Greens benefit from anti-gas campaign in NSW elections

Issue 
Jenny Leong on election night in Newtown. Photo: Jenny Leong/FB.

It was always a big ask for the NSW Labor Party to follow their counterparts in Victoria and Queensland and win the election on March 29.

The corruption scandals involving former Labor ministers was a big handicap for the ALP at the previous election in 2011. As a result, Labor lost 32 lower house seats and the Coalition won 34 seats. The ALP was reduced to a rump of just 20 lower house members — the worst result for the party in more than 100 years.

Assisted by the Coalition, which has its own problems with corruption following recent Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations, Labor managed to get away with ignoring the legacy of corruption in its ranks in this election.

With counting continuing, the most likely result is that in the lower house the ALP will have 34 seats, the Coalition 53, and the Greens four seats, with two independents in the seats of Lake Macquarie and Sydney.

Labor leader Luke Foley tried to talk-up the number of seats Labor won, asserting that “we’ve gone from a rump in the old parliament to a real opposition.” Perhaps, but another way of looking at it is that the election result is Labor’s second worst in more than 100 years.

In the upper house, Labor is likely to have 11 seats, the Coalition 20, and the Greens five; with minor parties holding three seats. The incoming Baird government has already begun negotiations with Christian Democratic Party (CDP) leader Fred Nile. If the CDP’s two upper house votes can be relied on, the Coalition would be able to get its legislation passed without having to negotiate with the Greens and others.

This may come at a price. Nile is in favour of banning all alcohol advertising and raising the legal drinking age to 21, although the Coalition’s cosy relationship with the liquor industry will make sure this never happens.

But Nile also wants to have unborn children declared “legal persons” which seems to be another way of prohibiting abortions. This may well have personal appeal with Baird who is a committed Christian whose chief of staff when he was treasurer said that Baird ‘’believes he’s serving Jesus as treasurer of the state.’’

GREENS BIG WINNERS

The big winner in this election was the Greens who have retained Balmain in Sydney and won seats in Newtown and Ballina in northern NSW. They also look likely to win the seat of Lismore.

Incredibly, two of these seats were considered safe Nationals areas. Ballina was previously held by the Nationals with a 24.3% margin. In Lismore, the Nationals had a margin of 24.3%, and at the time of writing the Greens candidate has secured a 24.9% swing away from the incumbent party.

Ballina and Lismore are the centre of a large movement to stop coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and extraction. Last year about 6000 locals successfully blockaded a site at Bentley, on the outskirts of Lismore, and prevented Metgasco from drilling. The state government was forced to step in and suspend the company's exploration licence because of the community pressure.

The Greens, whose candidates have been part of the community campaign against CSG from the start, picked up votes from many former-Nationals supporters.

In Newtown, opposition to the WestConnex road project was the other important issue for the party. On election night, newly-elected MP for Newtown Jenny Leong said there was "no way" WestConnex would be built through Newtown.

What this shows is that grassroots campaigns in the community, which are formally separate from the party political process, can not only influence but also change the politics of the major parties.

It was the strength of the Stop CSG campaign over the last four years that changed the CSG policy of both the Coalition and the ALP.

In what would have been inconceivable until the Stop CSG campaign began, the newly returned Nationals MP for Tamworth, Kevin Anderson, has said the science is not in on coal seam gas and that he has serious concerns about the industry.

The election is all but over but the fight against CSG and the WestConnex will continue.

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