Why The Greens won’t win Marrickville

By all rights, The Greens’ candidate for Marrickville in the forthcoming NSW state election should be a shoe-in. This is The Greens heartland, and Fiona Byrne is a local councillor and presumably knows her patch. Labor incumbent Carmel Tebbutt, the Princess of Marrickville (so-called because her husband Anthony Albanese, the Prince of Marrickville, is the Federal ALP member for the equivalent district, Grayndler) has to dissuade us from thoughts that the NSW ALP government is rotten to the core. And environmental issues are at the top of the agenda.

But it won’t happen. And here’s why…

Earlier tonight, my post-gym dinner-and-drinks led me to the Carlisle Castle Hotel. It was a quiet night, and my gym partner and I were almost alone in the front bar until Fiona Byrne and her entourage turned up after a candidates’ forum at the Newtown Community Centre.

I thought I recognised her. Despite The Greens being all for the environment, they’re always the first to visually pollute the neighbourhood with posters of their candidates’ photos . And I heard someone introduce “Derek” as “the campaign manager”. So I figured I was in the company of The Candidate and Her Team.

Here’s what I noticed, as they debauched themselves on two schooners of Cascade Light:

  • Derek reckons they only need to convince 3000 more voters to mark The Greens as first preference, and Fiona’s in. I reckon that’s probably right, but does Antony Green agree?
  • Despite me mentioning that I was once a media producer (and therefore election-savvy) and a local voter, Derek didn’t even bother introducing The Candidate. They all seemed more interested in talking to each other than the voter sitting in front of them.
  • I read every single piece of paper that comes through my mailbox, and I hadn’t even heard of this candidates’ forum.
  • They simply didn’t look hungry for victory. They didn’t have the body language and demeanour of winners.

Way back when I worked for the ABC (yes, the 1980s), I happened to meet Michael Dukakis, the former Governor of Massachusetts and the Democrats’ candidate for President of the USA against Bush I.

When I was introduced, Dukakis looked me straight in the eye, grasped my hand, smiled — and for a moment he made me feel like the most important person in the universe. I knew I was in the presence of a professional, and I wanted to hear what he had to say.

Sure, a moment later the spell was broken, and we got on with recording the interview. But he was good, very good. And while I don’t expect the local candidate in an Australian state election to have the same charisma as a potential POTUS… Jesus, people, at least try!

And while you’re at it, look like you could actually run the state of New South Wales, instead of a being just another whingey lobby group on bicycles.

You’ve got six weeks. Focus, focus.

7 Replies to “Why The Greens won’t win Marrickville”

  1. Someone else has pointed out that the end of my main posting makes it look like I want The Greens to win. No, I don’t, particularly.

    I think it’d be interesting for parliament to have a wider range of views, though, rather than the “Me too! Me too!” copy-cats of the ALP and the Coalition.

  2. For those of us familiar enough with US politics we know the spin cycle that operates right down to the personal level of equating one to one friendliness with somehow being a leader of great vision and talent. Surely this is politics at its most superficial.

    As for the evening itself, it was promoted by the Neighbourhood Centre, not the political parties. Given the weight of topics discussed it was perhaps too polite, but if being polite is a fault then that’s Fiona.

    The night was notable perhaps for Carmel Tebbutt using figures or bureaucracy to not answer any topic of real concern. For example, the Labor Party has announced a “scoping study” into the need for a lift at Newtown Station. That a lift is needed at Newtown and many other local stations is blindingly obvious, and yet no money has been committed to building at Newtown or elsewhere.

    A question was asked about developer donations to political parties. Ms Tebbutt’s response was not to engage with the ethics of this but to merely say she would follow the rules set out be her Government. Reassuring?

    That is of course that the Labor Party and the Liberals will continue to take large sums of money from those with vested interests in everything from Harbour views to high rise development. Lovely stuff.

    Ms Tebbutt it seems is also in favour of the desalination plant, or bottled electricity as former Premier Bob Carr correctly called it. Ms Tebbutt also obfuscated on same sex marriage, child care, train timetables and indeed most other things.

    That Ms Tebbutt can take a brief is not in doubt. That she is not prepared to offer even the mildest criticism or apology for the many gross failures of the Government of which she is part was maybe not a surprise, but it doesn’t fill me with hope that a re-elected Labor Government is capable of improvement.

    The only thing you could say in the ALP’s favour at the end of the night was that the Liberal candidate was unable to answer a significant question beyond his own name, and offers demonstrable proof that a Liberal Government would be worse.

    As I’m also a Greens Councillor on Marrickville Council with Fiona I’ve got to know that Fiona acts ethically, works hard and has a passion for making this place a better one, and I also know she’s motivated not by power but by the desire to see a more ethical and sustainable society.

    If the worst thing we are is dull, then so be it. I think Fiona is serious enough to take the business of Government seriously, and surely that’s all anyone can reasonably ask.

  3. Colin: Thanks very much for the detailed comment.

    The “personality politics” of equating friendliness with leadership potential is indeed “superficial”, but that’s the reality of the political environment. If a candidate wants to get elected, they need to work within that reality — and that means projecting an engaging, friendly personality.

    Fiona’s challenge is that acting ethically, working hard and being motivated by ethical desires rather than a lust for power is all well and good — but it doesn’t get you elected. And you don’t get to “make a difference” until you are elected.

    I see this as a problem with “the left” in general, and it’s similar to the point made in that anti-NeoCon bible, George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant: those on the left are completely busy being nice people and helping the underdog to get around to deploying a long-term strategy which will actually let them win.

    (You can get the gist of Lakoff’s arguments without forking out $22 on a very small, repetitive book by downloading the free sampler.)

    Some interesting points you raise there, too, and some of them I’ll follow up… thanks.

  4. Hi, I’m a member of the newtown ALP branch, and I just thought i’d add a bit to the comment about the upgrade to newtown station. Yep, having a lift at Newtown station is blindingly obvious. Carmel has been working on getting the funding for it for the last 12 months. She’s had the design work and cost analysis done and submitted to the state government for approval – which cost an amazing (well, amazing to me) $200,000. Thats basically because newtown station is so narrow and the grade is so steep there’s a few engineering issues that have to be dealt with before lifts can be put in. Anyway, once its approved and the funding to do it comes through (which will hopefully be before the election in march) then the upgrade will begin. Of course, all this depends on govt and bureaucracy which we all know has a reputation for slowness, regardless of who’s in power.

    cheers,
    rae

  5. Thanks for that info, Rae. Much appreciated.

    To me, $200k doesn’t sound a particularly big amount for design and approvals, especially since (IIRC) Newtown Station is a heritage building and there’s so many players involved. With corporate or government work, it’s usually the case that for every hour of “productive work” there’s 3 or 4 hours of people discussing whether the work has been done.

    What I don’t understand is the simple series of facts that government buildings have been required by law to have wheelchair access since the 1980s, and the station is a government building — so why wasn’t this all sorted out two decades ago?

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