Reporting politics in Balmain is always exciting, and it’s not just because we are still swapping theories about who bashed former ALP MP Peter Baldwin. Since giving birth to the Australian Labor Party in 1891, this inner-western Sydney suburb has played a part in the creation of the No Aircraft Noise Party, the No Land Tax Party and hundreds of community groups aimed at stopping others from doing something (usually enjoyable). Throw in optional preferential voting, and it’s always anyone’s guess.
At the moment, the three main parties — Labor, Liberal and the Greens — are locked in a bloody and expensive three-cornered contest for this crucial seat. At the 2011 election, each party received about 30% of the primary vote, with the preferences from the third-placed Labor member Verity Firth pushing the Greens’ Jamie Parker over the line after a nail-biting recount that lasted for days.
This time around, according to the ABC election guru Antony Green, Parker holds the seat on a 0.4% margin to Labor, which has preselected the high-profile Firth to come back and run again for her old seat. Although Labor and the Greens have agreed to swap preferences on 23 of its seats and the upper house, this will not apply here, where they will fight it out to the death.
Last night, the local newspaper, the Inner West Courier, conducted a candidates’ forum at the Town Hall Hotel, which brought out a mixed lolly bag of interest groups. Despite the heat, there was someone in a furry koala suit from ChipBusters, which is not anti-junk food but actually fights woodchipping. Lots of people were there to ask about the WestConnex freeway, which is as popular as Ebola round here due its potential to affect the only thing we really care about: house prices.
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Jamie and Verity were there, along with the Australian Cyclists Party candidate Patrick Fogarty, who appears to be a better-educated version of Ricky Muir — a non-politician with a genuine story. A statistician by training, he was able to speak convincingly about obesity rates, cost to the public health system and also the cost/benefit analyses of highways. Did you know that a metre of new highway costs $1 million? And that the government spends $700 per person, per year on roads, and $4.20 on cycling infrastructure? The (very lean) mathematician, who has drawn first place on the voting ticket, actually made it sound quite interesting.
Round here, judging by the number of middle-aged men clogging up the cafes in tight Lycra, he should do pretty well. At least he turned up in normal clothes, unlike his supporter, who was sweating buckets in a clingwrap top emblazoned with “I cycle I vote”.
The Australian Cyclists Party (there’s no apostrophe) is running candidates in 21 upper and lower house seats, largely due to the efforts of founder Omar Khalifa, an early employee of Apple. He’s aided by preference whisperer and keen cyclist Glenn Druery, who has a good track record in helping micro-parties. In Balmain, the Greens are directing their preferences to the ACP first, then the Animal Justice Party and on to Labor. I’m avoiding all functions held by the Animal Justice Party, which is closely connected to Animal Liberation, due to its insistence on serving vegan food. But it’s well-resourced, actually has good policies (including stopping the live-animal export trade) and should pick up a few votes here.
While the Liberal vote has been steadily rising for years, this time around, local party members are less optimistic, citing the usual protest vote against an incumbent government. At the local council elections last August, always a reasonable indication of state voting trends, the Liberal vote fell 7%, the Greens lost 6% while Labor was largely unchanged. One of the independent councillors, John Stamolis, got a 13% surge in his vote, reflecting a commonly expressed disillusionment with the major parties. Lyndon Gannon, the Liberal candidate this time, has kept a very low profile and failed to appear last night. Local gossip has it that all the first-time political candidates have been told by head office to stay out of sight to avoid another “Jaymes Diaz situation”.
So, come March 28, the electors of Balmain will actually have a good group of candidates to choose from. Personally, I will support the candidate who will rid me of a large possum that is presently laying siege to our house. If the Australian Cyclists Party can come and turn him into roadkill, it has my vote.