On a election day with a entirely predictable outcome, it was great to live in an electorate where your vote actually counted.
As you read this, there are scores of vote counters and scrutineers in the Balmain electorate, still doing a recount on the primary votes and the preferences. Although Labor is slightly ahead, a result may not be known until Tuesday afternoon and the deadline for postal votes, which number about 4000, is Wednesday.
As Balmain is a village, a quick trip to the polling booth and a coffee means that you run into all the players. When I voted at Birchgrove Public, sitting ALP member Verity Firth was standing outside in the drizzle, looking exhausted. By the time I’d stopped off at Bertoni’s, I’d heard from all sides.
Basically, to quote a former PM, the Greens have been totally “rat f-cked” by the Labor Party, who have delivered them a lesson on how real political parties run a marginal campaign. Verity, on a margin of 3.57% and widely tipped to lose the seat to the Green’s Jamie Parker, had always said that Labor would preference the “progressive parties”.
The sensible thing for the Greens to do would have been to preference Labor to keep the Libs out. What no one predicted was the huge increase in the Liberal vote — as at Sunday night they had received 32.4% of the primary vote, representing an 8.7% swing. If NSW had first-past-the-post voting, mild-mannered management consultant James Falk, who doesn’t even live in the electorate, would now be the first Liberal MP for Balmain.
The Greens, however, decided not to direct preferences, as did the Libs, who have learnt their lesson after Melbourne’s Adam Bandt won his federal seat on Liberal prefs. The Greens failed to win a single lower house seat in the last Victorian state election largely because the Libs changed that policy, a tactic that looks like it could have worked here.
What really complicated the picture was the late arrival of a new independent candidate, the former mayor of Leichhardt, Maire Sheehan. For a independent, she had a huge presence, with hundreds of expensive looking placards placed across the electorate.
At the pre-polling booths last week, the Labor how-to-vote read 1. Verity 2. Maire 3. Greens. But at 9am on Saturday, a whole new how-to-vote was handed out — 1. Verity and 2. Maire, with no mention of the Greens. A spokesman for Verity last night said that the pre-poll how-to-votes had been printed some time ago. By the time the election day material was printed, due to “adverse publicity” about Jamie, the ALP had decided that it wasn’t comfortable with giving preferences to the Greens, so he was removed.
What it meant, of course, is that Sheehan’s Trojan horse did its job of taking votes away from the Greens and directing them to Labor. In such a tight result, her 1100-odd votes may have helped save Verity’s political skin. Either way, the ALP has directed a few body blows on the Greens, while the Libs are walking around in a state of shock; several telling me that they had never dreamed of such a massive swing.
The other local scandal involved swastikas being painted on Greens posters. Marrickville Greens candidate and mayor of Marrickville Fiona Byrne has attracted a lot of controversy by supporting the council’s ban on dealing with Israel, leading to the municipality being dubbed the “Inner West Bank.” On Friday night several prominently placed Greens posters had swastikas painted on them, although their lack of symmetry suggested that they were possibly done after pub closing. By mid-morning, they had all been removed.
By 6.30pm, I’d heard all the conspiracy theories and so headed off to the Randwick Labor Club to wait for Kristina. Last federal election night I was with the Libs, so the empty hours were whiled away with some decent-quality White Infuriator. This time, however, I’d drawn Labor and the Greens — undrinkable alcohol — so I fortified myself with a couple of vodkas before leaving. The Labor Club quickly filled up with the booth workers from three of the eastern suburbs electorates — Kristina’s Heffron, Paul Pearce’s Coogee and Michael Daley’s Maroubra.
ALP President Michael Lee was there, as was federal MP Peter Garrett, who is tipped to be standing aside for Kristina, but he declined to answer questions.
Thanks to the open bar (the ALP was picking up the tab) the crowd soon became very rowdy, adding to the general air of fin de siecle. These were true believers, people who would vote Labor for life, and they were seeing out the night with several schooners. Michael Daley’s booth workers were dressed in bright green T-shirts with no discernible reference to the ALP, a tactic that appears to have worked, as he has squeaked back in. By 9pm, KK had appeared and delivered a very good speech, which she had evidently written herself, only looking emotional when she thanked her husband and children.
From there, it was off to the Grandstand Bar at Sydney Uni, where the Greens were gathering to see out the night. It was a much younger, better-looking crowd, many of whom were clutching newly minted iPad 2s. Inside the ladies’ loo, I licked my index finger and ran it over the top of the cisterns, picking up a trace of powder — but as it is a student bar, it could have come from anywhere. (Please do not try this yourselves, unless you carry hand sanitiser, or wish to test your immune system.)
The general air was very subdued, as they assimilated the news that the Green vote, widely tipped to rise, had not done so, and that the good citizens of Marrickville had chosen Carmel Tebbutt and gelfilte fish over Fiona. In addition, the Greens will no longer have the balance of power in the upper house. Bob Brown gave the sort of speech you give your child when she comes fourth at the head of the river — you’ve all tried your hardest and done very well — adding rather mysteriously that the absentee and postal votes should favour the Greens because “we are very mobile”.
I asked upper house member David Shoebridge about Balmain, and he said that they had always expected it would be very close, because they were up against the “most ruthless political machine” in the country, who had put “the Bunsen burner on Balmain”. A few people at the party said that the ALP would have preferred it to go to the Libs than the Greens, because the Greens would keep the seat forever, whereas the ALP could always win it back from the Libs. As Balmain now has more professional residents and SUVs than Mosman, I’m not sure that argument stands up — the birthplace of the Labor Party is starting to look more and more like a Liberal seat every day.
By 10.30pm, the vodkas had well and truly worn off, and I was forced to anaesthetise myself with some bad shiraz from the bar. Bob and Jamie had left, so I followed suit, going home via the RBT van on Victoria Road. When asked by the young policeman, “have you been drinking tonight?” I said yes, explaining that that I’d had to listen to both Kristina Kenneally and Bob Brown. “So how much have you had to drink?” he asked, to which I truthfully replied, “Actually, officer, not enough.”