Contributed by Jim Hayes
The victory by Greens Candidate Linda Thorpe in the Northcote by-election is important, not so much because the win went to the Greens, or even by making history with the first indigenous woman elected into Victoria’s parliament, as much as because this has provided a litmus test, for the level of disenchantment that is rising around Australia.
As well as in the immediate sense, this has longer-term implications for the whole nation.
Closer to home, Victoria’s Andrews Labor government faces an election next year. In Northcote and other inner Melbourne electorates, Labor has been seeing the erosion of its heartland over some years. But rather than going to the Coalition, the drift is mainly towards the Greens.Labour has to contend with this reality. It is in the inner suburbs, where this is most likely to be at this time, converted into seats.
As well as the big picture, there are local issues. Sometimes too much weight is given to gentrification, that is, the coming in of a more professional, educated and better heeled population. There is some of this. But changing political attitudes are also being seen among Labor’s traditional working class heartland.
The Andrews Government is vulnerable because to its intention to turn over public housing land to a mix of public, broader social and private housing, increasingly seen as privatisation through the back door.
Inner Melbourne faces a housing affordability crisis, where average homes are now, routinely priced on the wrong side of $1 million. People are hurting. Although there is a promise for more resources to be committed in this direction, it is not enough to turn the tide.
Another key local issue is the escalating traffic congestion that is turning the city into a commuting nightmare. There is more public transport. The down side is that the growth has not been enough to
meet the pace of increasing demand and trains and trams have become overcrowded.
The Coalition parties have nothing to smile about. Their position is worse. The biggest burden they have in Victoria is the unpopular Turnbull government in Canberra. Even without this, they are a non-show in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.
The disenchanted are turning away from traditional political institutions and the two party system, although this takes different forms in different places. Northcote is no exception.
In the century of its existence, the seat has always been held by Labor. Once by a big margin. In recent years this has dwindled, and it has now gone.
In the short-term, Labor faces a serious threat in Richmond and Brunswick and this has the potential of eroding the government’s majority and putting the Greens in a bargaining position.
An even bigger challenge in the long-run, is the widespread belief that the politicians do not listen to the average punter and are far too busy looking after the big end of town. Alternatives are looking better. In Melbourne’s inner suburbs, this is translating into growing support for the Greens.
This is despite the Andrews government performing overall, better than other Australian governments have for a very long time. It remains vulnerable to the growing disrepute of the political institutions and the two party system.
There is a definite current calling for an end to a political consensus that has delivered austerity and the degradation of public services, that tackles the economic downturn by camping down on the most vulnerable. This current wants an end to the pampering of the big end of town and a politics that puts people first.
Australia’s political institutions are in greater disrepute than they have been for a very long time and the two-party system along with it.
Although the Andrews government has performed better than its contemporaries, it has still been hit by the fallout.
Unless there is sufficient action to restore what government have cut over the years, the political leaders show more confidence in people and there is greater transparency, unless more effort is put into raising revenue by clamping down on the massive tax evasion industry, unless a greater priority is given to tackling growing inequality and lifting fairness, unless more is done to give power back to communities, providing more opportunities and reversing the downward pressure on the standard of living, the political mistrust and search for different solutions will continue.
Unless much more is done to take decisive action on global warming, developing sustainability, reducing dependence on creating carbon emissions, to sufficiently improve urban planning and infrastructure, the trend will continue.