- 06 Oct 20
Labour Party Senator Annie Hoey discusses her experience with student politics and drug education in schools.
I’m curious about how your college education helped you in your career in politics...
I studied Theatre and Dramatic Arts for my undergrad, and I wasn’t really involved in anything outside of it. Theatre is quite demanding, as it is. It wasn’t until I went back to do my masters in Comparative Literature and Women’s Studies that I became really stuck into politics. Now, I use my theatre training all the time. It’s an extremely useful skill set to have in politics. I think everyone should have to do a theatre module in college, because it teaches you all sorts of things about time management, budgeting, that the show has to go on whether you’re ready or not. There’s a lot of hopping from one thing to another, schedules get changed. It makes you pretty unflappable. People always tell me I’m a relatively good public speaker, and always ask, ‘where did you learn that?’. I keep forgetting that I’m technically trained as a public speaker, because of theatre! That is always ticking away in the background, using our bodies or our spaces to critique or explore or interrogate a particular issue or topic, be it political or personal.
Did the move into politics seem like a surprising jump, from there?
I could see a very clear thread, as I went through my first few years of college to my Master’s studies, in terms of my igniting and awakening to things. During my Master’s, I ran for the Student’s Union, and although the first time I ran I didn’t get elected, everyone loves a trier! I also had a really interesting group of friends in college who were from all different political backgrounds and heavily involved in student politics, which was extremely helpful.
What advice would you have for students wishing to get more involved in school politics?
First of all, you sometimes have to bite the bullet and just go for it. You also don’t have to be involved by just running for an election, which can be very intimidating. Mainly, unions will have welfare groups, committees, a lot of things you can volunteer with. I think it’s really good to get involved in societies as well. If there isn’t a society that feels right for you, set one up. There’s an opportunity, if you feel there’s a gap there, to pitch something.
And what about people who are already involved? Any advice on how to succeed?
It’s really important to show kindness to new people coming in. I was a class rep in my first year of college, and I was quivering like a leaf the first time I walked into a meeting. I studied theatre, I should have been confident, but you could have blown me over. There was a woman there who was a year or two older than I was and very involved in the class rep union. I’m still friends with her today, actually. She was kind to me, and spoke to me like a normal person. Openness is really important, because I probably wouldn’t have gone back if there wasn’t someone who had taken the time to see that someone was very nervous.
I always say, if she’d not done that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. You have to find your niche in your institution, and for those who are involved already, you should take your time to make people feel welcome. Because you don’t know what path you’re going to set someone up on.
You’ve been pretty involved in drug reform policy. What would you say is the best way to educate students on drug use?
I’m very involved with the Safer From Harm campaign, and the number one thing we recognise is that the safest way to use drugs is to not take them at all. But there is obviously a reality we have to acknowledge there, that drug usage is inevitable, and we have to try to make that as safe as possible. We are starting to have a national conversation about using drugs, and we need to recognise that a war on drugs is an eternal, never-ending war. We need to look at the human impact and human element of it. If I were to talk to someone one-on-one, I’d say it’s very important to have an honest, open, frank conversation.
What’s the most important message you want to send to students who are thinking about experimenting with drugs?
No matter how much you test drugs, no matter how safe you think you are being, there is always inherently a risk. You don’t know how your body is going to react. But there are things that you can do to try to ensure you are being as safe as humanly possible. That conversation needs to be how we approach things. It’s not effective to have people overly afraid. We’ve seen too many lives lost because people were scared to say that their friend had taken something...we need to have a conversation about the priority being health and well-being, and that’s a collective shift which needs to happen.
There are too many people – of all ages – who have died because they were too afraid to be honest about their drug use. Nobody is going to rat you out, all anybody ever cares about is another human being’s well-being. And I think that’s how we have to approach drug use as a conversation with young people. Ultimately, there’s no safe way to do it, but if you are going to partake, there are things you can do that will make you a little bit safer from harm. But we can’t make you safe altogether.
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