As a child Samantha Jenkinson hoped to become a diplomat or a high-profile journalist. A car accident a few years later, in her adolescence, shattered those dreams and left her with a broken spine. She wouldn’t ever walk again. Nevertheless, Jenkinson now sees having a severe disability as no obstacle as she stands as a candidate for the senate.
She was volunteering for her university as one of the orientation camp coordinators for new students, when driving to get supplies the van hit a tree. The crash left her unable to do many basic life tasks that you or I would take for granted; cleaning, cooking, and walking to the shops, even getting to and from university. Jenkinson describes this time as a turning point in her life.
“Disability confronts people’s mortality. It confronts what people believe is health. So it’s very challenging, it comes across in lots of different ways – in the way society responds to disability.”
What does one do, when they’re life is turned upside down by such a tragic event? Many of us would probably lock ourselves away or let ourselves be overcome by the challenges ahead, but not Jenkinson, who immediately enrolled back in university. That was the beginning of her journey into disability advocacy.
“I went back to university and I did social work…it was a pretty obvious degree where I’d obviously get a job as a person with a disability. It was something on my mind; I now had a disability what was I going to do with my life?” said Jenkinson.
After the crash and this life-changing tragedy, Jenkinson spent four years in a disability institution and tackled financial hardship as well as stigma.
“In that setting your meals are a limited choice that you chose a week before hand. The time I went to bed was set. The time I had dinner was set. It’s that loss of control and decision making…It stops you growing a s a person.”
Rather than becoming institutionalized, or giving up, Jenkinson has worked hard to forge a life no different from many other Australian's – she has a loving husband, two kids and volunteers her time to many worthy causes.
“It hasn’t been easy, look it was a very interesting place to be in, in some ways there were benefits to being in that situation. You were interacting with other people with similar conditions,” said Jenkinson.
Politics isn’t something new to Jenkinson – she’s held a position as councilor in the City of Stirling for the past three years, was involved in student politics at university and was a senior advisor on the committee for people with disabilities under the current state government. Her love of the community emanates through her voice, and her formidable CV.
“Local government is a great space to be at...really getting things done and at a local level which is what I’ve really enjoyed about it...” She said passionately.
“.... There are aspects that are driven from State and Federal. That’s why I’m really looking at what needs to change at [a federal] level.”
Federal politics is very different from local government, and Jenkinson understands this. Standing on a platform of inclusion, sustainability and accessibility has led Jenkinson on a road of activism and influencing policy, now she’s decided to take it a step further by standing for the senate this election. Surprisingly though, Jenkinson isn’t standing for Australian Labor Party – quite unexpected given her childhood upbringing in a unionist family.
“...myself and my husband, we’re the sort of people that automatically put solar panels and grey water recycling and a compost bin out the back...those sorts of things – buying a hybrid car. The sort of things you go “why wouldn’t you!” she chuckles.
“The Greens seemed like the obvious choice. They aligned with who I am, and where my values are. It just seemed like the perfect party.
“I think some of the other parties have strong social policies, although I think some of them have weakened over time...I guess you would say I’ve been a ‘greenie’ for a long time, as long as I’ve been a disability advocate.”
Jenkinson stands a better than usual chance this election, with senate election percentages down to 7.3 per cent (from 14 per cent of the overall vote.) more interestingly; is how the Greens as a Federal party are performing – an expected higher primary vote could deliver them several more seats in the Upper House with a possibility of adding a seat or two in the Lower House.
“I’m not really spending any money other than what I put into the campaign, our main focus has been on getting Scott and Rachel re-elected this time around, but it’s comforting to know I have support and I’m standing for the right reasons.” Jenkinson responds when I ask her how she likes her chances of taking a WA Senate seat.
Whether or not she wins enough votes to take a seat remains to be seen, but with a higher number of young people enrolling to vote this time around than ever before, it’s definitely a possibility. Jenkinson concedes if she does win a seat, she has a considerable list of issues regarding disability advocacy on the agenda for debate.
“There are a couple of different issues at a disability level – one thing I’m really passionate about is pushing for a royal commission into abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. There was a senate inquiry last year that really showed a lot of the issues around this. Rachel Siewert has done a lot of work in this area already,” she said.
“Also in the disability space – we hear a lot about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is great! But what we don’t hear about is the National Disability Strategy...which looks at not just people’s specific support they need, but asks the question – how does the rest of the community fit into the picture?
“For example; how the justice system fits in with people of disabilities.”
Early voters are already hitting the polls around Western Australia, however the fate of the Greens is still unknown, one thing we have seen is a strong campaign like never before from the party. Couple the campaign with a lowered Senate percentage required to win a seat, and Jenkinson faces a fairly optimistic chance of taking many votes the party wouldn’t normally see.
In the event that she doesn’t take enough of the vote to become Australia’s next Greens Senator, she will no doubt continue her work in the disability services sector.