The ACT Senate race for the next election has been blown wide open with Wallabies and Brumbies great David Pocock announcing he is to run as an independent candidate.
Long known for combining political activism with sport, Mr Pocock will vie for one of two ACT senate seats in 2022 on a platform of climate action, agricultural conservation, political integrity and social justice. The 33-year-old former flanker retired from competitive rugby last year after a 15-year professional career including being capped 83 times over 11 years with the Wallabies.
"Yeah, it's a huge challenge and it's an exciting one," Mr Pocock told The Canberra Times.
"It is something new, but I really feel like the time is right. I think we're realising that the current way of doing things isn't working and we actually need politicians who are accountable to their constituents."
Mr Pocock now joins another prominent independent ACT senate candidate, Professor Kim Rubenstein, and the Greens candidate Tjanara Goreng Goreng in trying to unseat Labor and Liberal incumbents, Katy Gallagher and Zed Seselja.
The Zimbabwe-born sportsman who came to Brisbane as a teenager and then moved to Canberra in 2012, says he is sorting out his dual citizenship in order to potentially sit in the Australian Parliament.
The aspirant politician has big name factor, particularly in the ACT with the Brumbies, but is no newcomer to taking a stand on social and environmental issues, such as homophobia and climate change. Some sportspeople have successfully transitioned to politics such as Zali Steggall and Glenn Lazarus, but there was also the spectacularly short political career of former footballer Mal Meninga. All 28 seconds back in 2001.
"That is my background. And I guess how a lot of people would know me," he said in a call from Zimbabwe.
"I guess one of the things I tried to do when I was playing rugby was use whatever platform I had to talk about issues that were really important to me, and I felt like I could add to the debate on and make a difference on. So, I hope people will see that and I guess I'm very aware that I don't want to just rest on sort of name recognition. I want to work on issues important to the community."
Frustrated by Australia's record on climate action, Mr Pocock joins the growing ranks of prominent climate-focused independents running for election in 2022. He has spoken to the Simon Holmes à Court backed climate funding group Climate 200, but he has revealed he is currently receiving "zero funding" from it or any other group.
"Yeah, it's early days and we'll see where that leads," he said.
Mr Pocock says he couldn't join a major party while they waste time and economic opportunity through climate inaction.
"Over the years I have heard rumours that I'm running for pretty much every party and I'm not running with the party because I want to be a voice for Canberra and the values of this community," he said. "I really care about the future we're creating.
"There's a real opportunity to have an independent in there who's not having to tow a party line who can actually stand up for Canberrans and really push for the ACT to have more territory rights."
Mr Pocock says he will champion a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament, a key recommendation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, while being an advocate for territory rights, equality and integrity.
He notes Australia is "facing a crisis of trust in politics" and he wants a federal independent commission against corruption delivered.
It will be a tough task to beat the major parties to one of the two ACT Senate seats up for grabs. The seats are fiercely contested, but the ACT has returned one Labor and one Liberal Senator at every election since 1975.
"I think there's a range of issues that are important to Canberra and that we currently aren't being represented on in the Senate," Mr Pocock said.
"Whether it's climate action and having someone who's ambitious, someone who's pushing for greater territory rights, leadership around ensuring that the Uluru statement is something that's being taken seriously and in this next term. I think there's a bunch of issues that we're currently we don't have two senators who are seriously adding to the debate around this and pushing for and showing leadership on it."
There is a concerted push to increase the territory's senate representation. Doubling the current number of ACT senate seats is part of Professor Rubenstein's platform.
The constitutional lawyer, academic and author is planning to run in the ACT under the banner of Kim4Canberra. Professor Rubenstein has the required 1500 members for party status that leads to "above the line" voting on Senate ballots, but the Australian Electoral Commission is still to processing her application.
"We're obviously in a moment where more and more people are saying, 'we need good people in politics', and it's exciting to see people like Kim Rubinstein putting her hand up," Mr Pocock said. "We need more people, not less getting involved in the political process.
"I'm excited that people in Canberra have real options outside of the political parties now. Obviously, I wish all of the candidates the best for it and we will look at ways we can work together and ensure that Canberrans will be better represented come the next election whenever that is."
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