Stab Magazine | We Interviewed Rabbit Bartholomew About His Run For Office

We Interviewed Rabbit Bartholomew About His Run For Office

Here’s what he stands for. 

news // Aug 24, 2020
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

One week ago, Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, the 1978 World Surfing Champion, announced he was running for the seat of Burleigh for Queensland’s State government. The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, personally contacted Rabbit about running for the Labor Party for the seat and he happily obliged. 

While the correlation between politics and surfing often veers into conspiratorial theories and downright bizarre reasoning, Wayne’s affiliation is much more reasoned and pragmatic. Inspired by the Hawke-Keating government and Gough Whitlam before them, Wayne’s political beliefs are strong and can be summised as caring about the community on a local and national level.  

Four days into his campaign I spoke to Rabbit about why he chose to run, what his overarching political goals are, and regrettably forgot to ask whether he planned to ‘bust down the door of Aus Pol’ – a comment from last week’s article I’ve obviously now commandeered for the title. 

Politics may seem an odd place for a surfing World Champ, but Wayne has been politically engaged for decades, and has played a key role in getting the Gold Coast’s World Surfing Reserve acknowledgement. And a quick background check on many elected officials will reveal many possess qualities much-less suited to bureaucracy than Rabs.  

Stab: Rabbit! How’s things up there on the Goldy?

Wayne Bartholomew: Oh yeah pretty good, surf-wise its been a small week, but that’s good because I’ve been a little busy [laughs].

It sounds like it

It’s been pretty full on…

How did this all come about?

Some people have known I’ve had aspirations to serve in office in some capacity for years. The Premier and her leadership team believed that the seat of Burleigh was winnable with the right candidate, and decided I was that guy. 

It’s all happened pretty quickly [author’s note: there’s less than 12 weeks until the election] and there’s a steep learning curve on a myriad of things. Everyday so far my thinking and approach has evolved, which is a great thing. 

Were you involved in the Labor Party prior to this?

I go a fair way back, my first political hero was Gough Whitlam, followed by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.  

The Hawke-Keating partnership was unbelievable it opened Australia up to the world and we became a global player.

So from here you’ve been inspired to become actively involved?

Well, one of my first involvements was my part in a campaign against the GST (the goods and services tax) when it was first being discussed. That was a Labor initiative.

Funnily enough I actually got in a little bit of trouble for that. I was national coaching director for Surfing Australia, and they were obviously being funded by the government, and at that time it wasn’t a Labor Government [laughs]. 

I stood my ground though because that was something I was passionate about.

What are the main issues you’re currently concerned about, whether local or broader? 

Oh, there’s plenty. The world right now is not what it was. The pre-Covid world and the post-Covid world will be two different places. The approach we take is rapidly changing too. It would be impossible for anyone to accurately guess what it’s going to be like in a year’s time, or even six months. But overall, what I think is most important is the wellbeing of the citizens.

Health and happiness are the most integral parts of society. From there you can go forward and prosper, but you need to assure these fundamentals are met. This should be a core-value of any government.

In terms of alignment with Labor I want to look after the ‘little guy’. We need to help small businesses and start ups, particularly in recovering from this crisis. Coming out of these dark times we need to look for opportunities like new jobs, careers, and industries that didn’t exist before the pandemic, or are ‘new’ industries in general. 

In relation to the Gold Coast and my area, I take some inspiration from tech hubs like Silicon Valley. But rather than people sitting on bean bags or playing ping pong, people can reinvigorate going for a surf before work or their lunch break. 

It’s obviously a good environment for that on the Gold Coast.

For a generation our best and brightest from the Goldy have had to go to the ‘big smoke’ and that might return 20 years later or something, but we have the capability to change this. We can have universities here and the industry available that people don’t need to leave.

I guess ‘working from home’ plays a part in that too, something which has increased exponentially during the pandemic.

Yeah, if you’re in a job where that’s possible it’s great. 

The Gold Coast has over the last few decades been stigmatised as a place you go for a holiday or maybe where you go to party, but this isn’t all it is anymore. It’s transitioning. It has sporting roots, it is a business hub, all the while still being a tourist hot-spot. 

In relation to the pandemic, do you think it provides a platform for people to rethink the Gold Coast. Tourism for example is currently dead in the water, so does the Gold Coast need to shift its focus from an economic perspective. 

Our international borders won’t be open for quite some time – a conservative estimate is 12 months – so this is definitely a focus. 

We need to focus on local, particularly our residents health regarding the virus, and also assisting those in need whether financially or mental health during lockdowns. Perhaps in a few month’s Australians from other regions can start enjoying the Gold Coast again, but this is of course still up in the air. 

That’s right, people can hammer on about the ‘economy’ and being shut down, but it will suffer the same fate if we just let this virus run its course and open up the borders and ease restrictions. 

Another thing I’m passionate about, unsurprisingly, is sport. It is a much bigger part of society than is often acknowledged. It plays a large part in wellbeing. 

When you’re a kid playing sport, every kid dreams and has aspirations and whether you make it in the end or not doesn’t matter. It’s that you’re being healthy, having fun and enjoying yourself. We need to have sufficient greenspace, facilities, and amenities for this to happen though.

In addition, there’s also the financial barriers for many kids. Whether it’s signing up to your local soccer team for a few hundred dollars or going surfing, these activities are never really free. Perhaps this is something the government should be assisting more with. 

Absolutely. If the families are doing it tough then the kids don’t get to play the sport and they miss out. We need to make sure we’re there for them. Whether that’s assisting in getting them involved in sport or providing the facilities they need to play. 

One example – relevant to surfing – is getting the beaches recognised as World Surfing Reserves which I was heavily involved with along side Anna [the Premier] and her team. At the inception there was sort of an environmental soup of voices on the issue, sometimes not always on the same page, and we worked as to bring our concerns together so we could enact something meaningful. While there’s not concrete legislation yet, we’ve worked hard for the last 30 or 40 years to protect our headlands and have done a great job. 

While different approaches will be needed for different sports and activities, I want to bring forward changes which positively impact the community, like this, to the arts, music events, and cultural events in general to develop Burleigh in a non-obtrusive way. 

I’m pro-development, but I want appropriate development. We don’t want commercial buildings being built on our headlands, but I do want developments which will directly benefit the community like sporting and arts ammenities. 

There’s a multitude of issues and causes I’m passionate about, but these are just a few. 

What is your strategy over the next 12 weeks before the polls? Not to put a dampener on this, but there is a relatively large margin [note: the LNP holds the seat by 5%]. 

I understand that, it’s going to be an interesting campaign and election, but I’m going to have a crack! That’s all I can do. Right now I’m only four days in, and I’m learning every day, but I hope I can play a part in having this current government re-elected and benefit the local community. 


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