The ALP has moved to shore up its credibility with inner-city leftistes in the lead-up to the Victorian state election, in a last ditch bid to avoid the federal debacle that saw its 106-year old fiefdom of Melbourne fall to the Greens.

Yesterday Housing Minister Dick Wynne sent out an eight-page newspaper, The Richmond Report, extolling his progressive credentials with stories on the Hazelwood power station, same-s-x marriage, the reopening of live music venue the Tote and a feel-good feature on Circus Oz.

The tabloid avoids any direct sledging of the Greens, instead using the power of incumbency to suggest a militant cell inside the ALP has the clout to influence the Brumby government’s overall strategy. Wynne holds the seat by just 3.64% and is considered the next Labor skittle to fall after Bronwyn Pike in Melbourne, who appears gone.

But the rescue mission further north in Brunswick could prove almost as difficult, with independent firebrand Phil Cleary telling Crikey this morning he will “trade preferences with the Greens” and that if he ran “the race would become a contest between the Greens and me”. ALP candidate Jane Garrett has been feverishly door knocking in recent weeks and would be dismayed by the prospect of a Cleary tilt if he finished behind the Greens’ Cyndi Dawes.

The former VFL footballer is expected to make a final decision later today on whether to run after meeting with potential benefactors. Brunswick is currently held by Labor by 3.65%.

Labor insiders say the Greens threat is being taken much more seriously than 2006, with Premier John Brumby warning again this morning his party stands to lose Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick on November 27 if current polling trends prevail. Left activists are especially keen to make amends for the hospital pass gifted to Labor by Sydney HQ at the federal election, with the announcement of Julia Gillard’s dumped climate change assembly thought to have opened the floodgates to an Adam Bandt triumph.

The Greens vote is usually divided up into three categories — unshiftable deep green ecologists, slightly more wavering watermelons and ‘Greens TM’ adherents attracted by slick branding. Labor is believed to be keen to retake the brandees and appeal to teetering realists — which could be just enough to see Wynne sneak home.

The PR war has also shifted up a gear in the wake of positive media coverage for Bob Brown’s local lieutenants. Last week, The 7:30 Report‘s Heather Ewart filed a story on the inner-north that mirrored a previous federal report from May, while Farrah Tomazin from The Age revisited the Greens’ popular dinner party idea.

Hazelwood, which currently belches out 15% of Victoria’s greenhouse emissions, has become a key site of conflict. The Greens want the plant closed completely, but Labor is trading off the fact it has a legislative plan to progressively shut off the plant through its Victorian Climate Change White Paper.

Environment Victoria says Hazelwood should be “replaced”, but has also highlighted the need for a concrete strategy to dump coal (the Greens have an energy policy but are yet to reveal a specific plan for Hazelwood). There appears some confusion over the issue internally — some Greens candidates have looked to Ontario as a model, but upper house MP Sue Pennicuik is less keen, because the Canadian province’s power needs are set to be met by burning waste wood which could lead to visible pollution clouds over Gippsland.

Meanwhile Cleary, who is gauging letterboxing support for his tilt this afternoon, launched a spray at Labor when contacted by Crikey, saying Garrett “had been parachuted in with no consideration for the local branch membership … the ALP wonders why it’s got no members and so many progressive people are sick and tired of it”. He said retiring member Carlo Carli might have been a “nice guy” but had not done enough for Brunswick locals during his 16 years in parliament.

By contrast, Cleary said Greens candidate Cyndi Dawes was “okay” and said her membership of the Greens party “was a perfectly reasonable place to be”.

Peter Fray

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