NSW election: progressive choices in Newcastle

Friday, March 16, 2007

Turmoil continues in the Labor Party in Newcastle following the imposition by the party head office of Jody Mackay over popular local member Bryce Gaudry to contest the seat.

Gaudry's decision to run as an independent has been openly supported by the ALP rank and file. A large part of the Carrington ALP branch, led by former long-serving MP Arthur Wade, has resigned to support Gaudry, and a former federal ALP member for Newcastle, Alan Morris, is also publicly backing him.

With nine candidates running, the seat of Newcastle is an open race. The traditional ALP vote is split between Gaudry and Mackay, while the conservative vote is split between the Liberals and the Lord Mayor John Tate. The Greens, who have a strong presence on Newcastle City Council, are standing councillor Michael Osborne. Green Left Weekly caught up with Gaudry and Osborne in the final weeks of the campaign.

Gaudry, an MP since 1991, believes that "controllers" rather than representatives of the grassroots have taken over the ALP. He sees his dis-endorsement as another example of the dominance of the powerbrokers.

"I am just the first domino to fall in a campaign run by Sydney ALP HQ to get rid of left MPs. They have done this elsewhere. A few years ago all the MPs in Wollongong were left-wing, now there are none.

"In 1980 I joined the ALP because I wanted to be involved in the political process to complement my activism in community development and environment issues."

"As an MP I have stood up for the community. ALP head office expect MPs to just hand down the word. Democracy, such as the right of members to express dissent, to pre-select their candidate, to have a role beyond handing out 'how to votes' and selling raffle tickets, has been whittled away."

Gaudry is proud of the role he played in exposing NSW Labor treasurer Michael Egan's plans to privatise electricity in the mid-1990s, and in building the community and union campaign that defeated Egan on this issue. He is also known as a strong defender of rail services in Newcastle, against attempts to close the line.

"I want the community to take back control in the political system and have a real input on the environment, public transport and social services. We don't need any more of the pro-developer pragmatism we have been seeing at Branxton and Catherine Hill Bay.

Gaudry is also highlighting his opposition to Work Choices and stresses his life-long commitment to trade unions as a NSW Teachers Federation representative and consistent supporter of workers on picket lines.

While not allocating preferences, Gaudry is pleased that the Greens are preferencing him. While he is not calling on people to leave the ALP, when asked if he would rejoin the party his reply was an unequivocal "No".

Osborne, a water engineer, "thanks" the ALP state office for having politicised Newcastle. "People are really pissed off with the Sydney ALP. They object to their plans for high-rise development of the Royal Newcastle Hospital site on Newcastle beach, the treatment of Bryce and the attempts to close the rail line.

"Changes to planning laws means that planning minister Frank Sartor can assume dictatorial power to approve key developments. People are fed up with this concentration of power."

"On the council there are 13 local people who receive input before making a decision. To take that decision making away and give it to one person is inviting abuse. Put this in the context of property developers being the major donors to the big parties and you can see why there is community anger."

Osborne says that much of his work on the council has been responding to inappropriate development and trying to work with the ALP councillors to vote against the big developers when they go beyond the guidelines.

"The council has also been doing small but good things on water and energy, for example bore holes in parks and more efficient cisterns in public toilets, and it has been a strong advocate for public transport.

"The council has also called for a cap on coal exports from Newcastle Harbour. While this is symbolic, it is part of its role as a community educator. We will all be affected by climate change and our inner-city areas could be flooded in 15 to 20 years. Who is going to pay for the dykes and pumps we will need — the coal companies or the community?"

Osborne is disappointed that Bryce is not directing his preferences, but remains confident. "If elected, I will network with the other independents and the Greens in the upper house. I have five private member bills ready to go on the issues of climate, housing, water, transport and developer donations."

The Newcastle branch of the Socialist Alliance is recommending either a vote for Gaudry with preferences to Osborne or a vote for Osborne with preferences to Gaudry. In the NSW upper house, where the Socialist Alliance is standing a ticket of 16 activists, it is directing its preferences to the Greens, other progressive candidates, and Labor before Liberal.

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