IN March, in Voice for Bass, anyone?, I argued that Bass had been taken for granted as a safe Liberal seat with a 62 per cent two party preferred vote. The Liberal Government had decided to develop the Port of Hastings, with massive implications for Western Port and disregard for sustainable jobs in Bass Coast, without any apparent consideration for this area.
I stated, “The people of Bass can accept their fate as determined by the Liberal Party machine, roll with the 62 per cent majority, or perhaps ‘Voice for Bass’ could arise and scare the hell out of them. I would hazard a guess that consultation – from both parties – would become the order of the day if they thought the seat was there to be won or lost.”
Clare Le Serve became the “Voice for Bass”, took the argument up to the major parties, and a once-safe Liberal seat is now marginal. Preferences will be distributed and the minor parties will see Brian Paynter elected with a much-reduced majority for the Liberal Party.
The Liberal Party initially thought it would increase its majority in the seat – 71 per cent being suggested – but became concerned through the campaign. Ms Le Serve took 9 per cent from the Liberal vote and, if she had managed to take even half that from Labor, may have become the MP for Bass. It is an outstanding result; her campaign ran on a shoestring against the might of the Liberal machine.
The campaign went particularly well in Bass Coast where her profile as a former mayor, current councillor and tireless community worker led to strong support. She outpolled the Greens with their established brand. However, she was largely unknown in the north of the electorate and the vote there reflected that. It shows the potential for a community candidate who is well known across the entire electorate, or more work in that area next time.
In Shepparton, regarded as one of the safest seats in the state, an independent has defeated the sitting National MP. It reminds us of Indi MP Sophie Mirabella being toppled from a 62 per cent majority in last year’s federal election. We may see more upsets occurring in future as it seems the community has realised it can make a difference.
Apparently safe MPs involved in unpopular and/or controversial decisions could be at greater threat. Take, for example, local federal MP Greg Hunt who, as Environment Minister, is undoing many climate change initiatives in the face of strong global initiatives in the opposite direction.
How did it get to this? One view is that the previous federal parliament was so dysfunctional that people have turned off party politics, rejecting the party approach. In the Victorian Parliament, the Geoff Shaw saga sucked in former local MP Ken Smith, costing him the Speaker’s position. It was a farce deepened by the opportunist handling of it by a government wanting to preserve its majority at the expense of probity.
Where does the ALP victory leave us locally? On Sunday the Post reported “The ALP has identified Bay West – between Werribee and Geelong – as the preferred location for Victoria’s next container terminal. It has undertaken to establish a new independent body, Infrastructure Victoria, to advise on the best site option.
“The other big local impact of the change of government is that the two big promises made by the Coalition in the last week of the campaign – $25 million to expand Bass Coast’s rehabilitation and community health facilities and $21 million to rebuild Wonthaggi Secondary College – are now worthless. The ALP did not match the commitments.”
Clearly the Preserve Western Port group should keep the champagne in the cupboard for the time being. Their campaign has not resonated in Melbourne and the next 12 months should be spent reinforcing the message to the Government and ensuring Infrastructure Victoria does not recommend Western Port.
The Wonthaggi Hospital upgrade and replacement of the Wonthaggi secondary school both have strong cases. It should not be forgotten that the hospital master plan was developed under the Brumby Labor Government, and the secondary school would already be under construction if it had not been shelved by the incoming Baillieu Liberal Government.
Bass now has an Opposition MP who probably won’t get much traction from the new Andrews Labor Government. There are examples of MPs having strong respect and clout with a Government of an opposing stripe – Peter Ross Edwards was a case in point – but it’s unlikely a new MP such as Mr Paynter will be given a leg up.
So there is an opportunity for the council to stand up and lead on these issues. Let’s hope they are up to it because, with over 3 per cent annual growth, the hospital upgrade is vital, as is the secondary school replacement and planning for a new school in the Waterline-Phillip Island area.
For the first time, the council produced a set of policy asks to put to the local candidates in the election. It paled by comparison to the work undertaken by the interface councils (Casey, Cardinia, etc) who produced a complete booklet demonstrating the works required in their areas and who, after community consultation sessions, hired a room in Spring Street to speak directly to party leaders during the campaign.
However, Bass Coast’s list was a start and hopefully reflects a change in approach and thinking. It is time to lift the eyes, put the divisiveness of the Phillip Island Stand Alone group behind them and develop a vision for Bass Coast they can sell to Government and the community.
If they have not made appointments with the new ministers by the time this article is published, they should get cracking; the electorate is now marginal and that fact must be emphasised to the Government.
Michael Whelan was campaign manager for independent candidate Clare Le Serve.