There was not a great deal of wit displayed in the 2022 Federal election campaign, with the possible exception of Pauline Hanson’s cartoon series, which had its moments. One laugh-out-loud moment, though, came in a video from Wentworth Liberal Democrat candidate Daniel Lewkovitz, who interrogated a bunch of young participants in the School Strike 4 Climate held in May, while then pursuing his campaign against the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie of climate catastrophists, Allegra Spender and Dave Sharma.
Enjoying a teacher-sanctioned day off school, the uniformed and excitable kids milled around Sydney Town Hall with placards declaring “You’ll Die of Old Age. I’ll Die of Climate Change.” “Our future is In Your Hands” and “Clean Coal is a Dirty Lie!”. Lewkovitz was there and queried a bunch of kids about their voting intentions, to which they all responded “Greens”, naturally. He then asked one particularly animated youngster about his favourite subject, to which the reply was “Probably maths” Then Lewkovitz quicky threw out a simple sum “What’s nine times four?”. The boy confidently replied “57”. The video, which can be viewed via this link, ends with a simple statement on a black screen
‘Australia is ranked 39 out of 41 high and middle-income countries in education (source: UNICEF). Our children need education. Not indoctrination.’
I am sure those few who viewed this little exchange found it simultaneously hilarious and disturbing, and wished along with me that the young lad was compelled to complete his tuition in basic multiplication before being assuming free rein to change the world. It brought to mind a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” That would seem to apply doubly to future voters.
Sadly, without the campaign budget to promote his videos across social media platforms, the School Strike 4 Climate clip was probably only viewed by a few hundred at most. The same metrics no doubt applied for Lewkovitz’ campaign launch speech, which is probably the most inspirational I have heard from any politician in recent times. After a glowing introduction by Campbell Newman, Lewkovitz decided to ditch his prepared notes and deliver an off-the cuff address that ranged across a whole series of critical issues, beginning with the hypocrisy of Tesla-driving Eastern Suburbs residents finding it so very easy to ignore the fact that the cobalt used in their car batteries is mined by children in Central Africa.
“So, we’ve got people who are talking about integrity and ethics and the future of their children who can go to private schools in an electric car,” says Lewkovitz, “but they’re not talking about six-year-olds who are actually pulling this out of the ground in Africa.”
He rails against the fact that “we get the politicians we deserve, and we get the only ones who in many cases, not all, but in many cases, are exactly the people we don’t want running things because they never have run things. They never have built things. They have never fixed things. They have never explained things. But they’re telling every one of us what to do, what not to do, where to go, where not to go, how to run a business, who you have to hire, who you’re not allowed to fire, and what you can charge.”
He outlines the everyday frustration for those in business with the current situation in regard to taxation, industrial relations, strikes, lockdowns and closed borders.
“And in Wentworth, it frustrates the hell out of me that we have the ‘guilty rich’. These are people who are fabulously wealthy, and good luck to them — I don’t have any problem with that. But you know, they feel terrible about it. Once upon a time, people who were very wealthy maybe felt a bit guilty about it. They’d go and work at a soup kitchen, they’d give money, they’d be philanthropic. That’s how it used to be. Now it’s very different. Now they want to fix the whole world.”
Little kids in Africa aren’t the only ones the guilty rich of Wentworth are inclined to ignore.
“There are people working in Wentworth who get paid minimum wage and they drive an hour or sometimes two hours to go home at the end of that shift. And then the next day they get up at 4am, but not to go to Bondi for yoga sessions and to cleanse the toxins. They get up at 4am because that’s when work starts
“So, these people get paid next to nothing and the people in Wentworth are going to repay that by supporting policies that mean that these people, some of whom are working three jobs to put food on the table, are going to see the price of everything they pay in life go up.
“Meanwhile, someone who is fabulously wealthy in the Eastern Suburbs can drive their kid to a private school in an electric car — and that’s just not right. But it’s going to keep happening unless we have a major change in Canberra, and that means telling both major parties, who are indistinguishable from each other, ‘This is not right’.
Lewkovitz stood unsuccessfully for the Liberal Democrats, but his CV and background would once have made him the Liberal from Central Casting. A self-made businessman running a successful security business, Lewkovitz actually shares something of the origin story of his successful opponent, Allegra Spender, which I would later learn after inviting him to lunch.
One of the consequences of working for one of the minor parties is that campaigning becomes a very hands-on exercise, and Lewkovitz, while dealing with the daily challenges of running a medium-sized business as well as handling after-school activities for his kids, would then head out at night to climb a ladder and put up Corflutes. (After the campaign,his leftover signs went into a trailer and he personally drove them to a western Sydney processing plant where they were recycled into small plastic pellets.)
A policy inquiry sent via the Daniel Lewkovitz website didn’t end up with an automated AllegraBot-style response or get handled by a party staffer. It was Daniel who would be the one to reply. Following an email exchange about the LibDem policy platform, I suggested a lunch might provide a nice postscript to the Wentworth Diary entries posted here at Quadrant Online, and Daniel quickly agreed. Having concern for cultural niceties I asked him to suggest somewhere kosher perhaps, to which Daniel responded, “How about Beppi’s?” This was not the answer I was expecting, but welcome nonetheless, and shortly thereafter I was ensconced in one of Sydney’s finest and most venerable Italian restaurants, a Negroni sitting atop a pristine linen tablecloth.
Daniel was delayed, and when he arrived I rose to greet him. Unfortunately, my frame was not able to rise sufficiently high to meet him at eye level. Daniel is a very solidly built fellow, 6-foot-6 in oldspeak, and boasts a very firm handshake. It immediately became apparent that the intelligence and wit displayed in his campaign videos and satirical Corflutes (one of them at right) are a true reflection of his personality and we commenced an enjoyable lunch accompanied by a fine, chilled soave. I was keen to learn how somebody whose life and perspective so aligned with the traditions of the Liberal Party chose to shack up with the Liberal Democrats.
Daniel admits he was indeed a long-time member of the Liberal Party, although an inactive one who never attended a branch meeting. “I would be happy to be part of a Liberal Party that behaved as one would expect a Liberal Party to behave — a party of Robert Menzies,” he told me. “I listen to some of his old speeches and I get chills when he talks about socialism and taxes. But right now, not only are the two major parties indistinguishable from each other, the Liberal Party is doing fundamentally illiberal things.
“Once, years ago, every time the Bolshoi Ballet came to Sydney all the Jews would go to the Opera House and protest on behalf of the Russian Jews who were not permitted to leave the country, all the intellectuals, academics and scientists. The Soviets knew if they ever let them out they’d never come back, they would defect. They were refused permission to leave, they were the refuseniks.
“What people don’t realise is that for the two years of the pandemic, we were all refuseniks. Many didn’t notice because they weren’t planning a trip to Bali anyway. But there were people who needed to visit a loved one or mourn a bereavement, but instead of government telling us ‘Okay, please understand you might not be able to come back for over nine months, your call’ we were simply prevented from leaving. It was like that for us — just like North Korea. It was the Liberal Party that did that. And that’s when I decided this is just not good enough.”
The catch-all description of One Nation, United Australia and the Liberal Democrats as the ‘Freedom parties’ is a simple but effective means to dismiss them as a lunatic fringe. There is not much truck given in polite society for the freedoms that they seek to highlight: freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of thought. Generations of peace and stability in this country have delivered the chattering classes the ability to dismiss ‘freedom’ with a faint ennui. For someone like Daniel Lewkovitz, whose grandparents on both sides escaped the Holocaust, the threat of this ‘civilised’ nonchalance rings alarm bells.
His large hands made short work of dissecting a carpaccio entrée while telling me, “Mum’s dad arrived bearing the Auschwitz concentration camp tattoo on his arm. He could never speak about his experiences during his whole life. The only thing he did say to me was if all the trees in the world were paper and all the water in the sea ink, it wouldn’t be enough to write of what he witnessed.
“My maternal grandmother wrote a book of her wartime experience which I helped publish whilst a teenager,” he continued. “She posed as a Catholic girl for many years and hid from the Nazis amongst Polish population.” Daniel’s paternal grandfather was captured by the Russians while serving in the Polish army and taken to a gulag in Siberia. There he was put to work making greatcoats for the Russian army, learning some skills that would come in handy later in Australia. He met and married his wife in Buchara, Uzbekistan, where Daniel’s father was born. The family migrated to Sydney in 1948, where his sewing and tailoring skills melded with his wife’s eye for design and led the New Australian couple to start a clothing business in Surry Hills, home of the rag trade.
Like Allegra’s mother, Carla Zampatti, the new migrants were a hit, and their company soon became a successful medium-size manufacturer with 60 employees. Their son and grandson both attended Sydney Boys High, his father becoming a doctor and Daniel electing to pursue his interest in technology with an IT degree, after which he founded his security business, Calamity.
His technical skills were somewhat undervalued by his Greens opponents in Wentworth, who were caught on film by covertly mounted security cameras as they snuck in under what they felt was the safety of darkness to remove Daniel’s personally-mounted Corflutes. As he completed a somewhat surprising main course and he riffed on an old joke to assure me how “prawns are always kosher at a Chinese restaurant”, I asked him to list the three strongest policies of the Liberal Democrats.
He quickly answered:
“We were the only party that was seriously talking about nuclear power. The irony is that the Greens in Australia for their entire history have stood in the way of two of the greatest opportunities for low emissions generation, Hydro and nuclear. Unfortunately, those in Canberra and the media consider nuclear the other N-word that must never be said. So, we’re not even talking about it, and we have opportunistic people, my opponents, activists who were saying during the floods, “Look at all this rain. Do you know what will fix this? Windmills!”
“Taxation reform – we have too much tax and so much waste, the best example I can think of is in childcare where both parties get into a bidding war in terms of how much they will put into it rather than looking at why it is so expensive to run in the first place.
“Freedom of Speech. Now, I know that I might get banned from Twitter or LinkedIn for saying something unthinkable like ‘men can’t have babies’, but for most people, someone who just goes to work, comes home and talks around the dinner table, they don’t recognise that the freedom they may think they are used to is slipping away. Like all these things, you won’t notice it until its gone, and it is going.”
He acknowledges the overall failure of the so-called Freedom parties in the 2022 election and sees a variety of reasons.
“My party is full of very smart and politically astute people who have lengthy conversations about reforming the economy, about government and reducing red tape. But so many voters are low-information or disinterested. They see something like [the Teal slogan] ‘A Better Climate’ and think ‘that sounds nice’. Tony Abbott succeeded with a simple three-word slogan, “Stop the Boats”, whereas the LibDems have a two-page migration policy which nobody would have read.
“Also, I didn’t have the budget and I was a political outsider. The media is stuck on this two-party-preferred or, in my case, two-candidate preferred scenario, whereas there was nothing particularly special about Allegra Spender except that she had all this money.
“Sky News organised a debate between Dave Sharma and Allegra Spender, it was probably some of the most boring TV ever put to air. I have no doubt that if I had been there, it would have been as much fun as Trump v. Hillary, but I wasn’t invited,
“It’s been reported that Allegra spent about $1.7 million and we know what Clive Palmer spent, so I did some maths on it from a from a commercial point of view.
“If you take a look at it as a cost of customer acquisition, I cost about $9 to $10 per vote whereas, for Allegra, it was something like $80 to $90 a vote. United Australia Party probably paid about $60 a vote, and the Liberal Party paid about the same, which means that, dollar for dollar, I was the best- value candidate. Imagine what I could have done with a million dollars!”
Instead of spending the next six years on the crossbench with the other minor party MPs, Daniel says he will lick his wounds and go back to life as a businessman and parent. Will he front up again in 2025 for another crack at Wentworth or perhaps run in a state election? One suspects there is a fire in his belly that is unlikely to go out.
“People would often tell me I should get into politics, and I would say ‘absolutely not’. It was never on my bucket list up until when I had enough, and that’s when I thought ‘You know what? You can be part of the solution, or you can enjoy the problem’. And so I resigned from the Liberal Party.
“We need politicians, both male and female, with balls, with strength, who can stand for something.”
Over a final coffee at Beppi’s, Daniel tells me of one pleasant surprise on election night. A certain prominent Australian contacted him via an intermediary to ask if she could provide catering at the after-party held by his campaign team, someone who obviously appreciated his forthright but ultimately unsuccessful bid to represent Wentworth.
That offer from Gina Rinehart was gratefully accepted.
Walter Waverley is the pseudonym of a Wentworth resident who prefers anonymity to grief from his woke neighbours.