Alicia Payne, the Labor candidate for the federal seat of Canberra has a simple campaign message. The issue of climate change must be at the forefront of the policy agenda.
“There is no point talking about the economy if it’s not sustainable, there is no point talking about social justice if we destroy the environment which we live in,” Ms Payne says. “All our other aims are redundant if we don’t address the crisis that is happening with the climate at the moment.”
Ms Payne’s driving passions for safeguarding the environment and combatting poverty have fuelled her decision to stand for election.
Born and raised in the nation’s capital, Ms Payne leapt at the opportunity to run for Labor preselection, which she won last September. She says she is looking forward to the challenge, with her election campaign also focussing on further developing the electorate, which is host to some of Canberra’s iconic institutions including Parliament House, the High Court, the National Gallery and Lake Burley Griffin.
While this is her first time running in an election, Ms Payne is not new to politics. She has previously worked as a senior advisor in Labor leader Bill Shorten’s office, and had five years’ experience as a policy analyst for the Department of Treasury.
Until just recently, she was the chief-of-staff to Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, Jenny Macklin, before taking maternity leave to have her baby son.
Ms Payne says she is driven by a commitment to social justice and wants to make a meaningful contribution to rebalancing the scales of inequality in the electorate of Canberra.
She believes this requires “changing the conversation” surrounding the social security system, which has attracted much criticism recently over issues such as the Centrelink robo-debt method of debt collection. Ms Payne says Labor aim to eventually make the social security system “something that Australians are just as proud of, as we are of health and education.”
Ms Payne has been involved with making a contribution to social justice as a researcher working on poverty and inequality, and the impacts of policy. She believes this has given her valuable insights into the problems facing the disadvantaged, and ways of improving services designed to help them.
She is convinced that running for a seat in Parliament is the best way of trying to further her aims in this area.
“You can influence that [meaningful policy change] in so many ways, but politics I guess is the pointy end of that, and it’s Labor governments that make those changes that really can help the vulnerable in our community,” she says.
Ms Payne is also passionate about environmental conservation and wants to see Australia playing its role by taking the necessary action to protect the planet.
She has worked on the issue at a grass roots level, with Canberra’s Molonglo Conservation Group, as well as a local delegation of the Citizens Climate Lobby Australia. In mid-February, she hosted a public forum on climate change, and has also been campaigning on the issue at multiple locations around the electorate, inviting citizens to attend various ‘meet and greets’ to discuss climate change.
Ms Payne is well aware of the challenge she faces. Although Canberra is traditionally a safe Labor seat, a redistribution has altered the demographics and the Greens, in particular, believe they are a strong chance of winning the seat. Ms Payne says she’s not taking anything for granted.
“This is about getting out and talking to as many Canberrans as possible,” she says.
She is assured of at least one vote. The retiring member for Canberra Gail Brodtmann used her final parliamentary speech to declare she is looking forward to supporting Ms Payne in Labor’s fight for the seat.