MAT Morgan’s only 23 but he’s already a political veteran. “We’re one of those families that yells at the TV and discusses politics over lunch. I was never going to be able to avoid it. I’ve been handing out How to Vote cards since I was a kid.”
The Greens candidate for Monash picked his team early, tagging along with his grandfather Daryl Fyfe to hand out How to Vote cards. “Those were the Bob Brown days when there was a lot of homophobia around as well as prejudice about tree huggers so it was a good training ground.”
He volunteered for the Greens at the 2019 federal election. This election he volunteered to be the front man in Monash. Not that there’s ever great competition for the gig. “If we all keep moving along, we’ll get there. Someone had to put their hand up.”
“It used to be very anti-Green but people now will have a conversation with you. I’m under no illusion that someone who’s voted Liberal for 30 years is going to vote Green. But even a lot of Liberal voters are realising climate change is an existential threat. It’s not so much about party politics for them.”
We meet in the Wonthaggi library, a favourite childhood haunt. Mat's family on both sides have been farming in South Gippsland for five generations. He grew up in Berwick and Ringwood but spent weekends and holidays with his grandparents on their farm at Pound Creek.
A folk songwriter and musician, he played in local pubs until Covid arrived. He’s an activist and a student in the final year of a degree in philosophy and politics. He later mentions as an aside that he’s studied feminist philosophy. He is from a generation that finds this unremarkable.
He lives in Foster in a tiny house on wheels he built during the pandemic out of scrap metal from the tip and doors and windows from a recycling yard. Total outlay: around $6000 and about 18 months. In case that makes him sound too clever, he quickly undercuts himself. “I’m no carpenter. There were a lot of mistakes.”
The tiny house was his individual solution to the housing crisis but not everyone has the opportunity, the family support or a place to park. Housing affordability is one of his main issues. “The Australian dream has slipped away for a lot of people. Housing should not be an investment. Give renters real rights.”
He says too many Australians have switched off politics. “Of course they have. ‘I hate politics. I don’t care. I’m not even registered.’ The idea of politics as something they can engage in is quite foreign. We have to accept politics hasn’t been representative of the people for a long time.”
What about young voters? “When you see two middle-aged white guys as the only options, no wonder young people have switched off. They just need representation. If I was wearing a Liberal or Labor T-shirt they wouldn’t be interested, but when I come up in my Greens T-shirt they’re really happy to talk.”
Top three issues
His youth allows him to make some telling points, and not just to younger voters. At the candidates’ forum on Wednesday, he parodied Scott Morrison’s infamous line that he probably wouldn’t even be around in 2050. “Well I’ll be around in 2050 and I’ll be younger than Scott Morrison is now.”
And on the cost of education. “Their university fees cost them nothing. Mine have doubled in this term of government. My undergraduate degree will cost over $50,000.”
Is he interested in a political career?
“Not so much. I’d like a job as an adviser maybe. I’m very focused on good governance and the way the world operates. Whether it’s me pulling the strings or someone else doesn’t really matter.”
Having spent a lot of time on his grandparents’ carbon-neutral beef farm, he had a different perspective of farming in South Gippsland. As a candidate he’s met farmers who will tell him that trees don’t belong on farms in South Gippsland.
“We are starting from different places so it’s generally going to be a difficult conversation.” But he likes talking to people, hearing their needs and wants and what motivates them, finding out if there is any common ground.
He won’t win, he knows that, but he’s hoping for a 5 per cent swing to the Greens. Somewhere around the 12 per cent mark would make him very happy. “We’ve got a five-year plan to change it from a Liberal seat to a Green seat. We’re running the biggest campaign the Greens have ever run in Gippsland. We’ve got more money and more volunteers than we’ve ever had. It’s all people power.”
The Independent candidate will take some of the votes that would otherwise have gone to the Greens but that doesn’t worry him too much. “We’re both pushing for action on climate and we both want an integrity commission. But I don’t think the Independent will have the same sway in Monash as in some other seats.”
The national aim is to get rid of the Liberal government and for the Greens to hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.
“The best parliament in my lifetime has been the Gillard minority government with a Labor-Greens agreement. That was a very productive parliament. We can learn some lessons and do it even better next time.”
I do a quick calculation. He was 11 when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister and 14 when she lost the job.
“I could go on about this for hours …” he says, and laughs.