Just across the iconic Coke sign on Darlinghurst Road in Sydney’s Kings Cross, Peter Madden is putting up posters. It is a precarious undertaking. Madden is holding a rickety ladder as his helper puts up a sign declaring Madden’s candidature for the seat of Sydney. He’s running for Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party against Clover Moore, two out gay candidates, Liberal Adrian Bartels and Sacha Blumen of the ALP and the Greens’ DeBrierley Newton.
He’s not making much of an impression in the neighbourhood. As Madden passes posters up to his helper, a couple walk past and yell "Peter Madden is a f*cking homophobe". Someone else chimes in, "Get out of Darlinghurst". It seems like a good moment to approach him for an interview.
"I get a lot of hate mail," Madden tells New Matilda. And no wonder. According to Madden, Mardi Gras is a recruiting ground for the gay community. He argues that the parade should be moved off Oxford Street and into a stadium to protect children. Of course, this kind of thing is nothing new, Fred Nile, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party has been offering similar soundbites for years. Madden dismisses the Greens as "watermelons" and a front for the "homosexual lobby" and terms Clover Moore as "hyper-tolerant".
Madden tells New Matilda that Christian conservatives in Sydney are being neglected. "In Sydney, there is no moral candidate, there is nobody who will support Christian morality," he says, claiming that 60 per cent of voters in the seat "identify" as Christian. On the face of things, however, it doesn’t look like many Sydney voters are perturbed by having to choose between gay candidates and gay-friendly candidates. The Christian Democrats didn’t even bother to run a candidate in the seat in 2007.
In 2007, Moore held the seat by a very comfortable margin. She won 39.6 per cent of the primary vote and on two party preferred, she romped it in over Labor candidate Linda Scott with 66.6 per cent of the vote. The next in line on the primary vote were reasonably evenly split: Liberal Edward Mandia got 21.6 per cent, Scott 20.0 and the Greens’ Chris Harris 15.6 per cent. Even though Moore’s popularity has waned as she’s juggled a big workload as a state MP and Lord Mayor of Sydney, it will be difficult to unseat her.
The candidate most likely to suffer from Madden’s presence on the ticket is the Liberal Adrian Bartels — even as he is set to benefit from a swing to the Libs and against Clover Moore. He has explicitly and repeatedly refuted Madden’s attacks on Mardi Gras and the gay community, for example in this opinion piece in Samesame.com.au. The Liberal Party has done a preference deal with the Christian Democrats across NSW — but Sydney is one of the exceptions to this deal. Bartels is not directing preferences to Madden and will receive none from him in return. In other words, if the conservative vote is split, there won’t be any preference deals to stitch it back together.
So why is Madden even bothering? Madden said he ran on the request of Fred Nile after the success of a YouTube video calling for a stand for righteousness. It’s hard, however, to see Madden’s candidature as anything to do with the seat of Sydney — or the lower house for that matter. It doesn’t ring true when he tells New Matilda that he’s spent most of his campaign communicating with the homosexual community — at the expense of the conservative majority.
For a candidate who is unlikely to make any ripples at all on 26 March, Madden has attracted an enormous amount of media attention. Indeed, his reach is entirely disproportionate to the votes he is likely to earn. He might be wheeled out as an archaic novelty on Triple J and as a reminder of the ugliness of homophobia in inner city media outlets but he’s spending far more of his time talking about the moral decline of the inner city.
Both Blumen and Bartels observe to New Matilda that for someone who is running for an inner city seat, Madden doesn’t seem to like the neighbourhood very much. The announcement of his candidature got a full page splash in the Daily Telegraph. When he’s talking to 2GB about his Stance For Moral Righteousness, when he’s talking to Kerri-Anne Kennerly about same-sex marriage, he’s not reaching out to the voters of Sydney, he’s preaching to potential Christian Democrats voters across Sydney. And those votes will matter not in the lower house, but in the upper house.
This is why to dismiss Madden as a hate-mongerer with no chance in Sydney is to miss the point. In fact, the seat of Sydney is very effective rhetorical shorthand for all that’s wrong with the state, according to the Christian Democrats: gay people, prostitution, safe injecting rooms, abortion, Clover Moore. As Bartels tells New Matilda, "there’s room for everybody in the seat of Sydney, and that’s something I don’t think Peter Madden understands."
When asked whether his focus on moral issues had distracted from other campaign-worthy issues, he thought for a moment, and said no. "I stand on the moral issues because I believe they are the most important fundamental issues. If we bankrupt our society morally for economic reasons, we leave our childen with money but no future. I believe I’ve been the catalyst in bringing them to the forefront in Sydney and I believe they’re the most important issues." In running for Sydney, Madden is aiming for the belly of the beast. Madden and the CDP have run an expensive campaign — even for a seat which Nile told the Telegraph was "the most critical state seat in our mind" thanks to "all the social and moral problems that we’ve seen in the Underbelly TV series". If the CDP manages to win back the upper house seat it lost to Family First’s Gordon Moyes last time around it will be in a strong position to negotiate with an incoming Coalition government.
Madden gives short shrift to Barry O’Farrell who he terms a "weak leader". "There are some strong Christian moral people still in the Liberal Party and I think Barry is going to have a fight on his hands," he says. Madden tells New Matilda that, if elected, gay MPs in the Liberal Party may affect the way Fred Nile negotiates with the party. The Liberals have run a disciplined campaign thus far but the tension points within the NSW party are well documented. If the Christian Democrats, along with the Shooters Party, hold the balance of power in the upper house, Nile’s influence will increase. And even if Madden gets nowhere in his pitch for Sydney, that influence will certainly be felt in the inner city.
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