Dogs have been long lauded as man’s best friend, but in Canberra’s sometimes feverish political world one stands out as a veteran whose career has been longer than many a wannabe representative.
For a decade, Bruce the black Labrador (named with tongue firmly in cheek) has been accompanying her owner Steven Bailey on the campaign trail as he’s pounded the pavement as a passionate participant at every level of politics.
As Steven says, Bruce is no ordinary dog.
“She has ridden in the back of a Holden ute with Bob Katter, knocked on thousands of doors with me as the Secretary of the Australian Sex Party ACT, and given a helping hand/paw to Labor and other progressive candidates.
“She often visits people who are ill and/or in need of some special companionship for mental health reasons. She spends time with the homeless, and she is a great political unifier.
“She has sat with me during debates at the Albert Hall, and receives her own visitor’s pass at ABC studios.”
I can vouch for both of these events: when interviewing Steven on ABC Canberra Mornings, Bruce regularly assumed a comfortable position on my feet beneath the studio desk. She also made a memorable appearance at a Senate candidates’ debate I was hosting when she ran up the Albert Hall aisle through a full house and bounded on stage (I may have put Steven up to this beforehand …)
This Friday, Bruce (and Steven) will be hosting her 10th birthday party at Smith’s Alternative, and Bruce will be posing for photos with all comers. In fact, Steven believes it’s unlikely anyone will win a seat at the forthcoming Territory election unless they’ve had their photo taken with Bruce.
But beneath all this good cheer, there’s a slightly more serious message. Steven Bailey happily describes himself as a political junkie, who has contested no less than six elections at the Territory, State and Federal levels. He won’t be contesting this time but he’s worried that the electorate has never appeared less engaged.
“It’s easy to become despondent and apathetic when it comes to modern politics, but the truth is that we, the people, determine the nature of our politics whether we engage in it or not,” Steven says.
“It takes guts and intelligence to maintain one’s enthusiasm and rage. We face so many great ethical challenges in this century, and it’s all good and well for people to rant on social media, but if people can’t be bothered to understand how they are voting, then they are simply letting someone else determine the future.”
Steven says that throughout his political adventures with Bruce, they’ve met people from all walks of life. That’s also led him to believe there’s a need to teach politics more widely. He thinks politics is the great enabler for social change, despite all the muck.
Steven says he’s not out to tell anyone how to vote; rather, he wants us all to get engaged and think carefully about who we vote for and why. That’s a critical function of an effective democracy, and if it takes a very friendly labrador to make it happen, all the better.
“In past elections, I have hosted debates and Q&As in collaboration with Smith’s, but this time we’re shaking it up a little bit. I’d like to thank in advance Smith’s Alternative for hosting what will undoubtedly be the most seminal political event of the entire ACT campaign.”
Political candidates, the media, and the public are invited to Smith’s Alternative this Friday, 28 August at 7:30 pm to celebrate Bruce’s 10th birthday. People of all political persuasions are invited to this friendly event.
“Stories will be shared, music will be played, and drinks will be drunk. We hope to see you there,” says Steven.
Smith’s Alternative is at 76 Alinga Street in Civic.