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Left is fine - just not the Labor Party
Here on the Illawarra coast, south of Sydney, spring sparkled on
Saturday. Some bushwalked, some went hang-gliding; others filled the
beaches, cafes and pubs.
This hedonism extended to another - perhaps guilty - pleasure:
giving the Labor Party a ferocious caning in the Cunningham
At close of counting yesterday it was almost certain that the
Greens had broken into the Australian House of Representatives.
Simon Crean will now cop the heat, but he can plead extenuating
Cunningham is an unusual seat. At federal elections, usually even
the bluest-ribbon Labor electorates contain affluent Liberal
enclaves. Not here, where the wealthy booths vote Labor too.
The old mining towns from Austinmer to Stanwell Park have
received hordes of sea-changing inner-Sydneysiders over the past
Many commute to the state capital and others remain economically
well-plugged; average incomes are high, house prices are Sydneyesque
and the lattes flow freely.
Wollongong, a half-hour drive down the coast, is a large town
with collapsing industry and smoke, drugs, crime and unemployment.
Much of the work is low-skill.
Cunningham covers both of these, and at last year's federal
election swung to the Coalition by 7 per cent.
Despite this, it remained safe for Labor's Stephen Martin - vis à
vis the Liberal Party at least.
The Libs didn't run last Saturday and would have had no chance
had they done so. What happened on Saturday was an internal
squabble, a fight between the community-based Left and the
mainstream Centre-Left. Perversely, it seems to have been decided by
the Right (Liberal voters.)
The Labor Party is not popular. Anger at ALP local
council-developer hanky-panky erupted last month with the election
of an independent lord mayor. The manner of Martin's departure from
politics and the foisting by Labor's head office of its own
candidate still get a good run in the local Illawarra
Disaffected unionists found expression in independent Peter
Wilson, bourgeois lefties in the Green Michael Organ. These two
swapped preferences. (So close were their camps that at my polling
booth they shared a table.) De facto Liberal David Moulds, who beat
Wilson into third place, preferenced the Greens ahead of Labor.
Everyone did - 12 in all. Simon Crean can't entirely escape
blame. A leader with authority might have stemmed the tide.
But Cunningham is symptomatic of wider changes. The nationwide
anti-conservative vote continues to splinter. Opinion polls show
that while Labor's stocks are low, the broad left vote is reasonably
This is not as bad for Labor as might appear. Under compulsory
preferential voting, you must number every square, and the vast
majority of Green voters would sooner gnaw off their arm than put
Tory before Labor.
It was preferential voting that did Labor in at Cunningham,
turning a 38 to 24 per cent first-preference lead into a loss. But
preferential voting keeps Labor competitive with the Coalition.
Peter Brent lives in Cunningham and is editor of
mumble.com.au, a website that looks at electoral behaviour.
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