I Went Go-Karting With Sarah Hanson-Young

You might imagine the Greens Senator would approach the track with caution and anxiety about the fumes. Instead she just whipped my ass.

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23 June 2016, 12:00am

I begin the race on the back foot, crashing immediately into the barrier. The lights on the track are still on yellow but Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has already taken off. You'd think if anyone would be willing to wait for a green light, it'd be her.

We're at Ultra Fast Karts in Adelaide's west, because it's week fucking 70 of this campaign, and everybody's ready to blow off a little steam.

When Sarah and I got to the track, she told me it was her first time go-karting. But then we suit up, buckle in, and she screams off without me. I try to figure out if I'm being hustled—I'm 99 percent sure I'm being hustled.

I'm the only one on the track focused on driving like a responsible 80-year-old. I can't figure out how she's taking the corners so fast without rolling the kart. My plan is to claw back some dignity after the race by pointing out how environmentally unfriendly go-karting is, but even that fails. The track owner later tells me about the catalytic converters he's put in that reduce emissions by 70 percent.

After the first race I kick off the interview by asking the thing that's been bothering me for years: Why is conservation not fundamentally a conservative issue? Sarah thinks a moment and then tells me it's ultimately because of the short-sightedness and vested interests of the Liberal Party's ultra-right wing.

I point out it might not be so much about vested interests, as a disagreement over priorities.

VICE: You know that the conservatives care about business, and Labor cares about jobs. So if you come in and say we need to shut down the coal industry, they hear we're going to lose the business, we're going to lose the jobs . The Greens' idea of let's create a renewable plant in the same place is quite a recent one.

Sarah Hanson-Young: No one is suggesting that the entire coal industry has to shut down overnight, but what we are saying is why would we be expanding coal mining just to export more coal overseas that's going to get burned, making our job harder to tackle climate change and to tackle emissions.

For South Australia, we are in a jobs crisis right now. We have old manufacturing industries like the car industry—Holden and Mitsubishi—they are now things of the past. We desperately need to be investing in the new economy. Renewable energy for South Australia is the most logical place to do it. We're the sunniest state in the sunniest continent on Earth, we have amazing wind capacity.

The problem we have is that the energy grid is not as advanced as it could be, and that's why it is often hard for projects to get off the ground here. Just today we saw the comparison between the jobs employed in the coal industry in Queensland versus the jobs that are at risk because of the death of the Great Barrier Reef and the bleaching of coral. There's far more people employed in tourism in Queensland than in the coal industry.

In 2015, it was revealed that Sarah had been spied on—filmed and photographed by Wilson Security—during her inspection of detention centres on Nauru. Immigration minister Peter Dutton responded by calling her an "embarrassment to the country." I ask how she feels about this.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I don't think I'll get an apology, and I don't think I really want one. I don't think it would be a genuine apology because I don't believe it was ever about me. I believe it was about shutting down and intimidating people who wanted me to know the truth. It was about making the people who wanted to speak to me, who wanted their voices heard, who wanted the truth to get out, from being able to have that communication to me.

VICE: Why do you think they were so concerned about a government minister talking to people on the ground?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I think it's an indictment on how obsessed the Liberal Party is with the idea that any dissent in the ranks—any view that what's going on there is wrong—they want to intimidate, ridicule or shut down. And the sad thing about it is when I first went to Nauru, I was made aware of allegations around child abuse—women being sexually assaulted by the guards who work there, the pressure to exchange sexual favours to access longer showers and amenities.

Since then, that's been tested by the government's own independent review, the Moss Enquiry, and found out to be right. You'd think that at a time when we're spending millions of dollars on a royal commission into the abuse of children in religious organisations, that you'd want to have a good hard think about not making those same mistakes.

At this point we climb back into the karts for another race. I tell her I'd be willing to discuss a preference deal with any points scored as we go around the track. We fail to reach an agreement in time, but after the race we get stuck into this topic.

VICE: I don't understand why all the parties get so personally affronted when other parties make deals. It seems like such a pragmatic, strategic thing.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Let me say first up, I hate the whole preferences thing. I hate it. I think the idea that parties hand out these "How To Vote" cards, and this somehow gives us some bargaining power. My personal view is we should do away with "How To Vote" cards.

Another thing that's been frustrating for Greens voters and supporters this election is seeing the Labor Party get so hot under the collar about Greens running in some of their seats: Sydney, Batman, and a bunch of others. Getting affronted by the fact that the Greens are doing well in those seats and then trying to say that we're targeting them and not targeting the Liberal seats.

Well, actually, we have every right to stand in whatever seat we want. Then to see them do a deal with the Liberal Party, we just think, oh, yeah, pragmatic is one word for it. Hypocritical is another.

Back on the track, and our race comes to an end after about 15 laps. I suggest we call it a draw, but Sarah isn't having any of it. She lapped me, completely whipped my arse.

"That was fun!" she says cheerily. "We should make this a thing, racing another Senator."

"Who would be up for it?" her media advisor wonders.

"Ricky Muir?" I suggest.

They hand us a print-out of our race times as we leave the track. "By the way, Sarah," I say quietly, "I should point out that you won by passing me on the right." She laughs, my sledge that I thought so clever, deflected completely.

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