By Elliot Williams

In the past few weeks you could have been forgiven for confusing Canberra for a different city.

There have been reports of crazed clowns roaming the streets, terrorising civilians. Allegations of corruption hang over the government like a bad smell.

Amidst all this, one concerned individual has taken it upon himself to traverse the city donning a black mask and cape.

Campaigning/Protecting the streets

Campaigning/Protecting the streets

 

However, where Batman prefers the cover of night to do his work, independent Ginninderra candidate Dr Kim Huynh could be found negotiating the early morning traffic on Barry Drive.

Riding his bike dressed as Batman was just one element of an election campaign that perhaps seemed crazy from the outside, but that reflected the exuberance, creativity and passion that Kim Huynh embodies.

****

 

Admittedly, when I began this project I held some preconceived ideas about independent candidates.

Perhaps because of their portrayal in the media, or maybe by just never looking closely enough, independents always struck me as political “crazies”.

That term is not used pejoratively. However, independents often run on obscure, niche platforms or promise policy reform that is simply undeliverable. Additionally, with such low likelihood of ever being elected, not only in the ACT but across Australia at both state and federal levels, you are left wondering: why bother?

Introducing the Batbike

Introducing the Batbike

 

“The difference between me and the other independents is I know I won’t win,” Huynh told me in our very first meeting.

“These other guys think they’re going to win!”

This conversation, which covered everything from light rail to the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, shattered every one of my ideas about independents. The following month spent shadowing Huynh on the campaign trail continued to transform those opinions.

Kim Huynh or Kimbo might seem crazy, but that is primarily why he out-polled every other independent in the election.

This is the story of the Go Kimbo 2016 campaign.

****

“I’m not the angry independent,” Huynh states plainly while peddling his stationary bike next to the

Peddle power

Peddle power

road.

While he’s highly critical of both major parties, describing both the recent Brendan Smyth scandal and

increase in public funding after elections as “sickening”, this is not his major motivation for running.

“I want to bring some positivity back to politics,” he says.

Huynh first seriously entertained the idea of running for election a year ago.

After more than a decade of lecturing in politics and international relations it was time to put theory into practice.

He reached out to colleague and eventual campaign manager, Tom Chen, and with his approval the Go Kimbo campaign was born.

When asked whether he thought the idea was crazy Chen responds simply, “Yeah, but I expected that from Kim.”

Chen, referred to as “the world’s most objective man”, is a former student of Huynh’s, as is the rest of his five-person team.

A major driving force behind the campaign was a desire to inspire his students.

No matter what he achieved, Huynh knew that by showing others what was possible he could have a greater influence on democracy than any individual campaign ever could.

He wants others to go out and out-do him, without feeling that a big budget is necessary.

“How’s that for an up yours to the major parties?”

The campaign does also have a very personal motivation behind it.

“I took long service leave from the ANU and I thought well where is the service?”

“Canberra saved my life,” he says with no sense of hyperbole.

“No other candidate can say that like I can.”

Huynh feels a strong sense of gratitude towards Canberra and its people.

It’s the city that welcomed him and his family when they sought refuge. It’s the place they could settle, seize opportunities and ultimately call home.

After serving the community through owning and operating Vietnamese bakeries and teaching thousands of students, he wanted to give back even more.

The whole campaign was self-funded, accepting financial assistance only from his brother Thach.

Had he been elected he would have donated half his salary to charity and the public funding he will receive for crossing the 4 per cent threshold will be shared among his team and charity.

****

 

“Our general strategy is to have a good time,” Huynh said of the approach he and the team have adopted.

“I’m not hard on them except to have fun with it and do our best.”

A sense of fun permeated the whole campaign, from the election material to team meetings dubbed Schnitzel Cabinet.

These weekly meetings were crucial to maintaining the energy of the campaign and developing new ways to spread the Go Kimbo message.

Schnitzel Cabinet

Schnitzel Cabinet at the Huynh household

 

“On Monday or Tuesday morning I’ll often feel like we’ve got no chance,” Huynh said.

“But come Tuesday night, meeting up with the team, picking up on their energy, getting their strategies and ideas and often mid-way through our meeting I’d feel like I’ve got a chance again.”

The meetings were always spirited affairs where every idea was debated to ensure each new policy or approach was in line with Huynh’s overall stance.

Moments such as Huynh describing the depths of his technical illiteracy by explaining how he accidentally blocked fellow independent Vijay Dubey from his own Facebook message board, provided the light hearted reprieve that the campaign tough slog required.

For all the cycling, Batman costumes and schnitzels, the campaign was not always fun.

The vast majority of the campaign saw Huynh alone in front of the computer researching and writing articles that were published on the RiotACT to convey his policies and opinions.

Nothing quite tested his resolve, though, like a candidate forum hosted by the University of the Third Age a few weeks out from the election.

It was an opportunity for Huynh to appear alongside some of the major party candidates and debate the big issues.

“You don’t get many chances to go up against the best other candidates as an independent,” he says.

“People don’t really want to know you.”

“I understand that, they want to know who’s going to win, who’s going to make the decisions that change their lives.”

“I was a bit complacent and I performed really poorly.”

Having spent hours riding in the rain earlier that day, Huynh was not properly prepared.

In fairness, not much could adequately prepare you to face somebody with a terminal illness who would like to know your stance on voluntary euthanasia.

“It almost drove me to tears in terms of my disappointment.”

“I won’t forget that ever.”

Moments like this highlight one of the inherent disadvantages facing an independent.

Where a party candidate has general party policy or principles to fall back on, independents must not only formulate their own stance, but be able to justify it and convey it effectively.

While the U3A forum was a difficult experience, it brought about a change in approach that helped Huynh get through the rest of the campaign.

“The campaign has helped me read myself better and know when to back off and what my limits are.”

With a greater appreciation for what he could achieve as a single candidate, he learned to prioritise events so he could give them proper attention. He also hit the books hard to get on top of all the policy issues that could crop up, even less mainstream ones like euthanasia and drug reform.

Throughout the rest of the campaign Huynh seemed approachable and confident in interactions with constituents. He wasn’t afraid to say ‘I don’t know’, but always promised to find out.

At an event speaking to residents of Calvary Retirement Village his past as an educator was evident.

He spurned campaigning too heavily, preferring to explain the issues and the major parties’ stance on each rather than sell himself, he clearly saw his role as an independent to help inform the discussion. Several times he pulled himself up for “sounding too negative.”

“You’re a breath of fresh air,” called one of the Calvary staff from the back of the room.

Huynh certainly did not conform to most people’s images of a political candidate.

Winning over fans at Calvary Retirement Home

Winning over fans at Calvary Retirement Home

 

****

 

Amazingly, considering his comments earlier in the campaign, as Election Day drew ever closer Huynh began to entertain the idea of winning.

The extraordinary number of independents running in Ginninderra, nine in total, made it numerically slightly more likely if preferences went the right way.

“But more importantly is the buzz that I sense from the community,” he said.

“The positive buzz that someone’s out there having a go, doing something different, giving people something to think about, giving people something to smile about, giving them something to believe in.”

Ultimately, Kim Huynh was not elected to the Legislative Assembly.

He was by far the most successful independent though.

He polled 5.2 per cent of first preference votes in Ginninderra, the next highest independent was Leigh Watson with 1.7 per cent of the vote.

However, the success of the Go Kimbo campaign cannot truly be captured by votes secured.

“We’ve given it our all, we’ve shaken up the parties, we’ve given people a sense of how to do things differently and how to do things better.”

So it was worth it?

“Totally,” Huynh says immediately.

“The troughs are massively low, way below basement low. But the peaks are amazing. Second only to having a kid, I’ve never done anything that’s just so thrilling.”

“I’ve never regretted it even for a second – even at the worst times.”

“Most days I’ve ended up pretty happy.”

****

 

The Go Kimbo 2016 campaign officially ended with a party at the Belconnen Tennis Club.

Future running mates?

Future running mates?

Family, friends and supporters gathered to celebrate the close of an interesting chapter in all their lives.

Dozens of children spread themselves across the tennis courts and shrieked in delight as they invented games and released more and more Go Kimbo balloons into the atmosphere.

Bright yellow shirts were on trend and heartfelt thanks and congratulations were shared.

The television was not turned on as results started streaming in, primarily because it didn’t work, but nobody seemed too fussed.

The campaign team: Ciara O'Brien, Duncan Stuart, Kimbo, Tom Chen, Nicky Lovegrove, Sumithri Venketasubramanian

The campaign team: Ciara O’Brien, Duncan Stuart, Kimbo, Tom Chen, Nicky Lovegrove, Sumithri Venketasubramanian

 

The crowd steadily headed home until it was just Kim and the campaign team left.

Together they shared stories, some re-heated sausages and plenty of laughter until the early hours of Sunday morning, all while Kim insisted on not hearing any results.

Not because he didn’t care about winning, it had just never been about winning.

He sat there understandably exhausted and deservedly proud, already knowing he had achieved what he had set out to.

“This is the start of something for me,” he said.

“And I’m really looking forward to where it goes.”

He’s already reserved the Twitter handle GoKimbo2020, “just in case.”

Tags: , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Getting Real About Illicit Drug Use at EDM Festivals

The electronic dance music (EDM) business, propelled by large scale music festivals, has grown to an estimated worth of $4.5 billion, […]

Risking his life for his health

Fares Yousef Ahmed is a 21-year-old student at Qatar University. He is slight, at 57kg, but he hasn’t always been. […]

Q&A With Rami Sultan

Meet Rami Sultan. His huge smile and positive outlook are the first thing you will notice. Rami grew up in […]

Laith Mofleh, Gaza Refugee Camp Volunteer

To Australian audiences, refugee success stories are usually framed by the generous efforts of Westerners in a foreign country. They travel to the country in […]

Walking the talk: it’s not over for Beki Smith

Beki Smith doing the hard training yards along Lake Burley Griffin Source: Instagram/Beki Smith By Rochelle Riley Beki Smith was ready […]

I Heard It Through The Grape Vine

Wine making, to wine connoisseurs, has always been known as an art form. The wine making industry has evolved from […]

A Buddhist life

Development of Quang Minh Temple over the Maribyrnong River, Melbourne. Source: DieantArt By Khoi Tung Ngo I am a Buddhist […]