For what it’s worth, these are the reasons why I think Maxine McKew lost Bennelong on Saturday night.
1.The deep unpopularity of NSW Labor:
The swings against sitting Labor members in Sydney, particularly in the West were enormous as voters, impatient for the NSW state election, decided to punish them now. Look at the figures – an 8.7% swing (2PP) against Labor in Watson, 13.2% in Fowler, 5.6% in Parramatta . The swing against Daryl Melham in Banks was 9% and in Bennelong it was 4.9%.
When Julia Gillard appeared on a stage with Kristina Keneally to announce the Parramatta to Epping rail link, it was greeted with derision, and forever confused state and federal issues in the voters minds.
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Local blogger Andrew Elder summed it up well: “Firstly, whose idea was it for the Prime Minister and other Federal ministers to be photographed with Keneally? Federal-State separation is all very well, but no Labor person would want to make any sort of association in the public mind between Gillard .. and Keneally (who) should have been sent to Ohio for the length of the campaign. Only if you are in denial about how bad the NSW goverment is would you risk the entire Labor campaign for federal government by giving Gillard a dose of the loser virus, Macquarie Street strain.”
2. Poor national campaign:
ALP head office had no idea how much the electorate would object to the removal of Kevin Rudd. This feeling was particularly strong in the Asian communities in Bennelong. The local Asian voters had felt a strong link with the Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, who has a Chinese-born son-in-law.
Local leaders also told me they felt that the manner of his removal was disrespectful to the office of PM. Many considered it inconceivable that an elected leader could lose his or her job in that way.
Maxine said on Saturday night:
“When I think back over the national campaign and I compare it with what happened in 2007, there is a very vast gulf.
“I won Bennelong in 2007 off the back of a disciplined, well-run, highly respectable national campaign, with a key set of central messages.
“I think it’s fair to say that this national campaign was confused. It did not have a central message, it did not have clarity. We shouldn’t be on a knife-edge tonight and we shouldn’t be losing colleagues all over the country.
There are significant questions for the Labor Party which we are facing tonight. You cannot have a Labor leader removed within two months of an election for it not to have significant ramifications. Clearly that was a factor.”
3. Revitalised local Liberal campaign:
Many of the local Liberals never forgave Labor for knocking off John Howard, and they threw everything they had at getting it back, including a targeted campaign to the Asian communities.
Earlier this year, Tony Abbott attended the launch of the Liberal Party Chinese Council. In early August the LPCC had a fundraising dinner in Chatswood, headlined by Abbott and Howard and attended by Liberal candidate John Alexander.
The local Liberal branch got its act into gear and a large selection of Chinese and Korean how-to-votes were printed up well before election day. On the day, many of the booths were manned by Chinese and Korean-speaking volunteers.
By contrast, ALP head office dragged its heels on approving Chinese-language materials, which were only produced late in the penultimate week. There appeared to be no Korean-language materials.
Independent Ryde councillor Justin Li said that there were 15,000 “Asian” voters in Bennelong, “what sort of message does that send to them?”
He said he thought that the Liberal Party had reproduced a lot of the strategies used by the ALP in the last election.
“It’s a mystery, (the ALP) had such a successful winning formula in 2007, why wouldn’t they stick to it?
Local Chinese-born volunteers handing out at Eastwood Public school rang me on Saturday afternoon to tell me that the ALP had lost. On the street, the mood had changed, and people were refusing to take ALP how-to-votes.
On top of this, the local Libs ran a fairly negative (but ultimately effective) campaign focused on overdevelopment, congestion, lack of infrastructure. Bennelong, like a lot of North-West Sydney, is very car-dependent because public transport is so bad. You can spend hours in your car doing the daily commute, and the local roads are a nightmare. This tends to produce very pissed-off voters; understandably, they tend to blame the incumbents – even if, of course, these are mainly state-based issues.
In the end, of course, it is up to the will of the people, and the Bennelong voters have now decided that they want former tennis star John Alexander to represent them in Canberra.
The shame of it is that Maxine was in fact a very committed local member. For those people who read the local papers each week, (including me), she appeared everywhere, opening fetes, attending concerts, getting out and about. Most people would find it a grind, but she genuinely seemed to like it. How many local members would have received truckloads of home-made cakes during the campaign, flowers, remedies for sore throats? Many commentators said she seemed absent from the national stage, but that’s only because she wasn’t in the national press – she was at Ryde Hospital, handing over money for new equipment.
This morning, she was in the office, helping her staff to find new jobs, but she’s not bitter about the result. “I don’t regret a minute of it. I loved doing the job locally and I loved working on public policy. It was a great thing to do.”
And for those people who have predicted that she will move back to Mosman, she has a final word.
“I live in Epping, and I’m not going anywhere.”