Culture

Sydney Icon Danny Lim Is Running For The Senate. Here’s What He Actually Believes.

There's a lot more to Danny Lim than "peace smile!"

“Peace, smile, have a happy day!”

When politicians fight banality with banality on the beige battleground of the 2016 Australian federal election – the Coalition strike with “jobs and growth,” Labor counterstrikes with “we’ll put people first,” Turnbull charges ahead and trips with “continuity and change” – Danny Lim’s catch-phrase has potential to become the only memorable slogan of the election campaign.

If you live in Sydney, you probably know of Danny Lim.

Who Is Danny Lim?

You might have seen Danny, an elderly man with a Pomeranian-Chihuahua named Smarty, standing on a street corner at peak hour, imploring disillusioned office automatons to believe in “fair go, fair dinkum” social justice. You might have read one of his sandwich boards, decorated with smiley faces and rainbow peace signs, featuring WordArt text that typically reads: “PEACE, SMILE, [INSERT SATIRICAL POLITICAL STATEMENT HERE]”.

You might have spotted his name in headlines last August when he received a $500 fine, which was later covered by crowdfunding, for displaying a placard that crudely critiqued Tony Abbott. Danny views the phrase “PEOPLE CAN CHANGE, TONY YOU C[inverted A]NT” as a punny act of protest; authorities view it as slander.

Danny is familiar with the bickering and blackmailing of local politics from his stint on Strathfield Council. Elected at the end of 2008, Lim had eighteen claims of breaches of conduct levelled against him and received death threats before resigning in July 2010, a decision that was largely a response to death threats directed at Smarty. Most of the controversy revolved around Virginia Judge, the Labor member for Strathfield from 2003 to 2011 who remains his arch enemy to this day, peaking in 2009 when he won an Ernie Award for Sexist Remarks for telling Judge to buy a vibrator to “stop screwing with the people of Strathfield and screw herself instead.”

Now Danny is about to set foot – wearing his mismatched Havaianas thongs – in the federal political arena. You will see his name on the Senate ballot paper on July 2.

What Does He Actually Believe?

“The politician should be more fair dinkum with the people,” Danny tells me when I meet him in Strathfield, the Inner West suburb he has lived in for 39 years. “Turnbull has no balls, no heart, no brain. No nothing.”

As both a self-professed “true blue Aussie” and a Chinese-Malaysian migrant who left the racism of one country only to be met by racism in another, Danny views himself as a champion of egalitarianism. Orphaned at five months old, Danny was brought up by his Chinese grandmother in a village about 90 kilometres away from Kuala Lumpur.

“Green, always green. Lush. Misty”, he describes the paddy fields. It seems idyllic when he puts it like this, shrouded in mist and nostalgia, but the Chinese ethnic minority were and still are constrained by institutionalised discrimination. And so in 1963, at nineteen years old, Danny applied for a student visa and moved to Summer Hill, Sydney.

Danny believes the Liberals are “stuck in in the ‘50s” and that Labor does “one hundred times more than the bloody Liberals” when it comes to “what’s the most important” – the environment, healthcare and education. His leftist views align with the policies of the Greens: he supports a sizeable shift towards renewable energy, in contrast to the Coalition’s “smoke and mirrors” stalling; gradually abandoning the private health care insurance rebate and investing the saved $5 billion per annum in public hospitals; needs-based education funding, as outlined by Gonski; higher tax rates for multinational corporations and a royal commission into the “white collar crime” of banks; marriage equality; and a bipartisan effort to increase Australia’s intake of refugees, who often become assets to the economy.

In short, Danny preaches “the welfare, not the warfare.”

Sitting by Strathfield fountain, waiting for Danny to arrive, I expected to meet a wacky fringe-dweller or a displaced hippie. As soon as Danny saw me he handed me newspaper clippings about his previous work, a list of his values and election promises and an electoral commission form for me to sign – at this point he was desperate for the one hundred signatures required to run as an independent.

He bypassed the “peace-smile” spiel and launched straight into a rant about corruption; mainly, the “bloody,” “evil,”  “dirty,” “deceitful” corruption of Virginia Judge. He would only let me photograph him if he was holding Smarty because marketing is a crucial part of politics, he explained, and Smarty is a crucial part of the image he is actively propagating on social media.

Perhaps this paints Danny in harsh tones, casting him as a calculating “arsehole pollie” in-the-making, as Danny would put it. Danny did come across as genuine, even if he felt the need to assure me: “When you are down-to-earth and be yourself you don’t have to keep on telling lies”. Whenever his supporters have offered to form an official Danny Lim Party he has declined, partly because he knows his charm hinges upon his status as a stand-alone oddity but partly because the simple lifestyle suits him. He is happy to run a cheap DIY campaign – each sandwich board costs about $30 to print – where Smarty is his “boss” and all essential materials can be found in the ALDI shopping bag he wears like a necklace.

The Politics Of ‘Peace Smile’

It’s tempting to view Danny Lim as an idealised compilation of eccentricities. Danny is quirky and his unconventional persona seems authentic, but I was obviously wrong to imagine him as a whimsical character from another reality. He is grounded in the present – and determined to change it. When it comes to upholding social justice he is fierce bordering on ferocious. However, at times his ideas are incoherent and his actions are questionable. He markets himself as unique but agrees with the Greens on just about everything; he differs only in that he can pragmatically achieve the same goals, but speaks in sweeping statements about equality that skirt around specifying what these practical policies actually entail.

He is also apparently unaware of how many people took offence to his notorious Tony Abbott sign, not because it slandered Abbott, but because the language – one of Danny’s literary motifs, rather than a one-off – is rooted in misogyny. When he tells me about the Virginia Judge vibrator remark he chuckles. No one found the joke funny to begin with, but Danny is still laughing seven years on.

There is more to Danny Lim than “peace smile”; he is well-meaning, but can be as controversial and convoluted as any other politician.

Senate voting reforms passed last March allow voters to exercise more control over which candidate their preferences go towards, making it more difficult for an independent to win a seat, but Danny is not daunted. In a political climate marked by the convergence of the right and the left, where the prevalent voter attitude towards both the Coalition and Labor is, technically speaking, ‘meh’, Danny is hoping that the public are restless to hear an alternative voice adding wordplay to the dialogue of the Upper House.

Zoe is a Sydney-based writer currently muddling through uni, with an interest in all things international, quirky humans and cute socks.