The Liberal party members met last Saturday and preselected Pakenham accountant Brian Paynter as their candidate in the forthcoming election. Mr Paynter inherits a very safe seat – a plum job.
It’s interesting to consider the merits of living in a safe seat. Have the people of Bass been consulted on the range of government initiatives undertaken by the Liberal Government or, for that matter, the Labor Government before them? Is it really in our interests to be in such a safe seat?
Bass has been a safe Liberal seat since it was created in 2002.
Last week, the state government made a major announcement involving the development of the Port of Hastings, an issue of concern to many residents of the Bass electorate, particularly those on Phillip Island. Treasurer Michael O’Brien announced that the Liberal Government would also commit to sell the Port of Melbourne and the sale would be tied to plans to develop the Port of Hastings as a second container port for Victoria.
The Herald Sun quoted Mr O’Brien: “We’re not just kicking the tyres. This is the road map to privatisation ... I think there’s a way you can add value because by giving rights or options to develop Hastings, you are effectively conferring almost a monopoly.”
(Labor has also announced plans to sell the Port of Melbourne but has indicated it will not support the Port of Hastings development.)
It’s not clear why Mr O’Brien believes people will see the creation of a monopoly across Victoria’s freight sea gateways as a good thing. The customers of Telstra, the farmers who supply oligopolists Coles and Woolies or commuters who use Melbourne’s transport systems might not readily agree that excessive market power is a good thing.
The point here, however, is that the people of Bass and members of other communities that will be affected were not consulted before the announcement. Although I note that Phillip Island Nature Parks has been appointed to the environment consultative group, a position they accepted without having access to the group’s terms of reference, which are still being written. It seems clear the Port of Hastings development is a foregone conclusion in the government's agenda and the task of such groups will be to justify it.
The state election in November becomes the place where people can voice their opinion on the Port of Hastings development, the East West Link and other government policies. But is this realistic? At 62 per cent of the vote, the Liberals are a shoo-in here, surely?
Many voters have disengaged from politics over recent years. The performance of the major parties at federal and state level has even put off many our politicians. We frequently hear that the party system is broken. The election of micro parties to the Senate in last year’s federal election cast further doubt on the efficacy of our electoral system.
In the 2012 federal election, the people of Indi also faced what on the face of it was a hopeless situation. The Liberal MP for Indi, Sophie Mirabella, was aggressive and unpopular. While her primary vote had been declining election by election, in conventional wisdom, she could not lose.
Until, that is, a group of voters in her electorate decided to do something about it.
“For too long they had been taken for granted,” Cambell Klose and Nick Haines wrote in an article for Inside Story. “Labor knew it couldn’t win it, so it hadn’t ever bothered trying; the Liberals knew they were going to win, so they didn’t bother either.”
But that was before a handful of people got together to engage and take on the party system in what became an amazing movement, “Voice for Indi”.
“Indi has never seen anything like this before. For the first time in living memory, thousands of people from all walks of life were engaging in politics and having a say in how they would like to see their electorate represented. Out of that complacency, and spurred on by disenchantment with the representation provided by the sitting member, Cathy McGowan offered the people of Indi a genuine and fresh alternative.
“While the rest of Australia switched off at this election, we switched on. We are now an engaged electorate. The people of Indi are claiming the power to be the architects and authors of our community’s future.”
The rest is history Cathy McGowan is the independent MP for Indi and the previous incumbent of an “unlosable” Liberal seat is now a government consultant.
Is this possible in Bass? The electorate has previously elected an independent. Susan Davies won the seat (then called West Gippsland) in a by-election after resigning from the Labor Party when Labor declined to contest the by election precipitated by Liberal elder Alan Brown’s resignation.
She held it again in the 1999 election and, with two other independents, determined the party elected to government in a hung parliament.
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.