One year out from a state election, and the knives are starting to appear in the Balmain electorate. If the polls are right, the suburb that gave birth to the Australian Labor Party in 1891 could fall to the Greens in 2011 — a stark symbol of the depth of the voters’ anger with the state government.

ALP member Verity Firth is now doing everything she can to achieve two difficult aims; prove her own green credentials while at the same time rubbishing the Greens. This is all made much more complicated by the fact that the next Greens candidate will probably be Leichhardt mayor Jamie Parker, who stands at Firth’s elbow at every local function.

The latest fisticuffs have been sparked by complaints from  Labor councillor Darcy Byrne, who claims that the council has spent $50,000 on a slush fund, which purports to pay for “major issues” but really exists to fund Green-related causes.

Paying for leaflets advertising public protest meetings is really a back-door way of furthering the Green agenda, he claims, and  should stop.

The problem for Byrne, who looks exactly like legendary boxer Les Darcy, is that apart from a really strong coffee, there’s nothing the Balmain locals like better than a good protest rally, as it combines outdoor exercise with taking the high moral ground. Over the past year you could have spent almost every weekend protesting against the CBD Metro, the privatisation of Sydney ferries, the White Bay cement terminal — ad infinitum.

Firth holds Balmain with a thin 3.7% margin. The latest Galaxy Poll, published in January, showed that although support for the new Premier Kristina Keneally has risen, Labor’s vote is unchanged and the coalition is headed for a comfortable victory.

According to election guru Antony Green, assuming a uniform swing, Labor would lose its majority on a loss of five seats, a uniform two-party preferred swing of 4.9%. Assuming all the current Independents are re-elected, the Coalition needs to gain 11 seats for a majority in its own right, a uniform swing of 7.6%.

What does concern Sussex St is that at the last council election, in September 2008, the Greens got almost 50% of the primary vote, giving them six out of the 12 councillors. The boundaries of Leichhardt Council, plus Haberfield and Glebe, roughly equate to the Balmain electorate — if the Greens can win over those two suburbs, they are in with a chance.

Earlier this month the state government dumped the electorally unfriendly CBD Metro and announced an extension of the light rail to Dulwich Hill, which Firth described in a press release as an “efficient and environmentally friendly transport link”.

“The light rail will service the Barangaroo area and the arts precinct along Hickson Road. How wonderful to be able to catch the light rail to the Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Dance Company or Circular Quay.”

What that press release is really saying is “Look, all you Prius-driving, designer-beer drinking, metros-xual mates of Cate and Andrew — we are just as Green as the Greens. So don’t bother voting for them.”

So is Leichhardt Council’s $50,000 a “major issues budget” or a Greens’ slush fund?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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