BY GRAHAM MATTHEWS
MELBOURNE — There have been few surprises in the Aston by-election — the competition between the major parties is more marked by what they won't talk about than what they will.
The seat of Aston, a marginal Liberal seat following the 1998 federal election, sprawls across a wide area of the eastern outskirts of the city. The electorate has a high rate of home ownership, with a high proportion of mortgagees. Both Liberal and Labor have been attempting to present themselves as more caring towards new homeowners, stressing interest rates and economic management.
The area also has very poor public transport. Buses, the only real form of public transport, are relatively infrequent, finish early of an evening and are almost non-existent on weekends. Public transport groups have attempted to highlight the issue in the campaign, pinpointing the federal and state government's promise to build a further freeway in the area (as opposed to improving public transport) as a campaign issue.
A public meeting organised by the Public Transport Users' Association on June 24 in the electorate attracted around 200 people, but only a handful of the 15 candidates running for the seat showed up. One that did was Socialist Alliance candidate Josephine Cox.
Neither the Liberal nor the Labor candidate was in attendance. Both are promising to build the Scoresby Freeway.
In contrast to the relative silence on public transport, the issue of petrol pricing has received media attention. Rolling stunts by independent service station owners to sell petrol for as low as 69c per litre at selected service stations for a few hours each day have drawn attention to their demand that the wholesale pricing of petrol be regulated to stop the major oil companies driving them out of business.
On July 2 Labor Party shadow treasurer Simon Crean attended one such stunt in the electorate, but he made no promises.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has mounted a campaign in Aston to highlight massive losses of manufacturing jobs. Since the by-election was called there have been a further 40 jobs lost to AMWU members, at Johnson Tiles in the electorate.
Socialist Alliance's Josephine Cox is the only candidate to have spoken out against the job losses. She has promised to nationalise companies that walk away from their workers.
The most glaring omission from the election campaign for the seat of Aston has been any mention of the GST. Neither Labor nor Liberal campaign material published to date mentions it at all. Even the Victorian Greens' candidate only refers to their opposition to the tax in the fine print of their campaign material.
Socialist Alliance has campaigned to place the GST squarely in the public eye. It will feature the slogan "Scrap the GST" on how-to-vote cards at the Aston poll on July 14. Socialist Alliance has also organised a successful protest outside the Aston Liberal Party campaign headquarters on June 30, the eve of the first anniversary of the GST's introduction.
There are real issues in Aston crying for attention. But whichever way the by-election goes, for the voters of Aston, the result will likely be more of the same.