If the weight of the nation’s political future — and a kingmaker role negotiating with three northern independents on banana imports — was weighing on the freshly-elected Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt, he certainly wasn’t showing it last night. The situation that the union-backed Labor nemesis now finds himself in might be a comedown from the lofty proclamations of environmental salvation, but at the Victoria Hotel, before a nest of screaming acolytes, there was little sign of the burden weighing on his shoulders.
Bandt, who stole a massive 11% swing from Labor candidate Cath Bowtell, declared victory well before the ABC had confirmed the fall of this 106-year-old ALP fiefdom, a wholly appropriate move given the sense of inevitability had been hovering over the city’s inner north for weeks.
The mood for change across booths yesterday was palpable. In 2007, volunteers were relying on a substantial dose of luck to push them across the line, but by 3pm harried conversations made it clear voters were in the mood for change, smashing Labor’s primary vote over the ALP’s cynicism, whose strategists had left locals in limbo in the service of Western Sydney.
For Bandt the tipping point had clearly been reached well before he ascended to hotel podium to repeat the party’s “making history” mantra.
While Bandt railed about not taking inner-city “values” for granted, comedian and local councillor Trent McCarthy listed the concrete triumphs. The party had doubled their vote in Corio, Holt, Mallee, Murray and Lalor. And they had emerged with the balance of power in the Senate, with Otway farmer Richard Di Natale finally gifted a taxpayer-funded triumph on his eighth tilt for public office.
“This is one for the ages, tonight we can say good night to Senator Steve Fielding”, said Di Natale, to rapturous squawking. (“F-ck you Family First…you killed Steve Fielding!” came the approving reply from the gallery.)
But the beautiful truth of sticking it up Labor brought the house down: “There is a new light on the hill and it’s powered by renewable energy!”
And this, aimed at John Howard: “We don’t want a nation that’s relaxed and comfortable. We want a nation that is bold and courageous!”
How had all this happened? Media strategist Damien Lawson wasn’t giving much away, telling Crikey “…the people made this happen and they wanted someone that would represent their values. The success of the campaign is underpinned by the hard work of many many volunteers over many years.”
Across town at the Maritime Union of Australia’s salubrious West Melbourne headquarters, the ALP’s Socialist Left faithful watched the carnage with only a hint of surprise. The stench of death was palpable as loyalists clung on to something to give meaning to the last month’s slog. A maudlin Sharan Burrow and a good-natured Bowtell watched on as the gravity of the situation, and the payback owed to the NSW Right, dawned.
But if last night’s rout means the assassins of the Right are now finished as a serious persuasive political force, then the triumphant Greens might do well to graft some lessons in compromise as their fallen rivals stagger to the exit. Crikey’s former politics lecturer Robyn Eckersley, a paid-up Greens member and realist par excellence, while jubilant, sounded a note of caution.
“The Greens need to think very seriously about what it is that’s fundamental that they really have to stand firm on…politics necessarily involves comprise but it can’t involve comprising the really important things, and we’ve seen that Labor’s done that and they’ve been punished severely.”
The most likely person to take on that strategic message doesn’t even sit in the Federal Parliament. Impressive Victorian upper house MP Greg Barber was in the process of running his own booth analysis on what the result might mean for the state election, especially in Melbourne and Richmond where the party must now be rated a massive chance.
Electrical Trades Union chief Dean Mighell, who had stumped up $325,000 for the Greens campaign, celebrated with Barber his “good day at the office”, and told Crikey he was “pretty excited”.
“What we expect is Adam to take up workers’ rights in the lower house…which neither of the major parties had the will or the tenacity to address.” Mighell was confident of Labor bending the ear of Rob Oakeshott, saying that he had been in favour of a number of progressive policies, including the gross feed-in tariff on solar panels.
The chuffed unionist then strode out into the night, no doubt pondering a new future in which his army of cashed-up electricians called the shots. And the Greens’ volunteers, not quite sure how to handle the breakthrough they’d been battling for for years, turned their minds to celebration.