By Kieran Adair
With less than six weeks until the state election, Balmain is expected to be the site of another tight race between Labor and the Greens.
Formally considered to be one of Labor’s safest seats, Balmain was won in 2011 by Jamie Parker, the ex Greens mayor of Leichhardt, on a margin of 254 votes. Parker replaced first-term Labor incumbent Verity Firth, who served as Education Minister during the final years of the Labor Government. Firth will be re-contesting the seat this election, after winning Labor’s community pre-selection against Leichhardt Councillor Darcy Byrne.
Balmain remains highly significant to both parties. To the Labor party the seat represents their ‘crown jewel’, it’s harbour front once played host to a thriving working class community, from which the Labor Electoral League, predecessor to modern Labor, emerged in 1891. To the Greens, the seat represents their first break-through into the NSW lower house, and they risk appearing to backslide if they lose it after only one term.
Despite their differing allegiances it’s not clear what policy differences lie between the two candidates. Both are opposed to WestConnex. Both support better environmental standards for the local White Bay cruise ship terminal and proposed Bay’s Precinct redevelopment. Both support live music, and oppose the sale of public assets. While supporters of Firth claim her membership to the Labor party would mean a greater degree of policy influence if reelected, members of Parker’s camp point out that Firth’s membership to the left faction of a right dominated Labor party could limit, rather than enhance, this influence.
Similarly concerning for the Firth camp are recent allegations involving her party’s current leader Luke Foley, and a questionable preference deal he’s said to have brokered during her first election in 2007. The allegations come from former leader of the Climate Change Coalition party, John Harvey, who claims Foley asked him to run a labor-picked candidate in Balmain in ‘07, using how-to-votes printed on green paper to draw votes from the Greens candidate, while giving them as preferences to Labor. Foley has denied these allegations, but they are still damaging to Labors recovering reputation in the area.
But, the real threat to both Parker and Firth may be the relatively unknown Liberal candidate Lyndon Gannon. The last decade has seen an influx of liberal supporters move into the area. If NSW had first-past-the-post voting, it would have been Liberal candidate James Falk, not Parker, that won the seat in 2011. Capitalising on the state-wide anti-Labor backlash, Falk was able to secure the largest share of the primary vote at 32.6 percent, up from 23.8 percent in 2007. The latest census data paints an even bleaker future for Labor and the Greens. Parts of Balmain are now wealthier than Vaucluse, and some say these changes could see both Labor and the Greens wiped from Balmain within the decade.
Lyndon Gannon, 24, has signaled that he will prioritise construction of the White Bay power station, and supporting the current Government’s agenda, if elected in March. “There are no qualifications required, no minimum criteria to be a politician. You just need a can do attitude”, he told the Inner West Courier in December. Despite living in Surry Hills at the time of his preselection, it’s understood he has since moved back to the seat.