Every politician has a key skill or characteristic that they draw on at election campaign time. Some rely on a funny, effective social media presence. Others bank on their local reputation or some former heroics that endear themselves to their voters; it might be a strong volunteer crew, or some great community support.
For Tony Clark, the Labor challenger in the Victorian seat of Deakin, he relies on his hearing.
"You hear people coming, you hear them talking and you know they're there. You hear shoes, boots. I love boots, you can hear them coming," he told The Huffington Post Australia, laughing, of how he approaches campaigning.
Clark is legally blind. He has been since he was 20, when he lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition. Clark is campaigning to become the first blind politician to enter the federal parliament, and is in with a good shot. Deakin is the most marginal Liberal-held seat in the state, with a margin of just three percent, held by Michael Sukkar.
Married with two teenage kids, Clark is a manager at Vision Australia and veteran of scouts organisations and school boards. He has previously stood for state and federal parliament in his area, and says the lessons learnt in those prior elections have set himself up to campaign in the same way as any candidate would.
"About eight years ago, I realised the only way you'd be able to effect change and get change around improving social outcomes and removing barriers, was to get a seat at the table. I stood for the seat of Higgins in 2010, and that was about 'how would I, as a blind person, campaign?'"
"You have work out how to do it, and if you like it. I enjoyed it. The challenges for me are no different to anyone else. It's about making sure you've got people around you and supporting you," Clark said.
He's being modest. In a marginal seat where door-knocking, handshaking and pressing the flesh can make or break the campaign, Clark's condition is no small hurdle to overcome. He waves down questions about the challenges of campaigning as a blind candidate.
"Phone calling, that's no problem, you pick up and have a chat. Then you go door-knocking, and I just go with someone, because usually you go in pairs anyway. Street stalls, you rarely do it by yourself," he explained.
"You're with someone, you hear someone coming, you're handing out information and saying good morning. One of the challenging things is some people don't realise I'm blind. That's a crack-up when they realise, it's a laugh because it's not what they're expecting."
Clark has a warm, deep voice and laughs often, largely at himself and his stories from the campaign; at one point he talks about how he used to play cricket but had to stop "because I started losing the ball in the field." A rich sense of humour seems to run through his whole election tilt, judging from his campaign material; what must rank as one of the most striking slogans in the country which both pokes fun at himself and offers a promise for his constituents.
"The reason I've got this slogan is because I see this as a strength. I've had to do things differently, my lateral thinking is good, you have to think outside the box. I go rock climbing, abseiling, white water rafting -- I can do it all, just have to think a bit differently about it," Clark said.
"That life experience is great. You also bring a real understanding of difference, how it is to be different, what policy things you can change to be more inclusive. Things don't always fit in the same box."
Clark said he would be honoured to enter the parliament as a person with a disability, and would hope to focus on disability issues in Canberra.
"We have one in five Australians with a disability, but nobody representing them in parliament. I truly empathise, not just sympathise," he said.
"On a national basis, we are rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme which is arguably the biggest reform since federation, and I believe my life and professional experience will add immense value to making that possible."Suggest a correction