Left-wing Victorian trade unions have rallied behind veteran socialist campaigner Stephen Jolly’s bid for the state seat of Richmond, setting up a stoush with the Greens and potentially shoring up the reign of teetering Brumby government minister Richard Wynne.

The state secretary of the ALP-affiliated Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Bill Oliver, confirmed to Crikey this morning that he would provide in-kind support and a financial “chop out” to Jolly, who is threatening to push his primary vote into double figures at the November 27 poll.

Cash for the popular Yarra councillor will also be sourced from the United Firefighters Union, whose chief Peter Marshall attended Jolly’s campaign launch on Saturday. Electrical Trades Union scion Dean Mighell had previously announced support for Jolly’s campaign to the tune of $25,000 and the combined donation of the UFUA and the CFMEU is expected to be in about that range.

Oliver told Crikey that as a CFMEU shop steward and construction worker Jolly was an obvious choice, despite his union’s formal financial ties to the Labor Party.

“We usually support Labor but obviously when a good candidate comes forward, we’ll back them. Steve obviously will put something forward, and if he asks for a chop out, we’ll give him a chop-out,” he said.

At the 2006 state election, Jolly secured 5.64% of the primary vote, but is expected to at least double that this time around. In 2008, he scored 30% of the vote in the Yarra Council election in Langridge Ward, which makes up 40% of the Richmond electorate. His momentum has the potential to split the progressive vote, drawing support away from Greens candidate Kathleen Maltzahn who needs a 3.64% swing to secure victory over Wynne.

While it might be expected that Jolly’s vote would be returned to Maltzahn on preferences, Jolly told Crikey the Socialist Party executive is “almost certain” to approve an open ticket, potentially depriving the Greens of between 1 and 1.5% of the two-party preferred vote. In 2006, Jolly preferenced the Greens but there is no love lost with Maltzahn, who was a sparring partner on Yarra Council between 2004 and 2008.

Jolly said the Greens had forced his hand after a series of “ridiculous” decisions on council.

“On Yarra Council, the Greens have established an alliance with the Labor Party where they swap the mayor’s position every year…they have a joint vote on the annual budget that has cut services and increased rates. The Greens and Labor have been as thick as thieves,” Jolly said.

“And we’re predicting in the federal arena that Adam Bandt will be one of the meekest and mildest props for this Gillard government.”

Other sources have suggested Jolly could even be the beneficiary of a Andrew Wilkie-style preference run if he leapfrogs the Liberals, whose previous primary vote of 19% in Richmond could collapse in November. Crikey understands that local gay pub identity Tom McFeely is in the running for Liberal preselection and could preference Jolly, with whom he has a solid working relationship. It would be a remarkable turnaround for the Liberal hierarchy, who in 2006 placed Jolly last.

Jolly, who also ran for Richmond in 2002 and 1999, sheets home his popularity to his strong local profile, anchored by his prominent presence outside Smith Street Woolworths every Saturday. A rabid soccer fan, Jolly recent returned from the World Cup in South Africa where he enjoyed a congenial night on the tiles with Crikey correspondent Guy Rundle.

He is campaigning on a program of public housing and renewable energy expansion and supports strong curbs on private sector development.

Victorian Greens titular head Greg Barber didn’t seem too concerned by the Jolly push when contacted this morning: “It’s still a long time until the election and we don’t know who else is going to run.

“But of course our vote is on the move in an upwards direction. Once we know who the candidates are when nominations are announced 12 November, we’ll be able to make a better assessment,” he said.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey