BY BELINDA SELKE
WOLLONGONG The Greens have wrested the federal seat of Cunningham from the ALP, following an historic vote in Saturday's by-election. Greens candidate Michael Organ won roughly 23% of the primary vote, while the ALP's Sharon Bird scored around 38% of the vote. The swing since the federal election less than a year ago was a massive 17% towards the Greens and 6% against Labor. The Democrats vote collapsed to 2%, down from 7% in November.
With most candidates directing preferences away from Labor, the Greens should be able to take their first ever federal lower house seat and become the first minor party to sit in the House of Representatives since World War II.
The growth in Greens' support indicates immense disillusionment with the ALP, but also the strength and resolve of anti-war sentiment in the Illawarra. On the evening of the October 19 by-election, Greens Senator Bob Brown described the result as a "stinging rebuff for John Howard's support for a war in Iraq", to a jubilant crowd of around 150 Greens supporters at their Wollongong campaign office.
Speaking on the October 20 Sunday Sunrise program, Brown reiterated this point, adding: "I think the feedback is the Greens policy of saying, 'Look, let's put our effort our defence effort and infrastructure effort into our neighbourhood, into the region and not into a Bush-led war on Baghdad' is how most Australians are thinking now."
The victory also indicates the strong community opposition to developing Sandon Point, in the Illawarra's northern suburbs. The Greens have campaigned strongly around saving Sandon Point, while ALP members on Wollongong City Council have played a shameful role in facilitating the area's destruction. The Greens' support for social and environmental justice is reflected by the outcome.
No preferences were more important than those of union-backed independent Peter Wilson. Wilson, president of the South Coast Labour Council and a member of the New South Wales Teachers Federation, ran a strong campaign, winning more than 10% of the vote. His campaign was built around concern that the ALP had abandoned its working-class principles and was taking its constituency for granted. This, together with a focus on more funding for education and a strong anti-war stance, ensured he split away a sizeable chunk of traditional ALP voters.
The Socialist Alliance also directed its preferences to the Greens and is proud of its role in assisting the Green victory.
"Congratulations to Michael Organ and the Illawarra Greens for their win!", Socialist Alliance candidate Chris Williams said. "This is a fantastic outcome, not just because there will be a real progressive voice in the House of Representatives, but also because it gives real strength to the idea that an alternative to the major parties is possible. I wish Michael and the Greens the best of luck."
Socialist Alliance campaigners dropped in to the Greens election night party to offer congratulations for the impressive anti-war result.
The Socialist Alliance's campaign was strongly focused around opposition to war and detention; demanding no war on Iraq, and freedom for refugees. It was the first time the alliance's name had appeared on a ballot paper for a federal seat, and it managed to win around 0.6% of the highly contested left vote.
During the campaign, the alliance had a strong street presence with stalls in the Wollongong Mall and on campus, and were able to pull off the successful "Welfare not warfare" public meeting. This meeting enabled the anti-war candidates, including Organ, Wilson, Williams and Democrat Linda Chapman to air their views on where the government's priorities should lie.
From Green Left Weekly, October 23, 2002.
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