Nathan Jones lives in Cudgen, owns a small business and is running as an Independent for the federal seat of Richmond.
Bay FM Community Newsroom host Mia Armitage interviewed Nathan Jones in early May in the second part of a series of interviews with Richmond candidates. To follow is a transcript of that interview, which you can hear here.
The swinging candidate
MA: You’ve described yourself as a swing voter. So, are we are we dealing with someone who’s fairly indecisive?
NJ: Yeah, look I’ve based my vote in the past on, you know, who the party is, what the main policies are, and also who the local candidate is at the time. I’ve never always voted Liberal, never always voted Labor or The Greens, definitely swung from left to right over the last sort of 26 years of voting. I’m an Independent candidate, of course, so I’m definitely not someone who has only ever voted on the left wing or right, I think the middle is the best way to capture most of the population.
MA: When you talk about the middle of the political spectrum, that can shift, depending on what’s happening on either side to the right or to the left. So, if the political zeitgeist, if you like, is further to the right, then naturally, the centre is going to shift more to the right. So, if you had to say that you were sort of centre-left or centre-right, what would you say? Perhaps it will help us to understand you a bit more if you could let us know what some of the issues have been over the past years that won your vote either way.
NJ: Okay, well, great question. Firstly, I think it depends where you are, in which electorate you’re in, on whether you’re in the centre or the right, because I think Bob Katter in Queensland, he’d be considered a centrist, from where he lives.
But I like this phrase where I’m more green than The Greens in terms of the environment policies that I have, I’m more Labor than Labor is, in terms of wages and fairness for the people in the caring economy, and I’m more national than The National Party running here, in terms that I believe in a national economy and economic management that’s sound and not wasting money.
So I chose Independent, I try to pick the best policies from all of the different parties because there’s some good ideas in all of them, definitely. People can change their minds or make up their own minds on where they want to put me.
Someone who’s the hardest left voter in the electorate would think anyone a millimetre to the right of Mandy [Nolan, The Greens] is far right wing, whereas in the same way a far rightwing person would think I’m way too far left. I like to stay in the middle and it’s not too far for people to travel to get to me.
The ‘least-worst candidate’ for the majority
NJ: In terms of pretty much all of our policies and to win the election, you need to be the least-worst candidate, not necessarily the best candidate, for the majority of the population.
MA: The least-worst candidate. I’m not sure how ambitious or how visionary that sounds but we’ll leave that one up to the voters. Can we just get on the record now whether or not you’ve ever been a member of a political party?
NJ: No, no, I’m not a member of one. I’ve never been a member of one or actively involved.
I have run as an Independent for the Tweed local council election last year. Look, I did okay, I got 535 votes, but that was below the line, I had no box above the line. No one could give a preference swap as those elections go and that was higher than most people get below the line for a very long time, wherever. So, I did all right, considering.
Richmond’s only ‘split ticket’ candidate: Nathan Jones hints at two how-to-vote cards
MA: You mentioned preferences. Have you made any preferences with any other of the nine candidates running for the seat of Richmond? Or do you intend to?
NJ: Yeah, so people can make up their own mind when they get in that lonely place, the ballot box. They have full power. I only have a suggestion, that I’m putting the other Independent David [Warth] as my second preference and then other Independent and minor parties, and put the major parties last. So, I’m probably gonna do a split ticket*.
If you really want to put The Greens over Labor and National, that’s fine and then on the other side, if you really want to put Independents first, and then the National Party [number] six or seven, then you put that and then Labor and Greens down the bottom.
I’m really trying to be Independent and not a front for one of the major parties. I don’t want to be seen as a fake independent in any way, shape, or form, I just want to be an Independent. I’d like a coalition of people from all walks of life, like some people who have traditionally voted Liberal, National, Greens or Labor, to vote for me first and then voters leave them second or wherever they want.
‘I could easily work with Albo and ScoMo too,’ says Jones
MA: One of the questions I have been putting to Independents like yourself, who are firstly advising voters to put major parties last, is whether or not you will be prepared, if you win the seat, to work with whichever major party is likely to win the election.
NJ: Absolutely, yeah, it’s a great responsibility to be elected as an MP and there are obviously a lot of variables, if that was to happen.
But yeah, I’d definitely offer confidence and supply to one of the major parties. It all just depends on if there’s other Independents that are elected, depends on a number of factors. But I could work easily with Albo and ScoMo too.
I can say, either way, the the main scenario for me would be, my key campaign is, federation reform. I think we need a big national convention, a serious one, looking at the biggest issue that affects us moving forward, which we can talk about in a sec. But basically, the one that looks like the most likely to take that seriously, because we haven’t had reform, decent reform, for a very long time.
Call for federal reform
MA: Well, I haven’t heard either of the major parties talk about federal reform, unless you want to get into, say, the likes of a federal independent commission against corruption, that’s possibly the only idea that I have heard put forward in terms of federal reform, oh and the Uluru Statement from the Heart, of course, so we’ve got the voice in parliament for Indigenous people.
So, two issues that I’ve heard of in terms of federal reform, maybe you’ve heard some others, and you can share that with us now. But what sort of conversations have you had with either someone from their Labor or the Liberal party when it comes to federal reform? And what is it that you think is so important about federal reform? I know that you think that there’s a bit of administrative waste, right? Three levels of government, but you put your hat in the ring for one of those levels, local. Now you’re putting it in the ring for the top level, which is the federal government. So is it the state governments that you want to see disbanded? What’s your vision?
NJ: Firstly, fully agree with a strong federal ICAC, I think most sensible people believe that it’s important and also the Indigenous statement of heart as well. That’s important reform.
But yeah, federation reform is very important and out of 1200 candidates for the House of Reps in Australia, I think I’m the only one pushing the hardest for federation reform. Ideally, yeah, we don’t really need the state government level, we could have national governments and strong local councils or regional councils.
But look, on that, I’m not after radical reform, this could start with the convention, start with the debate. Start with just the national driver’s license, for example, start with just one or two departments, where we just have so much administrative waste of $75 billion every year. Someone in Tweed Heads moves 30 meters from one apartment over to Coolangatta, that’s a new driver’s license and registration, it’s ridiculous. The public and the private costs have just multiplied and my economic modeling as an economist shows that in the 2030s, we’ll be wasting over $100 billion every year on this duplication in pure waste of administrative costs.
Sacking the states
NJ: Essentially, the main parties want to keep it going because at the end of each triangle or pyramid of every government department all over every level, all state level governments, there’s a Liberal, National, Labor person at the head of that and they don’t wanna lose their job, they care more about their own power, their own position, than they do about reform that benefits people, where we can get frontline services happening better, rather than money wasted in huge, duplicated departments.
The best example I can give is that the total population of South Australia, Tassie, ACT, Northern Territory, they all add up to less than the Gold Coast population and a bit over half of Brisbane. So essentially, four out of the eight state and territory levels of government, four out of eight is half, is supporting as small a population as that of Gold Coast and Brisbane. It’s just an absolute waste. Imagine someone standing up and saying, I’m the education minister of Coolangatta to Burleigh and someone else says, I’m the health minister of Yatla down to Miami Beach. It’s just an absolute waste having all this money and fixed costs and departments and we should use it so much better.
MA: Where do you get the figures, 75 billion that you’ve just mentioned, and then you said you’ve done some economic modeling of your own and you’re predicting wastage in admin costs of 100 billion by 2030, where do all those figures come from?
NJ: So I’ve done my master’s economics in research, and other people have done PhDs on the same topic too and I’ve done the modeling.
Essentially, if you add the fixed costs of all of the different state government departments and territories, there’s eight fixed costs for every single area of government.
If you only just have one of those fixed costs, one level of administration for Australia-wide, you don’t need the other seven for every single subsidiary, every government department.
So basically, seven times the fixed costs of every level, every area of government responsibility, seven times that adds up to $75 billion every year. I mean that was in 2018 dollars, obviously, with pay rises, for these have been public servants, it goes over by 3 billion every year. So, ten years to go, 30 billion, it’s over 100 billion every year wasted.
Independent predicts change of government
MA: Let’s have a talk about a couple of schemes, if you like, in Australia, that are the responsibility of the federal government. I’m going to mention aged care. We’ve had a Royal Commission into aged care, and the report is called Neglect. That does not reflect well on a scheme that falls under the responsibility of the federal government and we could also talk about climate change targets. So if we’re looking at climate change, most of the states and territories have made targets and put together policies, and funding, indeed, that is a lot more progressive in terms of net zero emissions targets than what the federal government has done. So if you’re looking at those two examples, couldn’t some turn around and say, well, state governments seem to be doing a better job there than the federal government, why would we want to get rid of state governments when the federal government’s not getting anywhere? What do you say to that?
NJ: Yeah, look, we’ve had a terrible federal government the last ten years in terms of climate change policy, and they’re got a bit more skin in the game when they want coal mines, because they’re getting the royalties and the company tax, whereas the state governments get very little from the coal mines. So it’s easy for the state government budgets to push harder, which is the right thing, what they’re doing.
But I think the next parliament, whatever shape or form it is, I think there’ll be enough Independents holding the balance of power, or the Labor-Green government, but there’ll be enough to basically push as hard as we ever have on the proper reforms for climate change.
And in terms of aged care, yes, it is the federal responsibility and rather than having $75 billion tied up in waste, we should put that money to get more aged care workers actually on the frontline.
The only time my wife and I, in fifteen years of marriage, have ever been yelling at the TV together, was when the aged care Royal Commission was announced and they’re saying all these wonderful figures, and then we all just look at each other and say, but where’re you gonna get all these nurses from when you pay them like twenty bucks an hour? Because my wife’s a nurse.
You have to pay the money to get people working in the sector so we can have the better care, and you can’t have more money and then pay, because a five dollar wage increase per hour is 5 billion per year to the federal budget. We’re already close to a trillion dollars in debt, 80 billion dollars in deficit every year. It’s growing. Where are we gonna get this extra 5 billion from, and all the other promises that everyone’s making in the campaign? The only way you can get it is through having more efficient public service administration, get rid of a lot of fixed costs and bring the money into the variable that actually fixes people. So frontline services.
Jones the Extra: ‘more green than The Greens, more Labor than Labor, more national than the Nationals’
MA: I want to ask you how it is that you consider yourself more green than The Greens, more Labor than Labor, yet more Nationals than the National Party.
NJ: In terms of the 2030 [emissions reductions] targets, I think the Nats are about 30% and Labor’s 43 and I think Greens are around the 70 and I’m pushing for the Climate Council’s goal of around 75%. So that number is higher than The Greens’ target and my biggest thing is, if you’ve ever heard anything of Saul Griffith? Electrify everything, that’s his remit, he’s a PhD, he’s a guy who’s worked overseas, got great ideas. Electrify everything. Solar panels, wind, pumped hydro can transform, and he even said The Greens aren’t going far enough, in his May podcast on ABC’s Big Ideas. If you follow his ideas, I think I’d actually go further in that area than The Greens and I’ll push as an Independent MP harder than anyone in that 151-seat parliament.
Labor is just so obsessed about, you know, having all these admin departments and they’ve got heads all over Australia of different departments and that’s so much money that could go into people who are the key constituents of the Labor Party. That’s the low-paid workers, the aged care nurses to childcare, and I can actually fund them responsibly without increasing our taxes or increasing our debt for future generations to pay more taxes. Labor’s got some great policies, great ideas, but I can actually fulfill them and pay for them responsibly.
The Nationals, I mean, they’ve got state water plans and don’t really have a national plan for anything, The Nationals should really call themselves The States and I think we need to just get rid of the waste. I think The Nationals should be more efficient, be less waste. I think the coalition, the last Nationals-Liberals [government] have lost their prize of being the best economic managers of money in the last little while and I would try to bring that back, I will try to push them harder to get rid of the waste, and I can show them exactly where it is.
Show us the money
MA: What makes you think that you would be a better representative for the people of the Richmond electorate, who have had Justine Elliot representing them for seventeen years now? She’s obviously managed to win their trust on six occasions. She’s won six elections, it’s no mean feat and I’ve noticed that on social media, one of her recurring campaign themes is, she says that she has managed to deliver on every promise that she has ever made. I haven’t fact checked whether or not that is true. But if it if it is true, then it’s a pretty bold achievement, isn’t it? What makes you think that you could do better?
NJ: Okay, yeah, I don’t have any truth to say yes or no, whether that fact-check is there. That said, she’s said she’s put in $2 billion towards the electorate. I’d like to see a breakdown of that costing over the last eighteen years she’s been in power because yeah, we pay about 3 billion a year in federal taxes, not state taxes or any other stamp duty taxes and property taxes, it’s just federal, 3 billion a year. Times that by eighteen. That’s 54 billion we’ve paid in tax and she’s claiming how good it is to get $2 billion over eighteen years of some sort of funding, I’m not sure what it is. I know there’s a park in Kingscliff that was federally funded.
There is a whole lot of, you know, weird, ‘we paid for this, we paid for that’, even though it’s state, federal, supposed to be separate responsibilities. Anyway, I’d like to see the numbers broken down on a spreadsheet and see for sure.
Justine Elliot accused of putting Labor before Richmond
NJ: But I think the best thing about an Independent is they’ll actually fight for this area. They don’t have to worry about Canberra or Sydney or Brisbane, head office leaders or faction leaders or party whips telling them how to vote and what to say and what to think. I think that in parliament, basically all the major parties, they just hand their vote in a big bag to the party leader and that’s it for three years. We don’t hear from them again. The other Independents down in Sydney, they call them docile sheep. They just follow the leader, they don’t actually engage in real democracy with the community, which is what we need and I would restore that.
The classic example where I think Justine has dropped the ball in the biggest way is that when the Labor leader of Queensland decided she’d shut the border, that was very popular in Queensland and helped her win the election. But it really hurt the people. With the Tweed, you couldn’t cross the street, it was just normal and Justine said nothing for two years, she didn’t fight like a lot of other people did to make it easier, local lanes of traffic. We spend millions of hours, cumulative hours as a community, going past Tweed across the border. They’re sitting there in traffic, Justine didn’t vote for us. She only fought to protect the reputation of Labor, the Queensland Premier, who was in Labor.
MA: Wasn’t Justine Elliot pushing to have a border bubble?**
NJ: A border bubble? That’s a good question. It didn’t really help because we had about seven or eight or nine different regime changes over time. It didn’t change the traffic gridlock. Sometimes we couldn’t go to Ballina and then cross the border. If I was the MP for this area, I would have actually said ‘what she’s doing is wrong’ and say why I would not protect the reputation of someone who may out-rank her as the premier of a state. I would speak on this for this area, fight for this area and I think that’s her biggest mistake in the last 18 years and I’ll let people decide if they agree with that or not.
* Nathan Jones has released two how-to-vote cards, exactly the same besides the order of two candidates: Mandy Nolan for The Greens and Kimberly Hone for the Nationals.
On his first how-to-vote card, Nathan Jones has preferenced Independents and minor parties before placing The Greens at number six and The Nationals at number seven.
On his second how-to-vote card, Nathan Jones has preferenced The Nationals at number six and The Greens at number seven.
Nathan Jones has put the One Nation Party last and the United Australia Party second last and Labor third last on both his how-to-vote cards.
** Justine Elliot had a public petition calling on the NSW premier for a border bubble between NSW and QLD, a states matter, during the pandemic.