Socialist Alliance does better in Footscray, Geelong



MELBOURNE — Although the big news of the November 30 Victorian election was the massive swing to Labor and the Greens' remarkable results (particularly in inner-city seats), the Socialist Alliance has been quietly celebrating its Victorian election debut and some very interesting results in particular seats, and even particular booths.

In the Geelong electorate of Lara, Socialist Alliance candidate Brigette Ellery, a member of Radical Women, won 960 votes or 2.76% of the vote. The bulk of her votes came from polling booths in the Geelong suburbs of Corio and Norlane, where she gained results on a par with those of the Greens.

Locals call the Norlane area 'the Bronx'", says Socialist Alliance campaigner and local Democratic Socialist Party organiser Tim Gooden. "It's full of old company housing, built by businesses like Ford and Shell, and housing commission. Most of the people who live there these days are on unemployment or some kind of welfare, and they are poor and getting poorer."

Ellery tells a story about letterboxing in Corio: "A woman watering her front yard called me over to ask me about the leaflet. Like heaps of people I talked to, she was really interested to hear about the Socialist Alliance and about socialism and she said to me, 'You're the first politician who's ever come here. I'm gonna vote for you.' The ALP doesn't bother with these people because the seat's one of the safest in the state."

According to Ellery the biggest problem for Socialist Alliance was that the campaign was "too short. We just didn't have the time to really get out there and talk to people in the little shopping centres and that, which you have to do, because its really hard to get any media coverage.

"Now we're talking about getting out and doing that straight away — concentrating on the areas where we already have a bit of support, like in Corio and Norlane."

Gooden says they had to fight a "full-on battle" to get any coverage in the local media.

"The local paper, the Geelong Advertiser, copped some flak during the campaign for running heaps of articles about the Liberal candidate", he told GLW. "When they were challenged about it they said, 'well, no-one else has approached us', which wasn't true because we had sent them no less than 10 press releases and six letters to the editor. Anyway, Brigette just rolled up to their front door one day with an anti-war banner and said she wasn't leaving until they did a story on her. They did end up running a story, but they cut the banner out of the picture."

Both Ellery and Gooden were pleasantly surprised by the receptiveness of working class people to an election campaign that centred around opposition to the war on Iraq. "Ordinary people just don't want a war", said Gooden. "They know that it will hit them worst. On the Norlane High School booth we made a point of saying 'vote against war' to every single person who went into the booth. We won 195 votes on that booth and the Greens got 254."

Footscray Socialist Alliance candidate Justine Kamprad also won nearly 3% in an overwelmingly working-class seat. Many of her votes, too, were clustered in booths in the poorest areas. In the fast-gentrifying suburb of Yarraville, she polled considerably lower than in central Footscray booths.

"Footscray housing was built for migrant workers", she said, " and even today nearly half the people in the electorate speak a language other than English."

The area is also home to many manufacturing workers who work in the remaining factories. Factory closures have thrown thousands out of work in recent years, and a further 150 National Forge workers lost their jobs in the run-up to the election. Kamprad, a manufacturing worker herself, campaigned on the issue and gained support from fellow workers.

There were quite a few Australian Manufacturing Workers Union militants who supported the campaign by handing out on the day and coming to the launch", she said. "One of the blokes who handed out for us was actually a militant in a company that the Liberals had campaigned around, saying the company was going to leave the state if Labor got in because their 'Labor mates' in the unions were making it impossible to do business. Well it turns out some of those Labor mates aren't their mates anymore! They're handing out for the Socialist Alliance!"

From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.

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