Next up in our Women in Politics series is high profile Greens Senator for South Australia, Sarah Hanson-Young. The Liberal Party have let it be known that the 31 year old Senator is in for the fight of her political life at the next Federal Election on September 7.
The first thing you notice about Senator Sarah Hanson-Young are her eyes. They are big and bright and blue with a distinctive fleck of brown in her right eye. It gives her a piercing gaze that catches you unexpectedly and fixes you to the spot.
I first notice them when asking about the upcoming election as the Senator turns those eyes on me and says, “Tony Abbott wants my seat.”
It would be wrong to say Sarah Hanson-Young is small, she’s just not tall. She gives off a quiet intensity and every movement seems decisive; when she walks, she leads, moving ahead with no hesitation.
That morning Hanson-Young was just one of hundreds taking part in the 2013 Walk A Mile In My Boots charity fundraiser for National Homeless Persons Week.
The event began very early on a cold Friday morning. So early that Adelaide was still getting up, shaking off that neon, night-time glow to the sound of diesel engines and reversing trucks.
Hundreds of people turned out to walk down Hutt Street to the parklands and Senator Hanson-Young was in the middle, flanked by her media advisor, Noah Schultz-Byard a big man in a grey suit and ex-regional ABC journalist.
“She wants it badly,” he had said me earlier as he worked to frame the 2013 Federal Election as one which will see Adelaide become a battleground for control of the Senate and place Sarah Hanson-Young in the crossfire.
In recent days major Australian news outlets from The Australian to the The Guardian Australia have been running analysis picking out Hanson-Young as the Senator most at risk of being de-seated on September 7.
It’s the kind of thing that has the Coalition smelling blood and excited over the idea that the South Australian Greens Senator may lose her seat to a Liberal, which could tip the balance of power in their favour.
To make sure it happens the Liberals have thrown considerable resources behind the staunchly conservative Senator Cory Bernardi in the hope that he can get the job done.
What this means is that Senator Sarah Hanson-Young once again finds herself staring down a bigger opponent in a fight that has implications beyond her own personal survival.
It is impossible to talk about Sarah Hanson-Young and not her six-year-old daughter, Kora.
“Everyone comes into this office knowing that Kora is very much apart of this,” she says as I notice the “I love you mummy” stickers on a cabinet.
Kora has been a constant presence in her mother’s work life since the day she was born.
That day was a few months before the 2007 federal election that would made Sarah Hanson-Young the youngest woman elected to Federal Parliament and even back then, Hanson-Young was doing press interviews from her hospital bed as the morphine still surged through her veins.
Later, in 2009, the pair sparked political controversy when they were kicked out of the Senate after Hanson-Young brought Kora to work.
“At the time it felt so awful,” she says.
“Some people were on talk-back radio saying this is why we shouldn’t have women in parliament or, if she’s a mum, why isn’t she at home looking after her kid.”
“But then there was this total outcry of support from parents around the country.”
Since then the pair have grown in the spotlight of Australian politics, which makes you wonder how hard it must be to explain to a six-year-old complex social issues like homelessness or marriage equality.
“You know, I got home late the other night,” the Senator says.
“So I went to Kora’s room and she said, ‘You’ve been really busy lately.’”
“Then she looked at me and said, ‘Have you fixed that thing so boys can marry boys?’ And it was heartbreaking.
“So I said, ‘No, not really,’ and told her I’ve been working to try and help refugee children and she said, ‘Refugee children? They’re the ones running from volcanoes and ogres.’
“I thought that was just wonderful.”
Sarah Hanson-Young has always been an outsider and an underdog in one way or another.
The child of hippy parents, she boarded with family friend’s to attend a 300-person high school in Oblast, a small regional Victorian town where logging was the primary source of employment and tensions simmered over the industry’s long-term survival.
Later she relocated to major in Anthropology at Adelaide University and ended up running for President of the Student Union in 2002.
At the time student politics was dominated by youth factions of the major parties and for anyone to make a challenge from outside the existing power structure was as radical as much as it was daring.
So daring that another student ended up pushing Hanson Young down a flight of stairs after a heated argument.
“I was like, pull yourself together, you better win this now,” she says.
“So I went out and I got more votes in those couple of days. I was so determined.”
Now 31, the Senator and her team face yet another difficult fight. And not a moment is wasted. Between appointments, Sarah Hanson-Young moves between desks in her small, seventh floor office overlooking Hindmarsh Square, as she coordinates her team with the same carefully measured authority with which you would raise a young child.
The room is filled with a mix of quiet determination and a mid-campaign, manic energy set against the Greens Party slogan posters, take-away coffee cups and Sky News playing in the background.
Everyone has been working since six in the morning and will probably keep going until about seven tonight, every night, until the ballot is cast.
Each believes, resolutely, that this campaign is bigger than they are and losing is not an option.
For more information visit the website: sarah-hanson-young.greensmps.org.au