Meet The Woman Hoping To Boot Peter Dutton Out Of Parliament
While Dutton was destroying the government last week, Ali France was knocking on doors.
Ali France’s campaign started when a car smashed into her at a suburban supermarket in 2011, crushing her against a wall, slicing her femoral artery and narrowly missing her young son.
An 88-year-old driver had lost control of his car and hit Ali. The impact sliced her femoral artery, causing a “tsunami of blood”. She managed to push her son, who was in a pram, out of the way just before the impact and was saved by two men who were members of the Army Reserves.
They tied a tourniquet around Ali’s leg, keeping her alive.
Crashing Into Politics
Before the injury, Ali France had never considered a life in politics. But now she’s up against one of the most powerful men in the country, a man who only last week ripped apart the Turnbull Government for his own personal gain (and failed). She’s running against Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in his Queensland seat of Dickson.
Aside from his recent leadership tilt, you might remember Mr Dutton from when he joked about how climate change was “lapping at the door” or his integral role in the government’s Stop The Boats policy and horrific off-shore detention regime.
Ali says the events of last week showed Dutton was “out of touch with the people of Dickson”.
“I went door knocking last week while Mr Dutton was fighting it out in Canberra and the reaction from people on the doors was anger and disbelief,” she told Junkee. “They really just want their local MP to go to work and do the job of representing them in parliament.”
“I went door knocking last week while Mr Dutton was fighting it out in Canberra and the reaction from people on the doors was anger and disbelief”
Ali’s life has been intertwined with politics since she was young, but this wasn’t the driving force behind her decision to run for parliament — she wants to run because she cares about health, education and social justice.
And the reason she’s so passionate about these causes is because of her own experiences. The first time health is mentioned in our interview, she straightens up and her voice rises as she explains why healthcare is so important to her.
This passion isn’t just a result of her accident, but how she was raised and what’s been pressed into her since a young age — fairness and equality.
Her father, Peter Lawlor, was involved in politics for the majority of Ali’s life, but she says her dad’s career only inspired her to become a journalist. Growing up, the red of Labor was never far away. She says her grandmother was the first person to get her involved in politics.
“She was a staunch Labor supporter, I used to attend local council meetings with my grandmother to watch my Dad in action before he ran for the State. Grandma instilled in me a passion for social justice.”
The accident and a zeal for equality and fairness led Ali to her current situation. She says in the years after her accident she witnessed first-hand Australia’s healthcare system and was dismayed by the experience.
“People were struggling,” she said. “I’ve watched for the last five years, as the Federal Government targets vulnerable people; those who are unemployed, people with a disability and pensioners. This government has targeted them to improve their bottom line and I think it has to stop.”
She’ll campaign for the seat of Dickson in Brisbane’s north with an “on- the ground” approach. After a childhood of door knocking and handing out how to vote cards, she laughs that she’ll be good at it. Her approach will likely be very different to Dutton’s.
He’s boasted about a massive war chest for this election, somewhere in the vicinity of the $650,000. He also has the support of the Federal Government, which only months ago committed to improving stretches of the Bruce Highway that runs through his electorate. The highway has been a bone of contention for years for Brisbane residents, and the upgrades could be a real vote-winner.
Aside from trying to oust Malcolm Turnbull, the Home Affairs Minister is most famously known for his stance on immigration. He’s been the driving force behind Australia’s off-shore processing regime for three years now.
Ali says she supports Labor’s policy in terms of immigration. If elected, they’ll continue to “Stop The Boats”, mimicking the government’s policy. But like her views on health, France’s stance on immigration is shaped by her experience.
“We also focus on what young people want, they are a huge part of our election campaign and that’s why it’s best to be led by them”
For two years after her accident, Ali was told it was extremely unlikely she’d ever walk again. This was until she met an Iraqi immigrant, Dr Munjed Al Muderis. He was trialling a new surgery in Sydney and Ali says it was a shot in the dark.
“I’d basically given hope that I’d ever walk again,” she said. “The first time I met him, he put his arms around me and said ‘I’m going to get you walking again, I’m going to help you’.”
Ali was the 26th patient for the surgery and walked again, as promised.
Her key point on immigration is that she believes we can be tough on people smugglers while at the same time treating refugees humanely and with respect.
These views are echoed by GetUp! a not-for-profit group campaigning to make sure Dutton is booted from Parliament. They almost succeeded in 2016, shaving five percent of Dutton’s margin, leaving him with just a 1.6 percent buffer for the next election, which will likely be held early next year.
GetUp! members say the community pushed for change after “the actions of the hard right of the Liberal and National Party”. The group’s campaign leader, Ellen Roberts, said there’s a wide age range in the action group.
“Talking to people in Dickson, they are really worried about making sure social services are properly funded, they’re feeling the pinch,” she said. “People are really concerned about making sure their kids have good secure jobs in the future and that they have necessary educational opportunities.”
Roberts also explained that there’s an increased number of young voters enrolled after the same-sex marriage postal survey and there’s a “massive push” for young people stepping up and taking action themselves.
“We find young people are super passionate about climate change, human rights and equality,” she said. “We also focus on what young people want, they are a huge part of our election campaign and that’s why it’s best to be led by them.”
Ali understands how tough the campaign will be with the government fighting hard to save a possible future leader in Dutton, and says “she’s never felt stronger or more equipped” for this.
What is most striking about France’s campaign is the connection she has with her causes. She cares about health because she’s been a part of the public health system, she wants fair treatment of migrants because she cares about people, she wants better facilities for education as she’s seen how access to education can enable people.
In a time where most of Australia’s political class seems out of touch, and only in it for themselves, Ali is doubling down on what politicians are supposed to do; listening to what people want.
Mitchell Van Homrigh is a Brisbane-based journalist who has written for AAP, Fairfax and the ABC.