Surrounded by three walls of exposed and distressed brick, and tangles of ferns and vines, the inner-city Labor candidate didn’t hold back. “We’re the party who believing in winning government so the state can be used to make better lives for people!” he thundered. “They’re the party who want to just let things run! Well, look how that’s turned out!”
This was Collingwood, Melbourne, yesterday afternoon, a brewery bar in the backstreet, the smooth metal high tech vats visible through a window, so people here could remember what industry looked like. Hipsters and YIUF — young inner urban families — in the main area, feeding kids hand-cut chips (“eat your aioli!”) seated around what looked like repurposed wool-classing tables.
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The music blared but over here, in the staging area, 80 or so people packed tight, the member cut through. He swung round to the Greens. “We’re out there on the field, they’re up there in the cheap seats. Some of them want a Liberal government so they can have better demos! They want protest! We want to do the things in government so you don’t have to to protest!”
“Yessss,” the crowd yelled back.
This guy’s great I thought, nursing a $7 half-pint, feeling John Wren turn slowly in his grave. He’s going to destroy his Greens opponent. And of course he will, cos this was Anthony Albanese, compact and explosive, in dark blue polo and matching pants — Labor superhero in costume, down from Sydney for the day to launch the campaign of Luke Creasey, the third candidate to go up against Adam Bandt in the green republic of Melbourne.
Albo wont be troubled by his Greens opponent in Grayndler unless something very strange happens, but Luke has a somewhat more challenging assignment, going up against a local member who now sits on a 43.7% primary vote, and in 2016 pushed Labor to third place, behind the Libs. He’d spoken earlier, and he’d said… well that was difficult to know at the back. Albo could bounce his voice off the remnant peeling Castrol ads on the back wall; Luke Creasey, without a PA, and battling Kasabian blaring from the main area — “piss-up in a brewery,” I must admit I thought to myself — was struggling.
I heard something about real action on climate change and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme of yore, voters being taken for granted, chaos in the Greens, and the chance to have a local member in the government. It was assertive enough, confidently pitched and, volume aside, only undermined by the fact that Luke Creasey looks 15-and-a-half years old.
There’s no getting round it. He’s a slim young man, with bushy hair and a huge smile, favours the white open-neck shirt and basic blue suit (usually a Greens uniform, although they like the shiny grey suit, which makes them look like time travellers from the future), and he looks 15-and-a-half.
He looks more Green than the Greens, with Adam Bandt now in horn rims and starting to run to middle-aged spread. Bizarre turnaround: Bandt now looks like the member who’s been there for ever, Creasey like the up-and-coming challenger. Mostly, though, he looks like a cast member of Glee, and out on the street, that may be a tiny problemette.
“20 bucks! 20 bucks?'” said the novelist Shane Maloney, when bailed up for a donation. ‘I’ll give you 20 bucks when he starts shaving!’
Maybe not. Creasey is personable enough, from modest background, and is a frontline teacher, at Coburg High — although before that he was, for several years, a home economics teacher at the famed Princes Hill Secondary in Melbourne’s inner north, pretty much the Green Eton.
“We know it’s an uphill battle,” he tells me, having avoided my request for a photo of him beside his portrait display, which would have made him look like a lunatic. “But we’re really encouraged by the support we’re getting, especially from young people.”
A volunteer bursts in: “My nephew has voted Green since he was 18, and this year he joined the Labor party!”
“People want to get things done, not protest from the sidelines!”
“Adam Bandt — he’s never knocked on my door.”
“The Greens have shown themselves to be a party of individualists — look at what they did to Alex Bhathal.”
Vox popping gets a little difficult. This is Crikey subscriber central and people know and either love me — “your piece on that Checkerboard Shop made me cry” — or the other. “In a 2013 article,” says a woman staring at my gut, and not in lust, “you called me a ‘typically chunky ALP type’ and I’d like an apology!”. Which I give now, ma’am.
But the tenor is that Labor is in with a good chance, not only because the Greens have faltered — “they’ve damaged themselves because they claimed to hold us all to a higher standard” — but because Labor has changed. “Better organisation, better policies — we’ve ditched this neoliberal crap.” There’s a lot of that, a real feeling that Labor was captured by a persistent market fundamentalism, extending to the end of St. Julia’s term, even though no one will name her.
But whether that is enough to recapture the seat is another question (the betting agencies don’t think so). There’s no doubt that Labor, combining a focus on wage levels and real action on climate change, is making inroads into inner-city young people, who have come to see the Greens as a social/moral issues party, refugees and same-sex marriage, run by (and for) now-prosperous knowledge-class gen X and Y voters. That will only be reinforced by the party’s “turquoise turn” to Higgins and Macnamara, leafy eastern and southside seats.
Yet a lot of what Labor is nailing its colours to — Albo: “Newstart hasn’t had a raise for years!” and Creasey: “we need Labor in to fix the NDIS” — were, oh, um, remind me again. The Greens remain objectively to the left on a lot of industrial issues, and while some say Adam Bandt is an absent presence, others, such as African-Australian communities in the Flemington flats on the electorate’s west side — a long way from craft beer — are keen supporters, one of the many groups contributing to a steadily rising majority. Still, if the Greens have lost their fizz, Melbourne is where we’ll find that out.
Creasey helps pack up, sticks one of the sandwich boards under his arm. I try to get a photo, the candidate staring up at his own armpit. But he is suddenly surrounded by his advisers. The boy is whisked out the door for three more weeks of pounding Melbourne’s mean streets, to knock off old man Bandt.
Once, brick warrens of workshops and low terraces, so knit-tight that 32 blocks had their own football team, this is now a sprawling principality of a hundred languages and peoples. The bar staff have beards the workers here had 150 years ago, but they’re all in promising bands. Life changes faster than politics; politics isn’t anything other than catching up. I finish my half — what’s wrong with pots!? — and go. It’s early, but it feels late.