With the Federal Election looming, Woroni sat down with David Pocock, former Wallabies player and Independent Candidate for the ACT Senate. We asked David about his motivation in running, his thoughts on climate policy, how rugby impacts his politics, amongst other issues.

Woroni: What motivates you to run for the senate seat of ACT??

David Pocock: Like so many Australians watching politics, you just get more and more frustrated. My view is you can either get cynical … and [think]… “I can’t do anything,” or you can engage in whatever way you can and actually play your little part in trying to change things.  

I grew up in Zimbabwe and… witnessed politics just kind of go out of control. I feel so grateful to be here in Australia, [because] it’s such a good democracy. But it’s clearly not working for everyone, some serious issues need to be addressed.

It got to the point where I felt like I’d been asked by a bunch of people in the community to actually run for the Senate. There’s a viable pathway and I thought, well, if people want me to do that then I can  be part of playing some small part in changing that and hopefully making our democracy better.

W: What informed your decision to run as an independent? 

DP: I really don’t have any desire to tow a party line. I feel like there’s so many [people going into] politics with certain ideals or to go in to represent their community on certain issues. But [when] you join a party, you’re signing up to that party. And we see it all the time, politicians having to like blatantly lie on stuff you know they don’t believe in, but has been like message tested to death, workshopped by parties and they think, “okay, this is what will get us to win the next election,” rather than actually saying, “well, what’s important to our communities? Let’s deal with that.”

And then like actually leading, looking forward and saying, well, what are the big issues that are coming? How can we proactively lead on them so they don’t become these big issues?  It’s crazy to me that we have to have like young people, school kids marching on the streets saying you need to look after our future.

Then [there is] the government fighting a court ruling that says they have a duty of care to future generations. If the government doesn’t have a duty of care for future generations, who are they actually governing for? I see that as a huge problem where politics has become less about … actually serving people and more about these big party machines that are just so focused on power and winning the next election at all costs.

And so I think as an independent, you actually have a chance to do things differently, truly represent your community. If people vote for you, you’re accountable to them, and if they don’t like you, they’ll vote you out. 

W: We are seeing a lot of independents running in the upcoming election, including in Canberra. What would you say differentiates yourself from other independent and progressive candidates? 

DP: Just one of the things I really want to do is give people from both sides of politics a choice, like a more sensible centrist approach that actually acknowledges like, “yeah, we’ve got lots of disagreements on how things should be or how things should be done.” But at the end of the day, we have got so much more in common and I think it’s when you actually emphasise that and keep that in mind that we can actually do things.

I guess I’ve got a track record on climate leadership and really want to be part of solutions on that. We’ve seen independents like Zali, Helen Haines, and Cathy McGowan actually do that…Sure, at the moment we maybe don’t have enough independents to actually break that stalemate with the major parties, but I think it’s going to happen. 

There’s a lot of people who are deeply disappointed and frustrated about the way things are. 

W: Your platform has a strong emphasis on climate action.  What policies will you be advocating for? 

DP: We’re busy working on that and we’ll launch a more detailed platform. But the big thing for me is that it’s one thing to talk about climate action, we all want it, but how’s that actually going to affect my pocket, my cost of living? The exciting thing in Australia is we’re now at the point where we can actually have things in place to provide lower [or] zero- interest  finance to households. [In doing so,] they can electrify almost everything in their home and reduce their bills by up to $5,000 a year, which should be happening … we’re the luckiest country in the world when it comes to renewable resources, and yet we’re being left behind. 

And in terms of deciding to run, one of the things that was a deciding factor was going up to COP [the UN Climate Change Conference] last year in Glasgow… and just seeing how out of step we are with not only the international community, but like our closest trading partners and we’re being left behind. Politicians love to sell “we’re a small country … we don’t have much influence or that kind of stuff,” but we know that isn’t true. From having played sport for Australia, you come from a small country, but you [are] punching well above your weight on the world stage.

We can be doing that on climate. It’s in all our interests. So for me, climate policy is using government to actually provide certainty and opportunities for everyday Australians to benefit from good climate policy.  

W: As a follow-up question, when do you think Australia will reach net zero , emission wise?.

DP: With the current government, in a very long time. Having said that, I think this is the frustrating thing with politics, right? Is that  the government yet again is years behind business and people. We’ve seen it on all these important issues where [the] government drags their heels. And this has serious implications for our future, obviously in terms of climate breakdown and the kind of future we’ll be living with.

But secondly, [with] the economy. We can get out in front and we can be developing all the tech and products that people want: green steel, green hydrogen exporting renewable energy, all these things. Or we can sit back, let the rest of the world do that and then be left behind, 

W: You’ve obviously been talking about climate policy, which has a big impact on young people. What do you see as the other really pressing issues impacting students and how do you propose we tackle them in Parliament?

DP: Talking to young people, climate’s obviously big on integrity. We’re seeing politicians do stuff that in any other workplace or environment, you’re … out the door. That doesn’t seem to be changing.

[Another issue is]… Housing affordability and just cost of living. We’re seeing uni degrees go up, average wages have stagnated … We’ve got potentially interest rates going up, which is just going to get passed along to renters.

Something we’ve got [to] take seriously is how young people [can] actually get into the housing market and how do they actually live good lives, study, and set themselves up for life. At the moment that’s not happening. No one’s actually taking that seriously. And there’s models all over the world of ways you can actually do that and deal with these big problems.

It’s not only in Australia where this is an issue and there’s other countries taking action. 

W: Are there any international examples that you see as a model for what we should be doing in Australia? 

DP: So even in Australia, there’s some really cool examples. There’s a building company called Nightingale … where they’ve capped the profit that they can make at like 15 percent. They have a lottery [where] people can enter the lottery to buy a place. If they then want to sell it, it has to actually go to anyone else who was on the list and missed out. There [are] some really cool, innovative ways of [regulating the housing market]. Then, there’s obviously … levies or taxes on vacant properties … [It is] a big issue [when] people are just buying investment properties and not using them. 

W: In the last weeks we saw the religious discrimination bill be debated in Parliament. What’s your take on that bill?

DP: I mean, I don’t think that anyone should be discriminated [against] based on who they are, where they’re from, their sexual orientation. I just thought it was really unnecessary and really divisive. And I think it’s yet again, an example of how out of touch the government is on issues. [When it comes to] marriage equality, [an] overwhelming [number of] Australians said, “okay, yeah, we actually want this.” And so rather than actually getting on with it and just making it happen, they dragged us through this awful plebiscite process that brings out all this division. I feel like it’s the same with this really unnecessary process of trying to ram through this policy, that I think was deeply flawed. And then ultimately it was just shelved. 

But the impact that has on people who are in like really vulnerable groups, if you look at mental health, for groups that are really affected by that bill, we should be reaching out to them and actually looking after them.

W: What does securing greater territory rights for the act look like for you? 

DP: At the moment as a territory, we don’t actually have the right to legislate on things like euthanasia. In Canberra, about 80 percent of people think that euthanasia should be an option for people who are dying awful deaths. We just don’t have that right as a territory, and I think that’s something that we should have. 

We’ve currently got a Liberal senator who argues against territory rights when 80 percent of the people who are in his territory want it. I don’t think that’s a good thing. That doesn’t actually reflect … [our] community.

For me, a lot of that is around human dignity, having seen a grandparent die a pretty awful death. I’m sure if he had that opportunity [he] probably would’ve taken it and there’s all these safeguards and checks and balances put in place to make sure it’s not abused. But really, it’s just having a kinder society. 

From when the territory rights stuff was set up, Canberra’s come a long way. We’ve only got two senators, not 12, so we need both of them really pushing for Canberra. 

W: You’ve been involved in some climate activist stunts in your time. Could you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to in that regard? 

DP: I’ve publicly been talking about climate actions since around 2011, when I was playing rugby … and we haven’t seen action. And then in 2014, got involved with [and] had some mates really involved in the Leard Blockade, up near Narrabri-Gunnedah and they were building a coal mine in the middle of a critically endangered forest in the middle of our best farmland in Australia.

It was just insane. Having grown up on a farm, I know what it’s like to feel like your concerns aren’t valid or being taken seriously… I just decided you can say all this stuff, but at some point you gotta put your money where your mouth is and actually take a stand..

We stopped work for a day, [but] in the end, the mine went ahead. But I guess it’s those moments where you have to decide “this is something I believe in, I’m going to put my reputation and everything on the line.” And in the end, a few hundred people got arrested there and that mine went ahead, but another one just up the road just got cancelled last year.

And I think it helped shift some of the thinking about just how inappropriate some of the new coal mines are …That’s kind of why I got involved…It felt right at the time…Now we’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we don’t actually accelerate climate action.

W: And I have a question that regards your former rugby career. So how did that career inform your approach on politics now?

DP: Good question. One of the things I loved about rugby was that you’re in this team and spending so much time with a group of 35, 40 people from all sorts of different backgrounds, different religious beliefs, different politics. You quickly realise that whilst you don’t agree on things, like it’s very hard to hate people up close when you actually spend time with people it breaks down all those preconceived ideas of people that you can usually say, “oh, they’re not like me,” or “they’re not like us.” 

When you spend time with them, you realise, “hang on, well, we’re all human here. We all want similar things”… It’s something I loved. 

And I feel like as Australians, something we don’t do enough is acknowledge just how great the diversity is here, and that actually makes us really special. Instead, we’re politicising everything. I mean, even in the last week or two, politicising national security, like it’s insane. Insane for a government to be doing that. 

W: I noticed from your Instagram presence you’re quite an outdoorsy person, what’s your favourite place to go walking or hiking in the ACT?

DP: If I can get down to the Murrumbidgee, [it’s] probably my favourite. Or there’s a few spots in the Namadgi as well. I think we ‘re so spoiled here. Everyone’s kind of 10, 15 minutes from somewhere.

W: What’s your favourite pub or bar club?

DP: I’m a sucker for coffee at Barrio in Lonsdale street, but then I’ve got a mate who owns part of The Dock in Kingston. It’s a bit of a trek from here. I dunno, there’s so many great little spots. Bar Rochford’s really cool. We live not far. 

W: Yeah. Well, I know a lot of other politicians get spotted at Assembly. So maybe if you get elected, you’ll have to show up there every now and then! 

This article forms part of Woroni’s ongoing election coverage. Interviews with other candidates will be published over the coming weeks.