BY WENDY BACON
Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong recorded the highest vote ever for a Greens MP in a single member electorate in Australia in the NSW election last weekend.
Leong recorded 46.8 per cent of the primary vote, with a small swing towards her from her 2015 result. In central Newtown around King Street, she won the majortiy of votes in a number of booths.
In Balmain, Jamie Parker won a third term with a swing of 7 per cent in his primary vote to 43.39 per cent. From a very tight finish in 2011, when he unseated Labor’s Verity Firth, the popular local member has recorded 7 per cent swings in each of the following elections and now has more than 60 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.
Overall, this NSW election was a good one for the Greens.
On the Northern Rivers, Ballina MP Tamara Smith also retained her seat with a swing, and Sue Higgenson only narrowly lost to Labor’s Janelle Saffin, who defeated the Nationals in Lismore. David Shoebridge and Abigail Boyd have both won seats in the Legislative Council, although overall the vote was down slightly, which was likely due to votes that went to the micro-party Keep Sydney Open.
Greens’ clean sweep
What was even more striking was the evenness of the vote across Newtown and Balmain, with the Greens winning a clean sweep of booths from the tip of the Balmain peninsula to Leichhardt in the West across to South Dowling Street in Surry Hills. Only a tiny Factory Community Centre in Redfern with approximately 150 votes was lost by the Greens by nine votes.
The major parties both lost votes, with Labor dropping below 30 per cent primary vote in both seats and the Liberals below 20 per cent.
By contrast, Labor MP Jo Haylon recorded a swing to her against the Greens in Summer Hill.
Labor MP Ron Hoenig also easily won his seat of Heffron, which covers Alexandria and Greens Square, but even in this seat the Greens’ Kym Chapple had a swing towards her and won the booths adjacent to the Newtown electorate in St Peters and Erskineville.
Alex Greenwich also easily retained his seat of Sydney with a swing to him, while the Liberals came second with just under 30 per cent of the primary vote. Labor’s Marjorie O’Neill won Coogee from the Liberals.
Even in wealthy Vaucluse, the Greens recorded a swing with 32 per cent of the two-party preferred vote against Liberal Gabrielle Upton.
This means that the Gladys Berejiklian’s Coalition government holds no seats from Vaucluse to Parramatta in the West. This huge stretch of global Sydney is threatened by traffic congestion, impacts of construction and lack of affordable housing. Students struggle with the cost of living. Lockout Laws and abuse of police powers threaten the quality of life. Communities are keenly aware that they have been locked out of decision making by undemocratic planning laws.
But the city is politically divided. Against expectations, the Berejiklian government scraped home with a majority, which means that it is in a strong position to complete unpopular projects such as the knockdown of Sydney Stadium, the Sirius Building, the Powerhouse, the massive overdevelopment of Waterloo and the metro and real estate development from Sydenham to Bankstown.
Last but not least is the hugely unpopular WestConnex that threatens to damage thousands of homes across the Inner West and devastate Rozelle. Rather than gain acceptance since 2015, WestConnex has become more toxic with even the Coalition preferring to ignore it during the election campaign. As public transport is increasingly strained, there has been a surge in support for public transport, rather than road building, as a way of solving Sydney’s horrific transport congestion. This is particularly true amongst younger inner Sydney voters, many of whom don’t own a car.
Long term supporters turn against Labor
Newtown and Balmain are the seats most affected by WestConnex. Older lifetime Labor supporteers feel betrayed by the party whose leaders have not answered thousands of letters or being prepared to meet with campaigning groups.
In 2015, Leong entered the race for the new seat of Newtown with a strong background in human rights including LGBTI rights. She had been a local for many years. But her resounding win against Labor’s Penny Sharpe must be partly attributed to the Labor party’s failure to oppose WestConnex. ( Sharpe is now acting Leader Labor Leader as a result of returning to her seat in the Upper House after she was defeated in 2015).
Local Labor members were in shock after the 2015 defeat but this time, they were not optimistic about winning the seat back from Leong, who has been a popular MP. She has publicly campaigned for Equal Marriage, tenancy rights, massive over development in Waterloo and against racism as well as continuing to support protests against WestConnex. Respected Aboriginal elder Norma Ingram was chosen as the Labor candidate and although her family have lived in the area for many years, her letterboxed pamphlets contained no policies. This was never likely to be a successful strategy.
Public health doctoral student Ellie Howse was chosen as Labor’s candidate for Balmain. Here the tactics were rougher. There were robot calls to electors from the poker machine lobby. An unbranded attack ‘shit sheet’ endorsed by Labor that highlighted internal conflict in the Greens was distributed across the electorate in the final weeks. Both tactics appeared to backfire. The pamphlet probably only served to remind voters of Labor’s long history of corruption and heavy campaigning tactics, including in the Inner West
But Westconnex was not the only issue that delivered such a convincing win for the Greens. Inner Sydney voters showed that they preferred to vote for positive progressive policies on climate change, renewable energy, decriminalisation of abortion, free TAFE, public school funding, cheap public transport, reform to planning laws and police powers and for an inclusive society.
These progressive voters were hoping that Labor might win enough seats to form a minority government in which it would govern with basic support of Greens and Independent MPs. This looked like a realistic position until the last week of the campaign. But then when Opposition leader Michael Daley was revealed to have openly dog whistled with “us versus them” comments directed at Asian background residents during a discussion about affordable housing. This incident occurred at a Politics in the Pub event in the Blue Mountains late last year. A couple of days after this damageing incident was revealed, Daley suffered memory lapses in a television broadcast debate with Berejiklian. While not so important, this incident was also amplified by a media that by then was openly barracking for the Coalition. Together these events dinted the air of competence that Daley had managed to build.
One Nation benefits Ayres
If Labor has won minority government, it would have meant that the Sirius building, the Powerhouse Museum, the Stadium and the historic Windsor Bridge, at least, would all have been saved. With Labor dependent on their support, the Greens would have been able to put pressure on Labor to cost the cancellation of WestConnex Stage 3 and implement Greens policies designed to mitigate its impacts.
Anti-WestConnex toll campaigners affected diminished the vote of the Minister for WestConnex, Stuart Ayres, but he survived despite a 4.5 per cent swing against him. He benefitted from the preferences of One Nation, which won more than 6 per cent in Penrith in outer Sydney.
While Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s narrative is one of “opportunity for all,” the behind-the-scenes winners in NSW were the big companies such as Lendlease and CIMIC. These and other corporations depend on an uninterrupted flow of government contracts and approvals. The grassroots campaign against the demolition of the Sydney Stadium will fade, but other groups claim it is back to ‘business as usual.’ On Wednesday, No WestConnex Public Transport Now organised a snap protest outside a WestConnex information session.
Wendy Bacon was previously the Professor of Journalism at UTS and supported the Greens in the election.