“Adam Bandt looks like a Labor candidate and I look like a Greens candidate," Sophie Ismail said in an interview with The Ageafter her pre-selection for the seat of Melbourne last year.
Ismail - a gay, female immigrant - was making reference to the sitting Greens MP as a white, middle-class man.
In an unusual move, Labor preselected Ismail more than a year ago - well in advance of the election.
Born in England to an east African-born father and English mother, Ismail immigrated to Australia at the age of 11. She studied Arts and Law at the University of Queensland, and subsequently has worked on human rights and industrial relations law in unions, as well as the public and private sectors.
Ismail rose to prominence early in the election campaign when she voiced opposition to Labor’s support of the Coalition forcibly returning asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat.
In a Fairfax interview she said: “I have concerns about turn-backs, I don't think they should be on the table. When people arrive by boat, and 90% of them are genuine refugees, turning them back to places not signed up to the refugee convention is a problem."
Her honesty has made her one of a number of Labor candidates to come under fire from the Coalition, forcing Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to reaffirm the unity of the party. However Ismail has been resolute in her stance.
“Melbourne has a choice in 2016 between two progressive advocates,” she wrote on her Facebook page in response to the furor. “If Labor doesn't win, it's one more seat Labor has to win elsewhere and one less progressive voice inside the Labor caucus representing the views of Melbourne.”
Her position is likely to draw support in an electorate where opposition to Labor and Coalition asylum seeker policy is strong.
Ismail will also be hoping to capitalise on support from Melbourne’s gender and sexually diverse community. A representative voice for the community in the lower house would be welcomed by many, both within and outside of the electorate. Her support to have a treatment that combats the transmission of HIV and AIDS (PrEP) approved by Australian health authorities will also be a vote-winner among that community and beyond.
Ismail is a member of Labor’s Socialist Left faction, but the term ‘socialist’ sits uneasily with her. In a pre-selection candidate statement, when asked if she would describe herself as a socialist, she rejected the label.
“I describe myself as left wing. The challenge of the left, in the face of near universal acceptance of capitalism and an increasingly globalised economy, is to present a way forward which prevents the commodification of labour, the environment and our humanity generally, and which ensures that the financial system operates in service of the real economy. The creation of decent work for all in new, sustainable sectors is key.”
As a candidate, Ismail ticks many of the boxes that the progressive voters of Melbourne will be looking for. Her two biggest challenges will be fighting Bandt’s sizable public profile, and perceptions that the Labor Party cannot be changed from within.
Despite a number of requests by UniPollWatch for an interview with Sophie Ismail, we received no response.