When you come last by the length of the straight, you’ve just got to look on the bright side of life. But after also struggling in the Melbourne City Council election, the time has come to have a serious think about where People Power is going.

As the co-founders a couple of months ago, Vern Hughes and I are going to sit down and assess the situation this week before throwing it to members for their thoughts.

Most people involved in Crikey – the Gadgets, the parents and Hillary – think it was not a wise move to try and establish a new political party, even if the main goal was to contest non-political elections.

And it has certainly proved more difficult than expected. After two months we’ve only got about 100 members and have certainly not set the world on fire at the polling booth.

It seems relatively easy getting 25 people a week to hand over $55 and subscribe to Crikey but persuading people to simply fill in a form and join a new political party for free has proved very difficult.

Many of the members getting involved in People Power come with their own agendas and hobby horses which must be accommodated if you are to be a conventional democratic political party.

We’ve got a few options to consider now. Do we become a more radical small-tax proposition that gets a lot more adversarial with the big-spending centrists that dominate Australian politics?

Do I step back from the board and allow others to take the reigns? Afterall, I’m probably a major part of the problem given the maverick reputation and the mainstream media’s aversion to giving something I’m involved in a run. The Lord Mayoral election would also suggest the Crikey main is not much of a vote winner either.

The easiest option would be to give up and declare it all too hard. The mainstream media have certainly not taken People Power at all seriously with one Age journalists telling Vern it was perceived as a Stephen Mayne stunt for Crikey.

This has been most unfortunate for Vern who really is the man behind People Power and someone with a lot of integrity and a lot of well-thought ideas about how this would all work.

Momentum is everything in politics and Vern is certainly noticing the lack of momentum at the moment.

The model that I favour for People Power is as a rating agency that ranks candidates in elected positions and tries to find alternatives to dodgy incumbents. This can be done by Crikey but I’d far prefer a vehicle that is not motivated by profit.

Critics throw conflict of interest charges at me for setting up People Power whilst commenting on issues through Crikey and in various radio spots. But a different set of critics turn around and say I’m only running for boards to promote Crikey, a profit-motivated business.

Crikey is in the business of immersion journalism where we get involved in issues as players and write about the experience. It is a mix of journalism and activism which is best described as “good cause activism”. Sometimes the detail of a campaign gets annoying for subscribers who have no particular interest in the issue. It is in these circumstances that such a campaign would be better placed on the www.peoplepower.org.au web site.

Anyway, whatever happens in the coming weeks, thanks a heap to all those people who have helped out with People Power so far, especially Hugo, webmaster Matt, the board and candidates Greg Hoy, Richard Brew and Mark Ward.

Please send any feedback or suggestions on what we should do to [email protected]

ends

Working hard for 114 votes and great booth banter

Now, this is the account of our polling day experiences in Aston.

Well, it is hard to take solace from backing a candidate in the Aston by-election who gets half as many votes as the bloke who came 14th in a 15-horse race.

But we’ll get the excuses for a our measly 114 votes out of the way very quickly before getting into the analysis and the colour of the day.

Excuse 1: The People Power name was not on the ballot paper because we’re not registered.

Excuse 2: Our candidate Mark Ward was a nice fellow and a decent citizen but he lived outside the electorate and was not known to Astonians.

Excuse 3: Lack of mainstream media mentions.

Excuse 4: We didn’t manage a single letter drop and only handed out at 5 of the 33 booths.

That said, I actually had a fun time on Saturday inspite of the fact that Mark Ward managed to snaffle 0.017 of the 72,361 votes counted so far. That puts him in the same category as ATSIC chairman Geoff Clarke who polled 18 votes in the Frankston East supplementary state election in October 1999. Then again, when you’ve polled 0.6 per cent of the vote when standing for the Westfield Holdings board, you become accustomed to getting thrashed and don’t take it too badly.

There was every reason to be gloomy on Saturday night after the Aston voting closed, the Tigers had been beaten by Port Adelaide and Crikey had also suffered his first singles loss in pennant tennis that afternoon. At 10pm the wedding album came out for a bit of cheer but I actually had an interesting day.

UP AT SPARROWS

Proceedings opened with a 7.30am visit to Rich Webb’s place to pick up 50 CDs of his excellent “The Girl Who Laughed too much” which were then dropped off at the old man’s place in preparation for our new $105 offer comprising a 12-month subscription, Crikey tee-shirt, Rich Webb CD and a hard copy of Neil Chenoweth’s excellent book “Virtual Murdoch”.

By 8.30pm I’d made it to Carrington Primary School in Knoxfield and relieved candidate Mark Ward from his HTV-card duties.

Premier Steve Bracks was already present handing out on the booth and one of his spindoctors Sandra McKay, who worked for AAP and The Age before selling out to Labor spin, had rounded up a fair gaggle of reporters for the ubiquitous 9am press conference and then Bracks, his driver and the convoy moved on.

BANTER WITH THE BOOTH WORKERS

Handing out HTVs is fun in small doses and it is the banter between the workers which really makes it. At this stage I’ll justify our poor performance in the ballot box on the grounds of immersion journalism, because no other media outlet will be able to bring the depth of coverage that we’ll have based on the fact that we were involved in the Aston process.

Ours was the second largest booth after Rowville where we scored an electorate best 14 votes. There were up to 40 “workers” handing out at Knoxfield throughout the day which daunted most voters. Many of them rounded the corner clutching 7 HTVs already and then gasped “Shit! or “Oh my god” when confronted with another 20 paper pushing workers.

This made it very difficult for any minor candidates to strike a chord with the voters and you had to be a bit industrious. Nevertheless, we polled a relatively health 11 votes in Knoxfield for the day which was double our average so it really does pay to have the workers out there.

It really would have been a perfect situation for the 7-foot Crikey foam suit, but instead anyone who was smoking was jokingly told “Vote for the Smokers Party” as the HTV was thrusted. Anyone with a dog got a “Dog Lovers Party”, any elongated voters got “Tall Persons Party” and anyone wearing a brand got “Vote 1 CSR Plasterboard” or “Vote 1 Nike” which didn’t impress the Socialist Alliance as they tried to raise signatures for a petition against sweat shops.

Sometimes it was most effective to eyeball the besieged voter and say: “Look, no paper, just remember to vote Mark Ward.”

This was especially fun when standing next to the various green groups and saying: “Unlike the Greens, we’re not destroying forests, so no paper from us but remember to vote 1 Mark Ward.”

POINTING OUT JOHN BRUMBY’S TRIPLE DIPPING

The big beefy Liberal on the right objected to my: “People Power, stop the Parliamentary superannuation rorts” which made it fortuitous that Victorian Treasurer John Brumby turned up to hand out for a while.

Brumby has had three dips at two Parliamentary super schemes – once when Federal member for Bendigo, once when an Upper House member in Victoria and now as the Lower House member for Broadmeadows. He stood next to me briefly for a chat but then quickly moved around the corner as the “super rorts” line was pedalled.

After a few more minutes pondering the memory kicked in; wasn’t it John Brumby who bitterly told the beloved Mrs Crikey that I “should have been charged with theft”. This was just five weeks into our romance when Paula and Brumby were handing out on the same booth during the 1999 Burwood by-election just days after we’d nicked the guest list from Labor’s biggest ever fundraiser. The government was seriously embarrassed for a few days when it was revealed companies they were considering calling Royal Commissions into – Crown and Intergraph – were shelling out for spots at a $1000 a head Jeff-style ALP fundraiser.

Ah yes, revenge is a dish best eaten cold so when Brumby came back around the corner I yelled out to all the booth workers: “Hey everyone, do you realise that John Brumby over there is on three Parliamentary pensions!” He walked back around the corner smiling and all the booth workers were commenting “Jeez, I’d be smiling too if I had three pensions.”

There’s nothing quite like exposing a pig in a trough. Truth be known it is not three pensions at the moment and might never be. But it’s certainly triple dipping in terms of entitlements so we’ll try to clarify the situation and let you know. Just send us an email John.

MOTHER’S CLUB SIZZLES THE SAUSAGES

Meanwhile, the Carrington Primary Mothers Club continued to sell sausages to voters and booth workers as they tried to raise more money to fill gaps left by the supposedly caring and sharing Bracks Labor Government.

Crikey was probably their best customer for the day scoffing down four of their hotdogs. The hard-working team reckon they shifted about 1000 snags on a margin of 50c each so they raised $500 which will help pay for some more air-conditioning to kick in for the summer.

The Bracks government has already shifted the spending balance back to a greater focus on teachers unionists rather than facilities so Mothers Club across the state have plenty of work ahead of them.

HOW TO VOTE CARDS AND BOOTH BANTER

Our HTV card also included a membership form for People Power and a few basic policies which made it different from the jovial One Nation bloke to my left whose plain yellow card simply started with a number 1 next to 75 year-old grandmother of 13 June Scott and went straight down the ticket.

I vowed to ditch People Power if we lost to the HEMP Party on our booth and the pressure is on after they polled 36 votes at Knoxfield. They had one bloke who was pacing about all day with a rainbow hat which he explained was a “five pound hat” because it carried five pounds of grass. I chipped him a few times with thing like: “Hey HEMP man, how many joints now? Why aren’t you asleep yet?” At one point he wondered over to explain that you can smoke some things that give you more energy.

THE MAYOR OF KNOX DISAPPOINTS

The mayor of Knox Gary Scates had a team of youthful workers distributing for him and received second preferences from a range of people including One Nation, Labor, the Democrats and the hugely popular People Power. The Public Transport Users Association were also handing out and gave Scates a 1 because he opposed the Scoresby freeway.

Scates would probably be the most disappointed candidate in the aftermath. When Crikey bumped into the Liberal Victorian state director Brian Loughnane (who performed very well with Laurie Oakes on Sunday) on Saturday morning, even he was saying that Scates was the dark horse in the election. A primary vote of just 4.75 per cent is well shy of the 10-15 per cent primary vote he was hoping for. At least he’ll get a cheque for about $6000 because he got over the 4 per cent threshold to qualify for the $1.72 a vote in public funding. Then again, if you’d backed the Scoresby freeway Gary and not been seduced by all the Greenies and lefties you might have doubled your money.

ONE NATION GETS SHAFTED BY EVERYONE, INCLUDING THE VOTERS

One Nation got totally shafted on preferences as usual being put last by the Democrats, the Liberals, the Greens, the hugely popular People Power, Labor and the PTUA. Even so, their primary vote of 1.79 per cent was dreadful after they predicted a 10 per cent showing. The people who took only the One Nation card were typically tattooed working blokes but one women remarked that it was “a disgrace what they are trying to do to your party”.

The One Nation worker on our booth was a former farmer from north of Bendigo who is now a winery worker down in Mornington. As I swanned off for four hours chasing tennis balls, this poor bloke worked from 8am till 6pm without any relief. Pauline is going to need a lot of deluded helpers on the ground if she’s got any chance of a Victorian senate spot. Anyway, this bloke was a quite a nice guy and as I headed off for tennis afternoon tea again at 5pm I chipped him for not having a work ethic and doing scrutineering as well that night.

CEC DRAWS WITH PEOPLE POWER AT KNOXFIELD

Doug Mitchell from the crazy Citizens Electoral council copped a 14 from most of the major party HTVs and 15s from the Socialist Alliance and the HEMP party. It seems the far-left hate nothing more than the far-right even though they’re both economic loonies. The CEC finished third last with 312 votes overall but we were locked at 11-11 on my booth. Hillary sums the tragedy of this up rather nicely in her column.

The Socialists certainly threw some resources at Aston with 120 booth workers and they reckon they’ve got 680 members nationally. Sadly, they only finished up with 307 votes and their presence in numbers on our booth managed to only jag 9 votes – the lowest of anyone.

Like People Power, their candidate Josephine Cox was unmarked on the ballot paper because the Socialist Alliance was not registered in time. Not surprisingly she gave Labor her second preference because she’s a former member of Labor’s Socialist Left faction. Methinks all these revolutionaries will soon realise that staging S11 protests are far more effective than trying to be a conventional part of the political process.

LIBERALS RAN THE BETTER CAMPAIGN

From where we stood the Liberals had a better candidate and ran a better campaign than Labor. Chris Pearce was doing the hand-shake thing for a couple of hours at our booth whereas when Kieran Boland turned up he just looked like a frightened 27-year-old who lives with his mum.

The Liberal HTV hammered the family point home featuring Chris Pearce in a happy pose with his wife and three kids. The Libs plastered the polling places with signs saying Labor opposed the Scoresby freeway which at some levels was a lie because both Beazley and Bracks committed to it. However, there is no money in the Victorian forward estimates over the next three years so the Bracks support was questionable and Howard beat Beazley to the punch in recklessly committing the Feds to it – even if it was only $220 million out of more than $1 billion needed.

The Liberal booth workers wore stickers saying they backed the Scoresby freeway and the Knox Hospital. And they also handed out two different flyers to voters, contrasting Labor’s stock standard HTV card and badges that simply said “ALP Campaign Worker”.

The second Liberal A4 flyer, in glossy green, black and white, read as follows: “Thinking of voting for a minor party or independent? Your second preference vote may be important. Remember, Labor refuse to guarantee the Scoresby Freeway and Knox Hospital – two vital projects for our community. Give your second preference to Chris Pearce to get them built.”

The Liberal primary vote was still down a hefty 8.54 per cent but after throwing everything at the by-election it looks like they’ll probably save the seat and give the government a much-needed boost in confidence.

NATASHA THE BIG WINNER

Crikey for one was surprised that the major party vote held up at 75 per cent. The only minor player to do any good was The Democrats. People like Hillary and the panellists on the new ABC program The Insiders might have talked down Natasha’s result, but it sure as hell impressed me. If we want to be the new Democrats keeping the bastards honest then comparisons between our 114 votes and their 5766 suggest we have a long way to go.

Natasha had posters of herself stuck up at booths all over the place and plenty of loyal workers handing out for her, including one crumpled old digger at Knoxfield who must have been 90 and couldn’t stand up properly. We bantered with the Democrats’s preselected candidate in Goldstein who was good fun and there was some lively discussion after one Labor bloke reckoned he’d heard Liberal and Democrat booth workers from elsewhere admit to being paid $7 an hour. Hmmm, this is worth checking out. The Dems will get a cheque from the taxpayer of about $10,000 and could have employed 14 booth workers on $7 an hour for 10 hours based on that figure. Unlike the Greens with their boisterous protests, Natasha remained reserved and considered throughout the campaign getting plenty of spots on radio despite considerable sniping from her own camp.

Crikey might argue that she’s a lightweight but she certainly delivered at the ballot box in Aston. I suspect that lots of blokes voted for her on the “good sort” criteria and lots of youth also joined the fold. There were plenty of disaffected small business types moaning about the GST at the polling booths and some of them might have gone back to the Dems given that Natasha voted against the GST compromise deal done by Meg Lees.

The question is whether Natasha can hang onto this small business constituency when she’s an unreconstructed lefty who wants higher taxes, big government, several Starbucks lattes a day and has never had a real job. For the moment, we of the 114 votes take our hats off to her and are casting about modelling agencies looking for candidates to run in the Federal election.

THE GREENS BOMB AND THE LFF BOMBSHELL

Remember the WA election back in February. The Democrats lost their two upper house seats, the Greens picked up 5 and the fledgling Liberals for Forests defeated former Consumer Affairs minister Dodgy Doug Shave in the lower house seat of Alfred Cove, thanks to some very handy preferences from the Crikey-backed finance broker campaigner Denise Brailey.

Well it was a very different story on Saturday. Fashion designer Liz Davenport spent much of the day at our booth. This is the front woman for Liberals for Forests in WA and the high profile celebrity candidate who told us she got 18 per cent of the primary vote in Richard Court’s seat of Nedlands and even pushed him to preferences as she scored 45 per cent of the two party preferred. Liz reckons she’s going to stand for the Senate in WA and I told her we’re hoping Denise Brailey will do likewise.

Liz had a gaggle of fashion types hanging around the booth including one bombshell turning heads everywhere (no-one said anything of course because these are politically correct times). The Liberals for Forests candidate Luke Chamberlain looked like a model himself complete with the dark suit, a complete contrast to your stereotypical dreadlocked, pot-smoking, tree-hugging Greenie. Now we should not stereo-type like this because one of the workers handing out for the Greens was a Crikey subscriber and a very nice lady who politely laughed at our gags and was advising her 25 year old son over the phone what to cook himself for lunch. Sadly, I didn’t get her name so we’d love to hear from you by email.

Anyway, back to the voting. The Greens managed a disappointing 2.44 per cent of the vote and the Liberals for Forests pulled 0.89 per cent or just 612 votes. Bob Brown should immediately stop talking about winning 5 senate spots because it just ain’t gonna happen.

Astonians clearly want that freeway and got sick of the stunt-driven Green protestors throughout the campaign. Pull your heads in Greens and throw away the koala suit and the rabble tactics.

THANKS TO THE WORKERS

Finally, just a quick thank you to the People Power workers in Aston. We averaged 20 votes per worker so good on you Vern, Margaret, Richard, Anna, Hugo, Michael, Matt and, of course, our brave candidate Mark Ward.

That’s all for now. We’ll publish a special Aston Yoursay if you want to write in and give us a bollocking or take issue with anything we say.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

Peter Fray

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