This week, a bit of the spotlight in this election campaign was shed on Lindsay – the fabled seat that became all important in 1996, when its fall to the Liberal Party signified the end of the narrative that had Penrith as a constant “rusted on” Labor area. When it switched back in 2007, it was held as an example of the success of the Kevin 07 campaign – along as the cynicism of the type of people who organised the notorious fake leaflets in North St. Marys.
In this election campaign, it appears to be important again – though maybe the Liberal Party think it’s already in the bag, considering that Abbott appeared in the seat early in the campaign and only made an announcement of something that’s already been allocated funds. It seems that the Liberals’ strategists are right, considering the easy victory that will occur, according to a Guardian poll taken this week. As with 1996, it seems that the cricket bats are ready to wielded against the ALP in the seat. I am not entirely surprised that the poll showed that the Liberals will probably win the seat. What surprised me was the size of the primary vote, as well as the view that Rudd’s return doesn’t seem to have helped Bradbury very much:
In the light of this poll, it is important to see what kind of candidates are running in the area, especially its probable future member. On Wednesday night, I went to a Lindsay Votes forum organised by the local News Corp newspaper, the Penrith Press. The tweets from the session are preserved here – most of the tweets were done by me and by local resident Mick Morris. It was a fairly predictable evening in a number of ways – you had the main two candidates treading a well worn path, though not entirely sounding like a string of soundbites, which was a relief ; there was a virtual exclusion for most of the Q and A session of the other candidates ; the other candidates were a colourful bunch that revealed interesting insights into the region.
One of those insights was the reaction of the audience to a question related to “sex appeal” – older Liberal voters in the crowd were shouting “shame” and “what a stupid question” – clearly they don’t like the way such trivial matters come up in election campaigns – or maybe it’s the word “sex”. But they were quick to disapprove. Scott laughed it off as a lighthearted compliment from a “mate”. Bradbury said he was relieved that people didn’t apply it to him “with his head”. Haw Haw.
It was an evening focused on the main two parties – most of the questions were focused on them, and the answers provided by them. We did, however, have the Australia First candidate, Mick Saunders, who continually referred to the fact he is a truckie. He came out with lines such as “I’m a truckie, and I…” ; “I don’t have a degree, I have something better – common sense” ; “I’ve been married for 33 years and I think…” ; and also a smack down for multiculturalism, unsurprisingly. For those outside Lindsay who would be surprised that Australia First still exist, Penrith Council has an Australia First councillor, a man by the name of Maurice Girotto, who is also a truckie. He was substantially helped by the fact that Liberal and Labor refused to preference the Greens candidate for the East Ward – the ward that contains North St. Marys, where the fake leaflets were dropped.
The Australia First candidates have that Pauline Hanson style appeal to voters who feel confused about the way the world is moving towards a globalised place – they speak about “common sense” and “real solutions” like building more factories and “getting things done” as well as knocking out “political correctness”. Saunders had that in spades. His answers, as the night went on were things like – because he’s a truckie who drives into the city, he knows the problems with the roads and the fact that factories are moving out from Botany and Alexandria out to the west – his pitch was that Penrith should be getting those factories. Looking at candidates like Saunders, you can see that the appeal of Australia First isn’t just the dog whistling title of the party. It’s also a philosophy of 1950s / 1960s politics where the “wogs” and “reffos” ran the local fish and chip shop and became Aussie like the rest of them, there were no such thing as gays and roads were the way of the future.
Then there was Andrew Green, the Christian Democrat candidate, whose pitch was based on the Bible – hence why he held an old one up during his opening 2 minute pitch to the gathered group. He then went onto talk about his “compassion” for homosexual people who have made the choice to give into their “tendencies”. He then talked about three of his male cousins who were gay – mentioning that two of them were now dead. He then cited some “fact” that “gay men die at an earlier age than heterosexual ones”. Green (note the irony of the name) was conscious of the dislocation of his views and that of the modern day and didn’t make apologies for his “Christian” view of the world. It was quite remarkable a display of antediluvian thinking.
As for the Greens candidate, David Lenton, I won’t comment on his performance, considering that I was at the event as a Greens volunteer worker for the campaign and David is a good friend of mine. I will, however, reflect on this quote from Margot Saville’s comment on Lenton from her Crikey piece ($) about the forum:
Stereotyping, it seems, is not just a staple of the “mainstream” media. Maybe he should have sung the Greens’ platform during the brief opportunities he was afforded.
It was the Bradbury and Scott show and both provided a fairly solid performance. Bradbury managed to produce a fairly competent representation of himself as economics wonk and explained carefully what the Government had done and was continuing to do with the economy – he came across as dry and competent. Scott presented the party lines with some flesh – she was good at reciting stuff from the Real Solutions pamphlet, unlike Jaymes Diaz, but was more interested in talking about her connections to the area, that she went overseas and worked, but chose to live in Lindsay – and working for Westfield, which sums up her attitude to the world of economics and politics – it is a retail based view, with time and respect for small business leaseholders inside that world. Both did mention the dreaded boats – but both talked of similar things, with lives lost at seas, and so on – but Scott referred to John Howard’s times, Bradbury spoke of the positive qualities of the PNG solution. Unsurprising, uncontroversial.
One theme that arose from the evening was the idea of transport and local jobs – Scott frequently referred to the “long commute” for many residents in the region. Then later, referred to the Wesconnex – something designed to help with the long commute. A more than slightly contradictory statement. Also mentioned was the usually taboo Badgery’s Creek airport – not supporting an airport at Badgery’s Creek is an article of faith for big party candidates for Lindsay and will continue to be, no matter what their leaders say.
Another curious offshoot of the evening was the ever present issues of asbestos and the NBN and the nuclear waste from Hunter’s Hill that could be sent to a site in Kemps Creek – issues that matter to people in the electorate. They were difficult questions to answer. In the case of Kemps Creek, Scott was abrupt in cutting it off and shifted it to it being a state issue while Bradbury said it was outrageous, and so on – he, along with Chris Bowen and Chris Hayes have made it an important side issue in the region.
The asbestos tale was intriguing in that it said something about the retail politics that are important in a seat like Lindsay. Bradbury talked of personal meetings he had had with locals about the issue and then saying that Scott, during a phone link up with people in the seat claimed Bradbury was doing “nothing” about it, citing a Western Weekender newspaper article saying as much. This comment met with some laughs from people who know that the Western Weekender has links to Liberal Party supporters in the area. Scott responded by saying that she had had meetings with people about it in cafes and so on – showing that she cared. It was a messy insight into the importance of constant connections to the community.
The event didn’t attract the national newspaper media, which wasn’t surprising – there wasn’t much for them in terms of “sex appeal” moments. Though, there was a crew from Four Corners, which was interesting. Present also were the usual gaggle of advisers you get at these events – though the supporters for Fiona Scott was telling for people who know of the internal world of Liberal politics in the Lindsay electorate. Scott is considered by some to be a member of the more “moderate” side of Liberal politics in the area, as opposed to the more conservative wing. Her family has been a part of Liberal politics in the region for a number of years – her father an owner of a local car parts business that has been around for decades. This is why it was telling that present was Ross Fowler, local councillor and member of the “moderate” Liberals as well as another well known local “moderate”, Senator Marise Payne. Notable for their absence, however, was the more conservative Liberal mayor of Penrith, Mark Davies, his wife, Tanya – the member for Mulgoa in the state parliament – and local Liberal councillors from that group. While this may be just gossip to many outside the region, it’s still interesting for the way politics is playing out in western Sydney, as well as the way the Liberal Party is evolving and changing. It could also shed some light as to why Tony Abbott called Fiona Scott “feisty and with sex appeal” as opposed to “a fantastic candidate who would have a crucial role to play in a future Abbott Government”.
An interesting evening overall, though only as a museum piece where such events matter to the population at large. These days, it seems to be just the old, the interested young and the middle aged political tragic there to watch as a tightly managed and timed event wends it way slowly along the pathway of irrelevance as the leaders spin their slogans and take their selfies. But in the meantime, there will be those Australia First candidates, driving their trucks.