Ball plays the “long game”

Jason Ball on the campaign trail. Photo Julius Dennis
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Greens candidate in Higgins, Jason Ball, is Ball is an LGBTIQ advocate who came to prominence by way of being the first professional AFL player to come out openly as gay. Julius Dennis reports
Jason Ball on the campaign trail. Photo Julius Dennis

A week before the federal election was called, Jason Ball was at Prahran Station.  It was spitting rain and commuters wanted to get home. The ABC reporters, there to do a video piece, were in a bad mood. Veteran Greens volunteers had seen worse, they huddled under bright pink umbrellas that clashed with their campaign shirts pulled over their civvies. Their hands are outstretched, fliers getting damp. Every five minutes or so, a Sandringham train, full of city workers dumped off hundreds of potential voters in Higgins, before it honked and headed east to Macnamara and Isaacs. 

Higgins is considered by pundits to be one of the most interesting and engaged seats in the country, but these commuting voters weren”t living up to the hype. They charged by in a flock, each individual ignoring Jason and his team, justified by the person in front of them. When the crowd thinned, fake phone calls and fast, long steps implied busy-ness.

“Hi, I”m Jason.”

    “Sorry…”

“Hi, I”m Jason.”

    Apologetic, but also kind of intimidating stare —.

“Hi, I”m Jason.”

    Silence.

The Public Safety Officers arrive at six for their shift and head for their office.

“Someone make sure they have a permit!” yelled one of the officers headed down the line from the Kia Grand Carnival.  

“Hi, I”m Jason.”

    “I”m already voting Green.”

Well there”s a win at least, but the vollies” hands are still full of pamphlets.  

“This is more complementary work for us,” says Ball, leaning under the cover of the brick archway, “at the moment we are more interested in phone calls and door knocking, where you can have real conversations.”

And indeed they are, as of the time of publication, the Greens had spoken to over 21000 households in Higgins. It’s all a part of the party’s “no big donor” campaign strategy, a strategy that Ball is proud of, but admits it can lead to financial strife.

Photo Julius Dennis

“It costs about half a million dollars to run a successful lower house campaign, we have nowhere near that,” he said, back in his Chapel Street office a few days later. It means the party has to resort to crowdfunding and one-on-one campaigning; they have phone banks at the office almost every night, they door knock, door knock and door knock some more. They”re confident it will pay off, and there is evidence that it might.  

In 2014 Sam Hibbins became the first Greens state MP to win a previously Liberal held seat. He did it right here in Prahran, his office is just down the road.  This was the first sign of political change in the area, and while it”s dangerous to look at state results and apply them federally, the Greens started sniffing around for a suitable candidate in the area. Enter Jason Ball, stage very left. 

Ball is an LGBTIQ advocate who came to prominence by way of being the first professional Australian rules player to come out openly as gay. His relationship with politics has been a winding one. In 2004, when the Howard Government moved to ban gay marriage and was supported by the Labor Party, Ball felt politically lost. “At that moment I find of felt like I didn”t have a political home, I felt that both Labor and Liberal fundamentally rejected who I was.”

Six years later, in 2010, while studying politics and film at Melbourne University and living in South Yarra, Ball took note of the Greens candidate for Melbourne Adam Bandt.

“Adam was running on a platform of marriage equality, action on climate change and a more compassionate approach for people seeking asylum, and those three issues were like, tick, tick, tick for me.”

He joined the party, and the campaign, helping out with social media, and you guessed it, door knocking.  

Bandt won that seat, becoming the party”s first member of the federal lower house. Jason continued to be a member of the party, although he kept his political views away from the public as he “didn”t want to be seen as having a political or ideological agenda.”

However, someone must have been keeping an eye on him. In 2015 Ball “got tapped on the shoulder by Christine Milne and Richard Di Natale… who basically said, “look the seat that you live in, Higgins, we think could one day turn Green. Maybe not this election, maybe the one after.” They wanted him to be the candidate, and eventually after a time of deliberation — and a quick chat about a job with the AFL — he accepted. 

“At that time in my life I was ready to talk about other things. I had spent three years banging on about homophobia in sport, and that was my passion, but I was also not getting anywhere with the AFL in some respects.”

The 2016 election can be looked at as a learning process, one in which Michael Gurner, (a field coordinator for Team Jason in 2016), says they all gained experience for the 2019 tilt. It can also be looked at as ground work, the Greens gained an 8.5 per cent swing against a strong Liberal incumbent, Kelly O”Dwyer, in a seat that had been blue since its birth. 

Now, in 2019, when 67 per cent of Higgins residents say the Greens” bread and butter topic of climate change is their number one issue, there is a real sense that the Greens could deliver an upset.  Even in the rain, being blown off by disinterested commuters, surrounded by his elderly supporters, Ball seems confident — “let”s do one more train, Val.”

Back in the office, he leans back in his chair la little, “I guess I always signed up to it knowing that it might be a long game.” –