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From books to politics: Q&A with ACT Greens candidate James Cruz

James Cruz is the second Senate candidate for The Greens, supporting its lead candidate, Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng, in the upcoming 2022 Federal Election.

As a librarian for over 10 years, James has seen first-hand how people can make a positive impact on the lives of others in the community. From his personal experience growing up in public housing, James is passionate about addressing in his campaign what he frames as the housing crisis.

I spoke with James about why he is running for Senate, his thoughts on JobSeeker, the Raise the Rate initiative, and payments to students.

A man standing on pavement in front of a green tree.

Q: First of all, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, James. Can you tell me what motivated you to run in this upcoming election?

A: I got involved with the Greens about a decade ago when I was starting university. I had a pretty hard upbringing – I grew up in public housing, and so there was a lot of poverty around my childhood, basically. I think that becoming aware that those situations are actually really political and unnecessary is what made me decide to get active with a party that wants to end homelessness, that holds one of its principles that everyone should have a house – that housing is a human right. And so I’ve been a candidate before, I stood for the Kingsford Smith electorate in Sydney’s east in 2019, and stood for State Government in NSW twice as well. The first time I ran was when I was 24.

I moved to the ACT because Sydney was just overwhelming. We’d just been through that first COVID-19 lockdown and I just decided that I wanted a change, I want to live somewhere calmer, somewhere close to nature. As a librarian, there were also a lot of libraries here as well. That brought me here during the ACT Territory election and I was able to get involved with the party quickly and volunteer a lot. I also got to meet a lot of my colleagues who I’m now running for parliament with.

Knowing that I had a long history in the Greens as well, engendered trust. As a result, being given the opportunity to be preselected to represent the party at this election was a huge honour. I’m just glad to be here and be able to talk to people about the issues that matter and have a genuinely positive future for this country.

Q: On your ACT Greens profile you have a quote saying: “I’m running for Senate because we drastically need to change the way politics is done in this country.” Can you talk about that and what it means to you?

A: I mean yeah, where to start with this one? We need to change how we relate to each other in this country, we need to think differently about the systems that we’ve been built into, or that we as humans have built, especially here. That process starts by having conversations with each other to determine what are the things we need to live a comfortable life? I think it starts with housing, food, education, health and just the ability to live comfortably.

I think being in a wealthy country, that is all really possible and it would make politics less elite. I mean politics in this country is so deeply rooted in elite institutions of people coming through very wealthy private schools, going to colleges which are very wealthy, then we’ve got those same people leading the country. We need to break that down because otherwise, we’re not going to get the things that we so desperately need to address, addressed.

Q: What do you see as the most pressing issues affecting students right now?

A: Well I mean, housing, wages and welfare allowances. I think those are huge things and not only that, but the added costs of education. The burdens that have increased under the Liberal Government, particularly when it comes to course fees and putting those onto HECS. The thing is, we’ve got an education system that’s geared around getting people into jobs. The value of education is not at the forefront of what we’ve got at the moment. We’ve seen that where publicly funded universities have their funding cut, public schools have their funding cut, Jobactive services are out there to compete with TAFE, and of course, we’ve got a skills shortage because of all of those things.

I really think for students today, that we need to address housing as well because it’s just getting worse and worse. This can start to improve with better welfare payments for those on JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance, and it also means that we need to think about how we can bring other services into the universal frame of mind. Simple things like bringing dental into Medicare, stuff like that, that actually helps people afford those things.

Q: Do you have any thoughts about student debt?

A: You might be aware, but the Greens is the only party that has launched our policy to abolish student debt. This is a huge one – we want to get rid of HECS and bring back the free education system that we had in this country. It’s completely possible and other countries have it. If that happens, we’ll be able to create a public education system that is suitable for everyone in this country, for all ages. Part of this is why we want to make childcare free as well; because we want to bring back this universality of education. The reasons why people seek out education isn’t just so they can get a job, we need to make sure we’ve got people who can pursue careers for the love of what they’re studying, and that’s just been eroded consistently in this country for decades now.

Q: People receiving JobSeeker Payment were at a much higher rate during the pandemic when they were receiving the Coronavirus Supplement. The rate now stands at around $46 per day, what are your thoughts on this?

I mean isn’t that tragic? This government gave people a taste of what it’s like to live with dignity, you know? I think that is a huge thing and a huge part of what it’s about. Because there were so many people that lost their jobs at the start of COVID that they couldn’t have this many people figuring out, or finding out that people lived in poverty on what was then known as Newstart. They needed us to make sure that people could keep the economy going. Well, what it really proved to us is that there’s no political or economic reason why JobSeeker needs to be below the poverty line, there was no reason except cruelty, that the Morrison Government cut the Coronavirus Supplement and plunged a million people back into poverty, no reason but cruelty. That’s why we need to make sure that it comes up to above the poverty rate, and at the moment that stands at $88 a day.

We need to make sure that these payments keep in line with inflation as it’s coming now. I think part of that now is thinking about a system that provides enough for anyone to survive, so I think we’ve got in our plan a guaranteed living wage. I think that is the next step, once we bring these payments up to a living rate, then why do they need to be so structured like that, where they can punish certain groups? I think that’s particularly been clear over how they use these payments, punishing particular groups by reducing them or excluding them from certain government programs.

Q: Do you have any comments on the recent $250 Cost of Living payment?

A: It’s just a little sugar rush, that’s always like what the budget is like before an election. A one-off $250 payment is gone in less than a week, it’s gone to pay off some bill that’s been sitting there for a month, it’s gone to just be able to afford food really. For many people, it’ll just be eaten up by their rent and I think that is complete bullshit.

Bonus question: As a librarian, do you have any go-to books you would recommend?

Photo by Luke Ross