It’s very easy to underestimate Alex Greenwich, Clover Moore’s would-be successor and independent candidate for the seat of Sydney. For all the charm and confidence the 31-year–old gay marriage campaigner exudes on national television as the public face of marriage equality or when door knocking on a Sydney street, he seems genuinely honest and almost too upbeat about the possibilities of politics to be the kind of skillful – even ruthless – operator it seems to require.
You might assume there’s little about the recruitment agent from Potts Point that says he’s the next Clover Moore, one of Australia’s most successful urban independents. But as Greenwich speaks, you begin to see that his answers are well thought out, even when dealing with difficult and uncomfortable questions. He speaks in the polished and clipped tones of someone used to providing 30-second grabs for the camera, but he also possesses an elastic resolve that reveals itself in his unnerving ability to stay on message without becoming repetitive or losing a listener’s attention.
Part of Greenwich’s appeal is that he’s a fresh face in a field of well-known and somewhat polarising candidates.
His main rivals, the Greens’ Chris Harris and Liberal Shayne Mallard have spent the better part of the last decade fighting each other at City of Sydney Council and bring all the strengths and weaknesses associated with widespread public political recognition.
“I think people in Sydney want to elect a person rather than a party,” Greenwich said.
“Chris is running as a Green, Shayne is running as a Liberal, I’m running as a Sydneysider.”
Labor is not running a candidate in the seat, however former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, who held the neighbouring seat of Heffron until retiring this year, has endorsed Greenwich for the seat.
Greenwich said the electorate is discontented with the policies of the O’Farrell Liberal government.
“People really don’t like the cuts to education, people want more education for the inner city, high schools and childcare particularly,” he said.
He’s also an advocate for removing discriminatory laws from NSW, such as religious organisations and schools being allowed to fire gay staff and expel gay students, and the “gay panic” defence.
“These are things that should have changed a long time ago,” he said.
“We need to remove the gay panic defence, that should not be on the books. I guess the other issue is also marriage equality and progressing the state-based [marriage bill].”
Much of Greenwich’s platform marches closely with the issues championed by Moore for the last 24 years, including transport, public housing, open space and noise, and alcohol-related issues.
“People want better transport alternatives; more regular trains, particularly late at night, we need to move legislation to allow private buses to operate in places like Kings Cross to get people home at night, these are all permanent solutions to help fix an ongoing solution,” he said.
“Small business want to have a lot more support then they are having on embracing the digital economy or in making the high streets where they operate more welcoming for customers. For example on Oxford St.”
A recent poll undertaken by Greenwich’s campaign team placed him slightly ahead of Mallard on 31.4 percent to 30.6 percent, with Harris trailing on 25.4 percent.
Yet other factors, such as the collapse of the Green vote in the recent local council elections and the strong performance by the Liberals at the last state election, make the race less certain.
Greenwich will also have to work hard at convincing voters he’s about more than just marriage equality.
“I’ve lived in the electorate for 20 years and been running a small business In the area for 10 years, but also while working for [Australian] Marriage Equality I’ve developed advocacy skills and I think the work I have done on that one issue has given me skills I can bring to so many issues,” he said.
However, if elected, Greenwich will undoubtedly learn what Moore has over the years – that independence can be a lonely place to be at times.
Greenwich said he believes he can work with both sides of politics to get things done.
“There are good people in the Liberal party, there are good people in the Labor Party and there are good people in the Greens and I’ve developed good working relationships with them,” he said.
“The other thing is, I have wandered around federal parliament without an office for the past four years so being one person in a parliament doesn’t phase me at all.
“I’m used to being able to influence change and not be intimidated by the fact I don’t have a party behind me, in fact, I think it will probably be easier because I wont be constrained by what I can do and what I can say.”
Greenwich insists he is a genuine independent and told the Star Observer that no conditions were imposed when Moore endorsed him.
“It’s a good question, there are no conditions put on it, she is supporting me and the only condition is I will fight as hard as possible to keep Sydney independent,” he said.
“I think people know that if I wanted to be told how to vote I would have joined a major party.”
The Sydney by-election is on October 27.
INFO: Star Observer will continue its profiles of the Sydney by-election candidates next week.