BY CHRIS WILLIAMS
WOLLONGONG - The Greens' Michael Organ was officially declared the new member for the federal lower house seat of Cunningham by the Australian Electoral Commission on October 30.
Responding to the announcement, Organ stated the Greens' win was a "victory for the local community". It showed that local communities throughout Australia can have a say in changing the political landscape and changing the hold the major parties have on government in this country.
"I'll really be focusing on local issues, bringing them to the attention of government", Organ later told Green Left Weekly. "I'm responsible to all 81,000 people in the electorate, so I'll be representing the whole of Cunningham. But I'm also a member of the Greens, so I'll very much be trying to put in place those Green policies, beliefs and principles."
Organ is the first ever Green MP in the House of Representatives, but isn't worried about the potential isolation. "I'm looking forward to working with independent MPs such as Peter Andren to raise environmental issues and other issues not being addressed by the Howard government and the ALP. Also, I'll be giving support to Senator Bob Brown and Senator Kerry Nettle in their work."
Organ said he particularly planned to use his position to raise local concerns such as the Illawarra's high unemployment rate and the need for infrastructure development. But he will also address issues such as opposing a war on Iraq and advocating a more compassionate approach to asylum seekers.
"That's a great positive, I'll be raising these issues in the house. I'll be sitting on committees, raising an opposing view on these issues via the committees, the floor of the house and by just getting out there among the community. This is the kind of role I can play even though I'm just a lone Green in the House of Representatives."
A key factor in the Greens' victory was the preference flow from independent, union-backed candidate Peter Wilson, who attracted over 10% of the primary vote. Wilson tapped into industrial Wollongong's left-wing, working-class constituency, and Organ is confident he can also relate these voters.
"I come from that constituency", he said. "I grew up in a housing commission estate in northern Illawarra, I went to uni here. After uni I worked in the brickworks, in factories and I was a postman. I've been a union delegate for a number of years at the university.
"I'm not necessarily coming from a left-wing background. I don't like to compartmentalise things into left, right or middle, but I'm from the working class. And of course I'll have no problems working with the unions and like-minded people."
The Greens won on a two-party preferred vote of 52%, the ALP's Sharon Bird received 48%. There was no endorsed Liberal Party candidate. The result has intensified the crisis within the ALP. This is something that Organ isn't really concerned about. "There's a lot of internal angst in the ALP which I frankly don't care about. All I care about is being a Green and doing the best for the local community."
"One thing the ALP is doing is trying to pick up the environmental agenda again which they've dropped for the last 10 or 20 years", Organ noted. "The ALP down here in the Illawarra have rejected the concerns of the people regarding the environment and quality of life. But now they are thinking, 'well maybe we should green up our act'. Frankly, the ALP are out of touch and in the long term will fall by the wayside."
With the major parties sure to devote massive resources to Cunningham in the next general election, the big question is: can the Greens hold on to the seat? Organ is confident they can. "We'll be working to do the best for the community; to reinforce Green principles to show the community they have nothing to fear from the Greens. We are a viable alternative with a progressive agenda and detailed policy on a wide range of issues health, education, employment, the environment, peace, non-violence, social justice, etc. These are all the issues that the parties should be addressing anyway."
[Chris Williams was the Socialist Alliance candidate in the Cunningham by-election.]
From Green Left Weekly, November 6, 2002.
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