Photo-finish in a three-horse race will determine the local champion
by Simon King
March 25, 2015 12:00AM
Last time, a tea towel separated the top three parties in the Sydney inner-west seat of Balmain. This time, the three-horse race looks even tougher to pick.
Given the area’s increasing gentrification, the days of Labor taking this once working-class heartland for granted are long gone. They are days that Greens MP Jamie Parker — the son of a British merchant sailor who took one look at the Sydney Harbour and refused to go home — can remember clearly.
“There’s been a big change — a lot of people have left Labor … well Labor has left them, really,” said Mr Parker, who nipped past the Liberal candidate in 2011 on Labor preferences to take power.
“Some came to the Greens and, with the changing demographics of the area, the Liberal vote is increasing quite dramatically.”
Mr Parker, who courtesy of the latest redistribution now has the smallest of margins, believes the tightness of the seat is a “a good challenge”. “In this area, they want a local champion — they want someone to speak up for their community and the fact that it is tight means it helps push all of us, and all parties have to take what happens here very seriously.”
He identifies the “mega-projects” — the WestConnex tollway and redevelopment of the 80ha of public waterfront land known as the “bay precinct” (White Bay, Blackwattle Bay and the Rozelle goods yard) — as key issues alongside public housing.
“The bay precinct is the biggest urban renewal project, the government said, probably in the world and definitely in Australia ... and the Treasurer let slip that there will be 16,000 new dwellings and that was a huge issue here,” he said.
“Also, what is probably the largest infrastructure project in Australia, the WestConnex motorway ... comes straight through the heart of my electorate. So that causes a lot of consternation not only because of the impact on the community, but spending $14 billion on the tollway when it’s clear the vast majority of people think public transport investment is what Sydney needs."
Labor’s Verity Firth held, among other roles during her time in parliament, the education portfolio under then premier Nathan Rees. She agrees with Mr Parker’s assessment. While having best-practice urban renewal high on the agenda in a bid to lock in more public ownership of the foreshore so locals can enjoy the space, Ms Firth said social infrastructure was high on the list.
“We need a new high school and primary, because basically the whole pattern of inner-city living’s changed — where people used to have their kids and move out to the suburbs, they don’t any more, they stick around.”
She described the election as “critical … The Liberals have been privatising TAFE, cutting funds to health and are looking to sell off our electricity assets,” she said.
Liberal Lyndon Gannon, who played junior rugby league for Balmain Tigers, said he was not “part of a team that wants to raise tax and deliver less infrastructure, as both Labor and the Greens seek to do. The Baird Liberal team will keep Balmain and NSW working, and will build the roads, rail, hospitals, and schools to achieve this.”