One cold morning I arrived at Emu Plains Station, nifty Greens postcards in hand, ready to hand them out to punters not really wanting them. It should have dawned on me then that this was a 2.8% of the vote kind of election for the Greens of Lindsay. What was telling, however, was that there was a Liberal volunteer there as well, handing out things for Fiona Scott. A grey haired man from Manly standing in Emu Plains at 6am. I groaned internally because we as Lindsay Greens usually get along fine with the local Liberals at train stations – Fiona Scott included. The same spirit usually exists at pre poll, with a few exceptions. Having said that, the relations between local Greens and local Labor volunteers is usually pretty good as well. My suspicions were proven when our imported Liberal was alternatively rude, sweary and difficult to talk to. Fortunately, the Lindsay Greens has a part of our volunteer group a funny, unique bush poet, who comes out with various witty lines that disarm everyone – including our Manly companion.
On election day, a significant chunk of Liberal volunteers also came from other areas – tellingly one booth captain came from Greenway, Jaymes Diaz’s seat – but a lot of them came from Northern Suburbs of Sydney. I should mention here that the Greens had imports from that area as well. Three. Slightly less than the Liberals. The largest booth in the seat, Jamison High, had a phalanx of imports, including one Killara resident who continually trotted out the same line “Vote to Change the Government, Vote for a Competent Government” – with emphasis on the word “Competent”. It got to the stage where I was standing next to a Labor volunteer, moving my hand along, conductor style, with the inflection of his slogan. After a while, it got to me, so I pulled out a slogan myself, just before he got the chance – “Stop Tony Abbott Getting Full Control of the Senate. Vote Green.” This went against my usual style of just offering the How To Vote. The Labor vollie next to me noticed that the Liberal’s pitch got a touch harder and sterner in response. Maybe, though, he should have spent his time telling people to vote in Box Y in the Senate paper rather than barking things about this Competent New Government.
It has struck me that during this campaign that for the Liberal Party, it’s been about imports, still pitching the idea of the Liberal Party at the residents of Western Sydney, rather than having a naturally grown idea of a Western Suburbs Liberal Party – even if the Liberals have express an interest in such a thing. Firstly, moderate Liberal Senator Marise Payne set up an office in the area, moving from her MLC Burwood educated roots and planting herself in the middle of the region. She has well and truly grafted successfully with the region, establishing a relationship with the Penrith MP Stuart Ayres (at one stage of my time at Jamison High, it had Fiona Scott, Stuart and Marise helping out – quite the trio). Another import – and fellow moderate – Peter Collins has also moved to the region, away from being the former Member for Willoughby. Fiona Scott, another moderate, could be considered somewhat as an import as well, in the sense that while she was raised in the region, she went away overseas and decided to come back. This decision to come back was part of the Scott story during the campaign. This is contrast with many other Penrith Liberals, who grew up and stayed, or long term residents like the notorious Liberal Party member and local Penrith City councillor, Marcus Cornish, who gained his seat on the back of a no mosques policy. Marcus could be seen in the Federal Campaign at train stations in Macquarie, campaigning for the Hard Right’s Louise Markus, not in Lindsay. Penrith’s Hard Right v Moderates battle will continue to brew well after this election.
The idea of imports also struck the seat campaign in Werriwa, where Kent Johns, raised in the Blue Mountains and then became the Mayor of the Sutherland Shire, was running. The difficulty for the Liberals in that area appeared to be in the number of local Liberal members who were first of all keen to run and second competent. Running Kent – a good candidate, but perhaps from the wrong area – was the result. (The same thing happened in 2015, with Coogee’s Pat Farmer running for Macquarie Fields, which is in the same area) That wasn’t an issue in Lindsay, where Scott had to fight off challenges from the Hard Right (named by some Liberals as the “Taliban”), plus whatever people say about her edited performance on Four Corners, she has been very good at the “ground game” of doorknocking and personal voter engagement since the 2010 campaign. Scott wasn’t so good on the public forums, though at least she turned up to a couple, unlike other Western Sydney Libs. In Werriwa, though, the Liberals needed a local to run against the imported Laurie Ferguson. They also needed to better engage over a longer term with cultural groups that have been bending to the Liberals these past years. The same can be said about McMahon, where the microchip gun loving former commander of Cabramatta Police (a police station in Fowler, not McMahon) Ray King appeared to be poor at communicating with the multicultural communities of his seat. The Liberal Party should have performed better in both seats – and possibly should have had Kent – who appears to be a hard working and competent candidate from reports – in McMahon and Ray nowhere to be seen, locked away in a cupboard with Jaymes Diaz.
The chance to do an even deeper Blue Invasion of Western Sydney could now be seen to be lost to the Liberals – it’s hard to imagine them increasing their majority after three years of being a government. It will be interesting to see how successfully the Liberal Party grow the party in various seats, so that in future, they don’t have to bus in the hoardes from the Northern Suburbs and they can have good, reasonable and competent candidates with a long term personal relationship with the electorates. I can imagine that Lindsay is now a true bellwether seat and the Labor Party have the advantage of many more local campaigners, ready to fight the hard fight to gain Lindsay back.