Labor “hero” sets sights on unseating Dutton

Ali France, Labor, Dickson


By Emily Gallagher

Labor’s Ali France needs a swing of 1.7% to beat Peter Dutton in Dickson

“I was constantly surrounded by people who were really vulnerable … just trying to stay out of poverty while battling an illness.” On May 11, 2011, Ali France’s life was changed forever. While out shopping, she was hit by an elderly driver and eventually had part of her leg amputated.

Ms France endured years of hospital visits and surgeries, and while on her own healing journey, witnessed the struggles of those around her as they went through the health system. “People were not only suffering from an illness, but having to cope with out of pocket health expenses as well,” she says. “It seemed so unfair.”

What she saw as a social injustice became the driving force behind Ms France’s decision to enter politics – and she was preselected as the Australian Labor Party’s candidate for Dickson. It is currently held with a narrow margin by Peter Dutton, a controversial senior member of the Liberal-National Government, who is regarded as heartless by some and purpose-driven by others.

Ms France says Mr Dutton, who has held the seat for 18 years, has been focused on advancing his own career and, as a consequence, the people of Dickson feel ignored and neglected. She says she presents a new option for the community, that her personal life struggles give her the ability to understand everyday people and their struggles, and could therefore better serve the community.

“We need more people in Parliament with experiences like mine,” she says. “The people of Dickson deserve a local member who will listen, who understands where they are coming from, and who will put them first. We are focused on the issues that really matter … that’s health, that’s action to education, that’s funding to age care and ensuring people have enough money to pay their bills.”

Ms France, a 44-year-old single mum of two boys aged 12 and 14, says she wants for her boys what most parents want for their children. “It’s about parents and grandparents seeing a better future for their kids,” she says. “We absolutely deserve better in this community and I hope, if I’m given the opportunity, I can really fight for the issues that matter in our community down in Canberra.”

Labor Senator Chris Ketter has been doorknocking in the Dickson community with Ms France. He says people understand she’s a genuine person who is committed to the electorate.

“She’s probably the polar opposite of Peter Dutton in a sense,” he says. “She’s the type of person that’s interested in lifting people up, rather than the politics of fear and division.”

At a community barbecue held on behalf of Ms France, Labor member for the Victorian electorate of Batman, Ged Kearney, hailed Ms France as “a hero”. “She’s taken on an opponent that represents everything in this country that we’re fighting against,” she told barbecue guests. “All those things that Labor values, this woman epitomises.”

Ms France is recognised among her Labor Party peers for her inner strength and the unique experiences that give her the drive and determination to take up public office. Her mentor, Senator Claire Moore, says she brings genuine commitment to the community, as well as “an extraordinary life experience”. “Her father [Peter Lawlor] is a former state member, and she has worked on campaigns throughout her life,” Senator Moore says. “She knows the system.

“Her horrific accident and the struggle through rehabilitation reflects her strength and personal resilience, and has stimulated her determination to fight for genuine services for people with disabilities, as well as inclusion. She is a single mum raising two boys, an experienced journalist and athlete. She is a friend. I respect her strength and I love her sense of humour. She’s the real deal.”

Ms France is also actively involved in Labor Enabled, a Labor association that advocates for policy changes for people with disabilities. She says although she had grown up around politics, she never considered becoming a politician until the loss of her leg and feels her injury struggles provide a focus to help others in need.

“Despite laws to protect people with a disability, they face an extraordinary amount of discrimination in the workforce, and as consumers just going about their day,” Ms France says. “That’s what actually spurred me to step-up and want to fight for a better deal for people with a disability.”

Ms France lives on the north side of Brisbane. She is a one-time News Corp journalist who has also worked in press-related jobs in London and Hong Kong. She is a motivational speaker, athlete, disability advocate, and works for a palliative care charity.

After her accident, she took up outrigger canoeing, representing Australia at two world outrigger canoe championships. She currently holds three world titles in sprint and marathon canoe events.

In his maiden speech to Queensland Parliament in 2001, Ms France’s father Mr Lawlor described his eldest daughter as “caring, competent and conscientious, with the ability to make everyone happy”. Eighteen years later, Ms France has stepped into politics and intends to do just that.