After last night, I’ve decided that the NSW election strategist for the Greens is a genius. In a state where libertarian David Leyonhjelm can be elected by Liberal voters who can’t read, the Greens' candidate in Grayndler, Jim Casey, is a good bet: putting a compact, dark-haired, Aussie-accented union official up against Anthony Albanese will confuse the voters of Marrickville no end and could lead to victory. And if you are going to launch your campaign in a micro-brewery -- a venue so closely associated with Albo it’s been practically trademarked -- then the punters have no chance.
The Greens think they are in with a chance in Grayndler and so a constellation of pollies turned up at Marrickville’s Grifter Brewery to fire the starter’s pistol. Parliamentary leader Richard Di Natale, Senator Lee Rhiannon, NSW MP for Newtown Jenny Leong and lone House of Reps MP Adam Bandt all spoke in favour of sending Jim Casey, the state secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees Union, to Canberra. NSW MLCs Jeremy Buckingham and David Shoebridge were also in the crowd while state MP Jamie Parker turned up late because he was at a Mardi Gras flag-raising ceremony at Leichhardt Council (as was Albo).
There are two main problems for Albo, who’s held the seat for 20 years. The first is the rapid gentrification of the electorate -- Marrickville’s median house price is now about $1.3 million -- and consequent fall in the Labor vote.
The other problem is boundary changes -- Albo loses part of Marrickville (Albanese heartland) and gains progressive Balmain and Rozelle. Last month he gamely launched his campaign in Balmain’s Unity Hall Hotel -- the birthplace of the Labor Party. It was a brave move -- Balmain has voted in NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker twice -- and when Albo said that he knew the area very well, we all looked askance. I’ve lived in the area for 20 years and have never laid eyes on the man, while Parker is a very familiar presence.
ABC election guru Antony Green says on his website that the draft boundaries of the new seat -- final boundaries will be released next Friday -- covers most of two state seats currently held by the Greens. But based on the 2013 election results, Albo would win again, and the Greens would finish third.
However, a local numbers expert last night told me that if you put a map of the federal seat over the state seats and use the booth numbers from the last state election, the Greens have a fighting chance. All this supposes, of course, that electors vote the same way for state and federal campaigns, which is not always the case.
Anyway, the speeches were great, partly because everyone mentioned that Adam Bandt was lonely in the lower house and needed someone to join him on the crossbench. Basically, he’s sick of having to sit next to Bob Katter and ask Clive Palmer to second his motions. Last night everyone was really, really nice to Adam, probably because he was royally shafted for the Greens leadership last year, thus demonstrating that even a group with 11 members can have factions.
Bandt said that he didn't mind Albo as a bloke and he had chatted to him in Parliament. But this election was not about “who you wanted to have a beer with”; Jim would “bring a touch of Bernie Sanders to the inner city”.
Casey’s biggest concern seemed to be climate change. He said that as a firefighter, he saw its effects first hand and said that he’d been involved in planning for extreme weather events. He also spoke eloquently about income inequality, refugee policy and the right of casual workers to earn penalty rates.
Last month Albo described Casey as an “International Socialist” -- he is widely thought to be a member of Lee Rhiannon’s more hardline left-wing faction -- and the candidate addressed this last night. “I’m proud to say I’m a socialist,” he said, adding that the country needed more democracy, not less and that “people like you needed [to have] more control”.
Casey is located at the Balmain Fire Station, which could be very useful. A man who can drag you out of a burning building, revive you with CPR and then rescue the cat? I’d like to see Albo do that.