While campaigning in South Brisbane during the Queensland Election, Dr John Jiggens encountered the nasty side of political trolling.
ELECTION DAY in Queensland this year was 31 October — Halloween. As I prepared to head off to the polling booth for my final bite of the democracy sausage, I wondered what the day would bring. Would it be trick or treat?
As it turned out, it was neither.
Instead, I drew the troll.
I first noticed the troll from a distance as I put out my corflutes with their striking cannabis leaf design at the West End Primary School. He was standing at the entrance to the polling booth where the candidates and their supporters were giving out how-to-vote cards, displaying a large and offensive anti-abortion sign that read ‘abort Trad’.
Queensland only decriminalised abortion in 2018 through the Termination of Pregnancy Bill. Jackie Trad, who was Deputy Premier when the Bill was passed, was unashamedly pro-choice and was an important champion for the Bill. She argued that abortion should be treated as a health issue, not by police and laws, which is a sensible policy for abortion and would be sensible policy for cannabis, too, in my opinion. On the other hand, Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop, Mark Coleridge, likened the bill to Nazi Germany.
The payback came in the 2020 Election when an anonymous right-to-life group distributed leaflets in the South Brisbane electorate that compared local member Jackie Trad and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to Nazi death camp guards and claimed they rejoiced to see unwanted babies thrown in the garbage bin. These leaflets asked rhetorically: ‘If they murder the children now, the elderly tomorrow, how do you know you will not be next?’
These hate-filled trolls also smeared me and my campaign for the legalisation of cannabis. The troll carrying the ‘abort Trad’ sign was wearing a cape with a cannabis leaf on it and he had put another cannabis leaf at the bottom of his poster. Because of the cannabis leaf, many naturally thought he was associated with the H.E.M.P. Party, who have used the cannabis leaf as its symbol in West End for 27 years and with my campaign. Some even thought the troll was me — what a sickening insult.
One man who thought the troll represented the H.E.M.P. Party and was disgusted by the treatment of Jackie Trad was John, a Big Issue seller.
When I informed him that the troll did not represent H.E.M.P., he began pointing at the troll and addressing everyone within earshot:
I mistook this man for a representative of the Cannabis party, which he isn’t. He is also slandering Jackie Trad who is for women’s rights. He has no right to speak on behalf of women’s rights. He’s a man. Do not let him confuse you. If Jackie is pro-women's rights, I support that. Avoid this man, he is using false and misleading advertising and saying abortion is murder. Bullshit! Abortion is a woman’s right!
I found the situation extremely shameful. It was terrible to see the lovely cannabis leaf so defiled by being associated with this ugly insult to a person so many of the South Brisbane community respect and love, one who has suffered being pilloried over many years by the Murdoch empire, who own all the newspapers in Queensland.
My campaign was grossly defamed by this troll and by the decision of the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) to allow him into the polling grounds at West End Primary.
I confronted the troll, but then Jackie Trad, who the troll had positioned himself within eyesight of, came over and asked me quietly to step back. I explained the outrage I felt by his gratuitous misuse of the cannabis leaf to insult her and she replied: “How do you think I feel? I put up with this all the time.”
The troll had also positioned himself in from of a Sky News cameraman, so I realised the optics could turn ugly.
I agreed not to make a scene and decided it would be best if I left. My corflutes displayed a large cannabis leaf and the troll was cowardly sheltering behind the same symbol, so naturally everyone would associate me with this despicable creep and his hateful sign and loathe me.
I decided to find another polling booth and leave West End Primary to the troll, so I picked up my corflutes and walked across the oval. But by the time I reached the gate, I had decided that I could not allow this troll to so dishonour the cannabis leaf. After all, I was a candidate in the Election; I had paid my fee and campaigned over several weeks, whereas this creep was just a troll.
Surely as a candidate, I had my rights. I would go to the ECQ and ask them to explain why they had let this troll loose in the West End school ground.
At the West End office of the ECQ, I spoke to Gaysley Hagan and explained the problem that the troll created for me: he had appropriated the cannabis leaf that has been the symbol of H.E.M.P. in West End since 1993, gratuitously associated it with his vile Jackie Trad trolling and in doing so, associated my candidature with despicable little him.
People hated him, with his top hat and his crude cannabis cape, but most of all for that ugly ‘abort Trad’ sign. The ALP had already complained about that and I wanted to find out why the ECQ had allowed it.
Ms Hagan was polite and attentive and this is a criticism of the ECQ rules, not her. According to Ms Hagan, under the ECQ’s new sign laws, third parties have equal rights with candidates to display signs. As long as the signs were authorised with a name and an address, they were lawful. All it needed was the troll’s name and address and the words “authorised by”, which it did and they had no objection.
I spoke about how offensive the sign was and Ms Hagan replied: “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to take any priority this year whether they are offending people.”
My other concern was the gratuitous misuse of the cannabis leaf, the symbol of H.E.M.P., which had disastrous consequences for me as a candidate for South Brisbane because my corflutes, via the cannabis leaf, associated me with the troll. The troll misrepresented me, he misrepresented H.E.M.P. and he dishonoured the symbol. He brought such disgrace to the cannabis leaf that I would not put out my corflutes.
I wanted him removed.
This complaint, too, was dismissed on the grounds that the hemp leaf wasn’t a trademark.
Going home, I consoled myself with the thought that at least Jackie Trad and Labor knew I was offended, too, but that was little consolation and there was no doubt who had won.
It was the day of the troll.
While the Queensland Labor Government was returned with an increased majority, Jackie Trad’s South Brisbane seat went to the Greens' Amy MacMahon, which was not unexpected. With Jonathan Sri as the local councillor and Amy MacMahon now the state member, the Greens have established a strongpoint in South Brisbane. However, it was the Greens' only gain, even with the LNP preferencing them over Labor sitting members.
The sub-editors of Murdoch’s Sunday Mail celebrated Trad’s defeat with headlines such as ‘Hit the road, Jack’ and the Shaun Micallef worthy, ‘Voters say they really have Trad enough’. No doubt they will find some other decent human being to beat up.
Congratulations to Amy MacMahon for her victory. Farewell and best wishes to Jackie Trad, Deputy Premier and Treasurer (2015-2020), member for South Brisbane (2012-2020).
This is Dr John Jiggens, courageously taste-testing for your edification the sometimes-disgusting ingredients that constitute Queensland’s democracy sausage.
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