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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A Green voice for the working class: Johnathan Davis’s first speech

The Greens are the party for the working class, and social and economic inequality is the most significant political issue we face, Johnathan Davis, the new Greens MLA for Brindabella, believes.

“The gap between the haves and the have-nots has never been wider,” Mr Davis, a real estate agent, said in his inaugural speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly last week. “The fact that there are people in our city who own multiple homes while so many people do not have a home at all is unacceptable.”

Mr Davis is the Greens spokesperson for Education, Health, Drug Harm Minimisation, Business, Night Time Economy, LGBTIQA+ Affairs, Sport and Recreation, Tourism and Events, and Young People. The youngest member of the Assembly has first-hand experience of many of these issues.

“I’m someone who grew up in public housing and struggled with my education in my primary years,” Mr Davis said.

Johnathan Davis MLA delivers his inaugural speech, watched by new fellow Green MLAs Andrew Braddock and Rebecca Vassarotti. Picture: ACT Legislative Assembly.

“I was one of those kids we often talk about in education policy who ‘fell through the cracks’. I’m a person who helped raise their siblings and provide care to someone close to me who struggled with drug dependency. I’m someone who in their lifetime has found himself homeless, and I know what it feels like to have experienced sexual assault.”

Mr Davis is gay; he has volunteered for the AIDS Action Council of the ACT (now known as Meridian) and Equal Love Canberra, and performed as a drag queen. He thanked Chief Minister Andrew Barr (also openly gay) for advocating for the rights of sexually and gender diverse Canberrans.

“There’s a lot more to me – and indeed to anyone of us – than we often give each other credit for,” Mr Davis said. “I am the sum of my diverse experiences, and those experiences inform my values.”

Mr Davis first became interested in politics when the Stanhope Labor majority government threatened to close 39 ACT public schools, including Kambah High, where he was school captain. He lobbied against then-Education Minister Barr, and worked with Liberal MLAs Brendan Smyth and Steve Pratt, whom he praised as models of parliamentarianism.

“My school community was the first place I ever felt truly safe, truly seen, and truly supported and celebrated for my full humanity,” he said.

“The idea that could be taken away from me was deeply personal. Throughout the course of the school closures campaign, I learnt of all the ways such a terrible policy impacted so many young people and their families.”

Mr Davis intends to be the Assembly’s “strongest and most passionate advocate for an accessible, equitable, and secular public education system”.

But Mr Davis left school before completing Year 12, seeking (like other working-class and lower middle-class people) economic security. He entered the real estate industry when he was 16, while he was homeless and surviving on Newstart.

“I saw little prospect for myself in school that wouldn’t trap me in a cycle of poverty,” Mr Davis said. “The so-called ‘poor man’s mentality’ led me straight into the workforce to avoid the debt that currently comes with higher education and precludes a significant number of our community from these opportunities.”

Mr Davis ran as a Greens candidate for Brindabella in 2012 (aged 20) and 2016. “It was often only the Greens who were ever really standing up for working-class people and those living in poverty,” Mr Davis said.

The global green movement, Mr Davis argued, is “a strong political response to global economic and wealth inequality propped up by the active destruction of our planet”. Unregulated capitalism, he continued, has allowed individuals and corporations to profit at the expense of everyday people and the planet.

“I want to make sure that the Greens share our just and equitable vision with the tradie with a Cert 4, the single mother living in public housing, the person who took a risk in small business, and the pensioner trying to maintain their independence. I want these people to know that the Greens are the party for them.”

Others in this series:

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