Just Call Me Sue

Fairfax, Qld


Ciaran Nix

The Greens candidate for Fairfax, Sue Etheridge, meets with a voter at the Fisherman’s Road Markets

Politicians are always going to great pains to convince voters of how normal and relatable they are. That they share our pain, they share our struggles, they share our hopes and dreams. Most of the time they come off as insincere and condescending.

As I introduced myself to Sue Etheridge and we began to walk up the USC library steps, casually chatting, I was struck by the opposite impression. Sue’s bubbly personality was instantly infectious, and you could sense the tenacity hiding behind her warm, welcoming smile. Here was one of us. A regular citizen sick of political games, prepared to throw her hat in the ring.

Sue speaks in a private study room on the top floor of the library. It’s a fitting setting, given one of the Green’s main policies is free education for all, university included. Dressed in bright clothes and with a distinctively cheerful laugh, Sue is an optimist and a realist. Her party is shooting for the moon and hoping to fall among the stars. They realise they are more extreme than Labor and Liberal, but this is what is needed to engage disillusioned voters.

“Politics should be a contest of ideas and at the moment all we’ve got is these two older white males slagging off at each other,” Sue said, having a dig at Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. “A large part of the electorates aren’t even engaged because all they see is two old men fighting.”

The Greens offer an alternative to the major parties. For Sue and her fellow Greens’ candidates it’s not about power, it’s about keeping those in power accountable. To do this they need as many seats in the Senate as possible. “We have a really good chance of getting balance of power in the Senate, we currently have nine senators,” she says.

“Three are up for re-election and we have the opportunity to add another three new senators, which would take us to 12 in total. That would make us the third largest party in the Senate and really give us a bit of negotiating power to hold whichever government wins to account.”

This is where preferential voting comes into play. Just because a minor party might not have any hope of winning, it doesn’t mean a vote for them is wasted. “It’s not about backing a winner,” she says. “It’s about being able to put a one in the box that you’re most aligned with.”

Every vote counts. Placing preferences with the Greens will let the major parties know that the population cares about their policies and wants to see changes made in those areas.

“The LNP in my opinion doesn’t deserve to be re-elected and the ALP has no vision,” she says. “It’s really sad.”

Vision isn’t something the Greens are lacking. They are running on 15 key policy points. If they were to win, they would implement these main changes. No new coal and gas projects, dental and mental health with Medicare, student debts wiped and free education at all levels, more affordable government housing, along with promising to tackle social issues like racism, sexism, and inequality.

“It all relates to fairness,” Sue says. “The LNP want to make this country and politics more exclusive.”

How are the Greens going to achieve all these grand schemes? “Here’s our plan: We will tax the billionaires and big corporations and provide the things we all need for a better life,” she says.

This bold statement is at the top of their policy platform page. This is their challenge to the political establishment. The Greens want the needs of the majority to be put before those of the minority. Sue sees this as the major problem going into the future. “Our economy gets all the attention,” she says. “Our economy should be working for society and the environment not the other way around.”

The economy and environment have been Sue’s two main fields of expertise throughout her life and were the main motivating factor behind her original involvement in politics. She grew up as a single child on a farming property in western Queensland.

“My Dad was really interested in politics, and I just enjoyed talking to him about it,” Sue said “I found it fascinating. I finished school at Year 10 when my Dad had a heart attack and had to give up work, so I put in for a Commonwealth Bank job.”

Sue moved to the Sunshine Coast in 1982 and worked with the Commonwealth Bank as a loans officer until 1999, enjoying a long career. This role gave her a wealth of financial knowledge and experience. Combined with her passion for the environment, it has shaped her local political presence.

“I first started banging on about looking after the environment and needing to do things better back in 1988,” Sue said. “Back in ’88 I set up recycling schemes with the Commonwealth Bank. I probably drove people mad, who knows, but I set up different bins for normal waste and other waste, little things like that.”

Frustration at the lack of environmental action has forced her to ramp up her efforts over the years. Sue still volunteers in financial roles for local charities and has been treasurer for the Sunshine Coast Environmental Council since 2012. However, she knows there is still a long way to go when it comes to fighting climate change.

“I’m not perfect, I occasionally have to buy things in a plastic bag,” she says. “But every little bit counts. The big action has to really happen with government and big corporations, but everybody needs to be on board and going in the same direction.”

This will be the third election in which Sue has run as The Greens’ candidate for Fairfax. It’s a tough electorate to crack. The LNP has been entrenched in the seat for the past three decades, except for three years in which Clive Palmer held the seat. Ted O’Brien, the current MP, has held the seat for six years.

Sue knows she’s the underdog in this fight, “I’d love to get elected in Fairfax, but the numbers just aren’t there yet,” she says. “I think it will change eventually with the Sunshine Coast becoming more progressive but not for a while.” This doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm or stop her from believing in the strength of her party.

A lot of the Greens’ strength is based upon the hard work and dedication of volunteers. They are competing not just with the LNP and Labor, but also other smaller organisation like the United Australia Party, which is operating on an estimated budget of $70 million. A party’s voice can be easily drowned out when competing with so much in-your-face advertising.

A few days after her first interview, Sue was at the Fisherman’s Road markets on a Sunday in Maroochydore. “We’ve been going to Fisherman’s Road every fortnight since October, we haven’t had a lot of people turn up but it’s a visual presence and I think that’s really important,” Sue says.

She was easily spotted amongst the market stalls, a ball of energy underneath a bright green Gazebo. She stopped briefly in between discussions with other constituents to have a chat and pose for a photograph.

Two volunteers at her tent felt as though their biggest concerns were completely ignored in the political arena. “I’m a high school science teacher and I’m sick of teaching my kids about a world that’s not going to exist for them,” Kaitlyn Griffith said. “You talk about what we’re doing for climate change, which is nothing, and what we should be doing, which is a whole bunch, but there’s no point getting angry, so I thought I’d come down with my dog and help out.”

Kaitlyn’s cute little dog Hairy jumped around her feet excitedly while she talked. She confided it was a tactical ploy to draw in more passers-by.

Tom Prentice, originally from England, was also helping, “My feeling of urgency to do something about the climate has grown and grown and that’s led me to a party that’s willing to do something about it,” Tom says. He says other areas of the Greens’ policy platform also resonate with him. “Social issues, housing affordability, distrust of politicians integrity in senior roles and climate change,” he says. “The things the big parties don’t want to hear about basically.”

It is integral to a functioning democracy that people do not just have their say, but that they also feel like their say matters. “One of the main things is that we provide an opportunity for younger people and those lower on the socio-economic scale to have hope,” Sue says “People just need hope and to think there is some way out of this and that we do have a future.”