In a hotly contested byelection on November 18, Lidia Thorpe became the first indigenous woman to be elected to the Victorian Parliament.
Thorpe, standing for the Greens, won 45% of first preferences. She was trailed by Labor, which has held the seat since it was created 100 years ago, with 35% of first preferences. Thorpe won 56% on a two party preferred vote.
Thorpe is a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman, who has lived in the area all her life. Since leaving school at 14, she has been an activist for Aboriginal rights and led a successful campaign against the eastern gas pipeline to save Nowa Nowa Gorge in East Gippsland.
Her platform in the Northcote byelection was “no” to dodgy deals with developers and polluters, and “yes” to replacing coal with renewables, more transparent funding for our schools, real help for renters and improved public transport.
The byelection in the inner-city seat was triggered by the death in August of Labor minister Fiona Richardson. The Labor candidate was Claire Burns, a speech pathologist and political organiser for the Victorian Trades Hall Council.
Labor’s campaign mainly focused on affordable housing for young professionals wanting to buy in the electorate. In an effort to appeal to young people, much was made of the fact that she was a vegan, shopped at op shops and is a renter who, despite being a young professional, could not afford to buy in the area.
But her solution is: “We also know that better housing supply is a cornerstone of housing affordability. We want young Victorians to be able to afford to live in Northcote — whether that’s renting or owning their home — and responsible development in the right places is an important way of driving supply so that they can.”
The Walker Street housing estate in the Northcote electorate has been targeted for redevelopment under Labor’s plan to sell public housing estates to private developers, to build private rental accommodation on 80% of the land in return for a 10% increase in community housing. Many families at the Walker Street housing estate will not be able to return at the end of the redevelopment as there will only be one and two bedroom apartments.
Thorpe’s position on housing was in stark contrast to the government’s policy. She supports retaining all three bedroom units at Walker Street, and keeping all public housing in public hands
David Feeney, the member for the federal seat of Batman which includes Northcote, was exposed during the federal election campaign as negatively gearing the house he owned in the electorate, while living in an expensive apartment in a nearby suburb.
Labor also made an attempt to discredit Lidia by bringing up an enforced bankruptcy after leaving an abusive relationship, in order to protect herself and her family. This tactic backfired after Lidia sent out a letter explaining the situation, including that she had been discharged as a bankrupt in 2016.
This historic victory for the Greens is further proof that many Australians want a different, fairer Australia and are looking beyond the major parties to achieve this. Thorpe’s victory in Northcote sets up Brunswick and Richmond electorates to also be wrested from Labor at next year’s state election, which, along with Melbourne, would give the Greens four Legislative Assembly seats.