A war of words has broken out between rival candidates in the knife-edge Victorian seat of Brunswick in the lead up to the state election, with Labor candidate Jane Garrett branding the Greens’ Cyndi Dawes a “hypocrite” for her support of the troubled Myki ticketing system during her former role as a spruiker for the authority charged with its rollout.

Dawes was employed by the Transport Ticket Authority from June 2009 to February 2010 with a brief to sell the $1.4 billion white elephant to a sceptical public before resigning to contest Brunswick for the Greens. In the months since, she has emerged a strident critic of the smart card system, in line with official Greens policy.

Garrett told Crikey Dawes “had been an enthusiastic advocate of Myki which could easily be interpreted as hypocrisy”. She said Dawes claimed during a recent public transport forum in Moreland that “she had no experience in public transport at all” during a debate over whether Victoria should institute a new overarching transport body helmed by experts.

According to Mervyn Senn, the recently-retired president of National Seniors Australia’s Doncaster branch, Dawes was effusive in her recommendation of Myki when she travelled to the suburbs last year to sell the system, armed with offers of free travel.

“She was very supportive of Myki, people were looking forward to what would happen after that because she said they’d be getting free tickets for a month but they never did … she made a presentation saying that it’s coming into effect next year, she said it was so much easier than the present system that they have now, you just press your card against some little gadget there and it’ll work out for you. She talked about all the details and was very impressive,” he said.

Myki has been an embarrassment for the Brumby government, with the system plagued by cost blowouts, delays and communication breakdowns.

At a similar roadshow in Camberwell in Feburary, seniors were chuffed that Dawes “was able to reassure us about the operation of the system as far as giving the best cost deal for seniors”.

Dawes rejected the charges of double dealing, telling Crikey that while she was once “enthusiastic about the possibilities that [Myki] offered … the benefits that could accrue if it were rolled out smoothly are good ones, the tragedy is that it’s turned into this kind of lingering wound upon our public transport system”.

“My previous statements were because I was working for them and my role was to be a bridge between the Authority and seniors groups … I don’t think I’ve really changed my tune,” she said.

Dawes suggested she would be supportive of an independent review, even if it recommended the entire system be scrapped: “We’re calling for a review that looks at money that’s been put into [Myki] to date whether it can be salvaged or whether we can cease working on it or continue using Metcard.”

The rancour is heightened because of Dawes’ 20-year membership of the ALP in the same Socialist Left faction as Garrett. In the mid-80s Dawes was elected as a member of the Melbourne University Student Union Education and Welfare committee, representing the breakaway Labor Club.

However, further spats are likely to be curbed by Victorian Premier John Brumby’s directive yesterday that all parties refrain from peddling gossip and innuendo to the media in the 44 days before the November poll.

According to the latest polling, a tranche of inner-city seats could escape the ALP’s grasp at the election in a repeat of Adam Bandt’s victory over Cath Bowtell in Melbourne at the federal poll. Brunswick is currently held by Labor by 3.63%, with the party facing a broadside from the Greens and a possible challenge from former federal member for Wills Phil Cleary.

Peter Fray

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