By Joe Bourke
The outcome of the state election is tipped to be tight and inner city seats could play a pivotal role.
The seats of Balmain, Newtown, Coogee and Sydney look to be some of the most interesting in the state, and are so far too close to call.
Balmain, historically a Labor stronghold is expected to be one of the closest seats in Sydney. Greens MP Jamie Parker has held the seat since 2011, when he took control of the electorate from Verity Firth, who is now re-contesting as the Labor candidate.
This year, the seat loses the traditionally more conservative areas of Haberfield and Dobroyd Point to the newly formed electorate of Summer Hill, meaning there will likely be fewer votes for Liberal hopeful Lyndon Gannon. Mr Gannon has made few public appearances. The real fight is between Mr Parker and Ms Firth.
Perhaps the biggest issue for the future of Balmain is the Bays Precinct. The Liberals’ development plan would see more than 16,000 dwellings pop up in the areas of Blackwattle Bay, Rozelle Bay and White Bay.
On her website, Ms Firth slams Liberal party policy for its lack of “commitments to green space, new affordable housing or even public access to the harbour foreshore”.
When the plan was announced, Mr Parker said the area needed to be developed but was an “opportunity we cannot afford to squander”, saying it needed to have accessibility for the public. He also voiced his concerns over the Liberal government’s previous flagship development of Barangaroo, which now features a 70-storey Packer-owned casino.
Although the policy issues between the Greens and Labor bear some similarities, a critical question is whether or not voters will move on from what many would say was Ms Firth’s downfall last election: the corruption uncovered by ICAC in the O’Beid years when Ms Firth was the sitting member.
This year’s election is expected to see a shift back towards the Labor party. If it is like the swing that unseated Labor candidate and former member Paul Pearce at the last election, it could be enough to secure his return to office. At an electoral forum in February, Mr Pearce came out the victor in the polls with 55 percent. Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith polled 27 percent and Greens candidate Lindsay Shurey garnered 13 percent, with the rest undecided.
An issue which has been plaguing the electorate was the development of Bronte RSL. The Save Bronte community group was active in opposing this, campaigning against the development for over two and a half years with the endorsement of Mr Notley-Smith. The announcement two weeks ago that it would not be developed was a welcome boost for Mr Notley-Smith’s campaign.
Another hot-topic development in Coogee is Bondi’s bus depot. Mr Notley-Smith said it would certainly not be developed, but Mr Pearce said he was sceptical.
Other key issues for Mr Pearce include TAFE funding and the future of RPA Hospital. He said he will “ensure that there is no reduction in quality from this great hospital”. He is also opposed to light rail in the area. Mr Notley-Smith has advocated for the government to deliver Malabar Headlands back to public hands. He is openly gay and a frequent campaigner for LGBTIQ rights.
Tipped by many as the closest seat in the state, the Greens’ Jenny Leong and Labor MP Penny Sharpe will battle it out for the new seat of Newtown.
WestConnex is one of the biggest issues in the electorate and represents a key policy difference between the two frontrunners.
The Labor party has ruled out the compulsory acquisition of homes, the St Peter’s interchange and the M3-M4 tunnel link, but has been criticised for being too similar to the Liberal party on the plan. The Greens have voiced complete opposition to WestConnex, instead saying they would use the money on public transport.
56 percent of Newtown residents are renters, meaning renter’s rights and affordable housing are key to the area. Ms Leong was joined by Scott Ludlam and Jamie Parker last week to announce the ‘Standing up for Renters’ campaign, which would limit rent increases to once a year and cap them to the consumer price index. Ms Leong said this will help long-term renters and make Sydney more affordable.
Ms Sharpe said she wanted to see “public housing tenants have the issues of maintenance and cleaning dealt with properly” and that she would fight against any reduction to affordable housing. She said housing is getting unaffordable for those under the age of 35 and that while there was no quick fix, she wanted to secure a deal with renters “that makes long-term renting more secure”.
Both candidates are campaigners for LGBTIQ rights, and Ms Sharpe is outwardly gay.
Education is also a big issue in the electorate and is prominent on both candidate’s agendas. Ms Leong said the Greens would “continue to deliver child care centres through local council, and to campaign to freeze TAFE fees and restore TAFE funding”.
Mike Baird’s Liberal team announced $86 million as part of their Reskilling NSW plan with $48 million going towards TAFE scholarships for disadvantaged young people. The NSW Labor party has promised $100 million of funding for TAFE, pledging to make TAFE more affordable by reducing fees.
On her website, Penny Sharpe said she would “continue to fight against the cuts and the privatisation of TAFE in NSW”. Both Labor and Liberal parties have also committed to building a new inner city high school, an announcement welcomed by the Greens despite discussion about its location.
Sydney is another seat to watch, and will be contested by Independent MP Alex Greenwich, Liberal Patrice Pandeleos and the ALP’s Edwina Lloyd. Mr Greenwich received the only preference on the Coalition’s ‘how to vote’ card; a solid boost in the tight seat. Ms Lloyd has slammed the preference deal, saying the Liberals had “effectively thrown in the towel” with the decision.