leichhardt Councillor, has been preselected by his local Greens to contest the seat of Grayndler in the upcoming federal election. The flight-path itself provides a pretty good rough guide to the electorate, which extends from Leichhardt down through Marrickville, into Tempe in the south, and into parts of Ashfield and Canterbury in the west. The seat is so ingrained in Labor heartland it takes its name from a former General Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, and has been held by Transport Minister and Rudd-loyalist Anthony Albanese since 1996.
In 2010, when current Sydney University Liberal Club President Alex Dore contested the seat for the Liberals, the traditionally safe Labor seat became a contest within the left. On a two party preferred basis there was 4.7% margin between the ALP and the Greens. Greenland and his team are quietly confident of overwhelming that margin. This time around, Cedric Spencer, a lawyer and lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, will contest the seat for the Libs.
Greenland has been a feature of the Greens since their very beginnings. He was expelled from Labor Left in 1984 for backing environmental independents over those he describes as “stodgy” Labor candidates in local elections. He recalls the actual expulsion as the final exclamation point on a growing “disenchantment and disillusionment” amongst those who would found the Greens in Sydney.
He charts the emergence of the National Greens as paralleling some of their modern day tensions, which he describes as both ‘typical and healthy’ elements of any “party of adults”. In the late 1980s this regarded the formation of a national party. Before 1991, when Bob Brown and the Tasmanians cam on board Greenland notes the party lacked “fair dinkum” legitimacy. Nonetheless they were hesitant, particularly in NSW to forfeit grassroots control in order to formalise a party platform and leadership structure.
I asked Greenland whether he stood by his claim, in mid-2012, that the Greens national leadership were ‘neoliberals on bikes’, after they removed the inheritance tax from the party platform for, in his view, pragmatic rather than principled reasons. He notes the comment expressed a legitimate but ultimately ‘misplaced’ fear that the party would veer to the right. He notes approvingly the pursuit of a ‘genuine’ mining tax and a more progressive taxation system under Christine Milne’s leadership.
Greenland hopes to reflect the grassroots control of his preselectors and the NSW Greens more broadly in his style of campaign. Those familiar with student politics will recognise faces from his campaign team, such as former USU Vice-President and current Marrickville Councillor Melissa Brooks, and former president of ARC, and Tharunka editor Osman Faruqi.
No stranger to the University of Sydney, Greenland has recently been on campus for both the NTEU strikes and for an event reflecting on his participation in the 1965 Freedom Rides. He studied history on campus in the 1960s and was a president of the Labor Club in 1964. As an editor of Honi Soit in 1966 he was highly critical of the war in Vietnam.
After some post-study travels, including a trip to Paris for the protests of May 1968, Greenland has spent much of his working career as a journalist. . During the 1970s he wrote for Rolling Stone and The Digger, a lefty magazine whose lifespan almost exactly paralleled that of the Whitlam Government, both of which recalls Greenland, were “expressions of the radicalisation of the time”.
During this period Greenland was heavily influenced by his “long time mentor” Nick Oliglass, a prominent Sydney Trotskyist whom he wrote a biography of in the mid 1990s. More recently as a journalist for The Bulletin and The Week he has been nominated for and won Walkleys for both his headline writing and his coverage of mental illness.
The long campaign means Greenland and his team will attempt to knock on as many voters’ doors as possible by September. Greenland’s basic campaign pitch is that “Australia’s most progressive electorate”, (76% of voters voted for left of centre candidates in 2010), deserves a more progressive representative. He cites the relative proportion of funds in the upcoming budget that will from cuts from single parents pensions than taxing big miners as indicative of the “staggering timidity and incompetence” of the ALP.
Albanese is locally popular, well resourced and has escaped relatively unscathed from some the ALP’s recent troubles. He remains a very strong favourite. In order to avoid a potential reliance on Liberal’s preferences, Greenland hopes on issues like education and migration any votes that break away from Albanese come September will break leftward. His campaign will also focus on local issues, such as Albanese’s support for O’Farrell’s Westconnex road project running into Petersham.
Greenland doesn’t accept the inevitability of a coalition government come September. He has previously argued for a more “united front” between those on the left to prevent such an outcome and sees races such as Grayndler as aiding rather than hindering that process. He argues Labor must escape an “imperial mentality” and accept that, definitely in the upper house and quite probably in the lower house, they aren’t “going to rule on their own again.”