The last Liberal preselection I voted in was the one for the state seat of Manly in 1999. The seat was held by an independent - one who had conspired to bring down Nick Greiner - and it was kind of depressing as there was no stand-out candidate. Half of them were outright fools, claiming fealty to Tony Abbott and implying that he was returning the sentiment. I voted for one of my contemporaries who I thought would make a useful MP - not Mike Baird. I had heard Baird would be one of the stars of the preselection, but his speech was a patchwork that he seemed to find unconvincing. When the questions came, rightwing delegates played him like a trout and made him look rattled and defensive. I was tired of voting for losers who got chewed up by sharks in the NSW ALP and picked off by the clowns on the right. As voting went on, my preferred candidate went down and I voted for another guy who seemed nice enough, and worthy, but lacking in the colour, the vision and the mongrel to make a truly effective MP. The winner of that preselection was a boofhead who made Abbott look like a Rhodes Scholar, and who went down screaming against the independent.
That defensive Mike Baird was on display again in a radio interview on Friday. Thankfully for him it was on Radio National so nobody heard it. You will be seeing more of that Mike Baird going forward. He has charmed the press gallery individually such that they do not come after him collectively, and he faced a weakened opposition. The opposition has now been strengthened and the press gallery regards him as less of a novelty. Having no ability to question Baird on policy, and not having put him under much pressure thus far, the press gallery will act all surprise when Baird stumbles. This isn't to say he's a cream-puff - he isn't - but he just won't do that well explaining lots of complex ideas in non-technical terms under sustained pressure.
John Robertson went in hard against Barry O'Farrell and ended up looking like a prick. When O'Farrell fell it had nothing to do with Robertson, who was still a prick, and Baird only made him look worse. Luke Foley was smart not to try and rip away Baird's nice-guy persona, learned from having the blood of three Labor Premiers under his fingernails. If he goes in too hard against Baird then he too will go the way of Robertson; you can do that stuff in Labor backrooms, not in public. Is Foley a nice guy? We don't have enough information where to put him on a scale from Abbott to Baird, much less trust those judgments against policy positions.
Baird even makes Tony Abbott look like more of a prick than he already is. This effect will be enhanced when Abbott plays silly-buggers with COAG, leaving Labor Premiers do the hard yards advocating for state-delivered services. By bringing forward the rollout of NDIS while privatising disability support services, Baird is creating a whole lot of mixed messaging that will come back to bite him over this term.
Anyway, I went to the polling booth and got my two bits of paper. The Legislative Assembly (lower house) paper brought on an immediate bout of hate-voting: no representatives of the various flavours of marxism or blatantly racist parties, but Fred Nile's franchisee (increasingly racist now that homophobia is a non-starter) and No Land Tax immediately took  and .
The next choice was harder. Jerome Laxale is a young guy who wants to be a MP and he's ticked all the right boxes: joined a major party (Labor), moved into the area and got elected to the local council (a deeply dysfunctional one, which local government reform will almost certainly sweep away). He is still just a political-class muppet and I am doing him a favour by forestalling him becoming Penny Sharpe or Mark Coure.
NSW Labor just aren't ready. Their message of dump-Baird-and-Abbott-goes-too was redundant as Abbott is finished anyway. Their only real objection to the donations that have bedevilled the Libs is that none of it is going to them. Their transport policy was empty, as I said last week, politically and policy-wise. They had no education policy worth the name, they had a real lacuna in law-and-order hysteria to float some new ideas, a bit on health and a few other snippets here and there, but nothing to show for four years in the wilderness. They promised to build a new high school in the area, but they closed the last one and I have no more idea than they do where it might go. I don't believe them on power or disability services or anything else, really; the flirtation with xenophobia regarding Chinese state-owned enterprises was revolting. NSW Labor just isn't like Victorian Labor or SA Labor or Queensland Labor, no good pretending otherwise. Labor .
This left the Green and the Liberal. Greens talked a good talk on local issues and have started to think about policy from the ground up. They seem to link bits and pieces from different policy areas into a coherent whole, which it hadn't as a smaller fringe party, yet you can take bits of that agenda and leave others (which wasn't possible as a smaller, more intense outfit). Their third candidate for the Legislative Council was a dux of Duntroon; their other candidates are, increasingly, the sort of impressive, professional, well-educated candidate the majors used to attract.
The old saw that the majors will put together all the governments from now until the end of time is not, as it were, sustainable. They continue attracting impressive candidates who rethink what it is to govern from the ground up (which attracts impressive candidates - an upward spiral opposite to that facing the majors). They deserve the benefit of the doubt, Labor doesn't: Green . My son was disappointed with that but more disappointed that he didn't wish a Green government into being.
The local MP, Victor Dominello, takes his constituency responsibilities seriously and seems to like people, unlike Federal MP John Alexander. He represents a government that has quite good education and transport policies, adequate ones in other areas, and some terrible ones (e.g. disability services, women's refuges) which may be turned around by strategic voting. This isn't the best government can get, but it is the best one on offer at this time, which is why I voted Liberal .
In the Legislative Council (the upper house - I wish journos would stop referring to it as the Senate), I voted below the line for a whole lot of candidates who may push to ameliorate the very issues nominated above as weak issues for this government. This is called tactical voting and it beats the hell out of voting the party line and having that line shift without reference or recourse to you. In the Coalition candidate list there are some who will do well at negotiating policy through the Council (but mostly they are just making up the numbers, put to most effective use shutting up and doing as they're told): they can earn their money dealing with a multiplicity of views.
Across safe Liberal seats the Greens came in second. Wealthy areas are described in media cliche as 'leafy', and however much it bemuses Labor die-hards from industrial suburbs it is no surprise that Green activists come from sylvan glades and are well-educated and articulate. It isn't true to describe Greens as the new moderate liberals but it's less of a stretch that it was when the party was dominated by watermelons. Now that you can vote Green without sending the entire economy and social services into perdition, they are the real alternative to Liberals - far easier to imagine a Green as your local MP than Labor.
Only when you understand that can you clarify the hysteria behind this:
Many commentators have seen the Greens' victory in Balmain and Newtown as a sign of the progressive shift to the left in the inner city seats.Old woman shouts at cloud. A Green voter is someone who "can't quite bring themselves to vote Liberal" in the same way that Dr Burgmann can't. The Greens Political Party offer a starker contrast with the Liberal Political Party policies than the Labor Political Party (all right, I'll stop it now). In inner-city communities Greens are committed users of public transport and education, more so than old-school Labor people who have long since left education (public or private) behind and who accepted ALP blandishments that a dollar spent on public transport should be spent anywhere but in the inner-city. The idea that Dr Burgmann's niece was defeated by a proto-Liberal is bullshit, but if it helps her sleep at night the theory may have some value yet.
But Dr Burgmann says it's actually a sign of a conservative shift away from working class Labor politics that will eventually see those seats held by the Liberals.
"It's a demographic change of the inner city," she said. "It's the very wealthy, well-educated who will never need the services of the state but who can't quite bring themselves to vote Liberal.
"But eventually they will be Liberal seats."
It's worth noting, however, that the Liberal primary vote in Balmain was down by 6.7 per cent at this election, back to roughly what it was in 2007. The Liberal primary vote was also down by 4.4 per cent in Newtown.
Quite why inner-city Sydney turned away from Labor, while inner-city Newcastle and inner-city Wollongong turned toward them, is unclear. Expensive flats may yet create a Liberal constituency that does not exist today, but this would imply the Liberals will develop sophisticated appeal mechanisms that, frankly, does not exist either. We are not yet in speculative fiction territory but you can see it from here.
It seems a shame that the traffic can run only one way: Labor-to-Green-to-Liberal. Why Labor cannot use Green preferences to turn Liberal seats into Labor ones over time, or imagine a Green incumbency that lasts only until Labor can wait it out, is unclear - and probably a failure of imagination on Labor's part.
Why the north coast turned toward the Greens is clearer, and CSG is only part of the answer. Over time the Greens have put themselves in a position to take the advantages that Lismore and Ballina presented them this time.
North coast communities were dominated by rural conservatives who got wealthy selling tract housing to people on lower incomes than they. That new housing became urban communities not very different to sub-urban communities in the cities, but without the infrastructure of those communities. Labor were the first to twig to this demographic shift and what it meant politically; Liberals wrung their hands over invading National turf, leaving it to hayseeds who defined themselves against urban communities to try and represent them.
The Green base thought about government and community and environment from the ground up; people who move to an area are more likely to do this than those who unquestioningly accept it from childhood. Greens started with dessicated old hippies but moved out beyond them as communities changed. Nationals found validation in fossils like Thomas George. Labor's incrementalism worked against them as the Greens offered the more substantial alternative than Labor (without being scary or politically unrealistic).
The Liberals couldn't tell the difference and couldn't afford the aggro with their "Coalition partners". If they are to replace newly-elected Greens in Ballina and Lismore (and, going forward, in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour) they will have to start from scratch, today, and somehow persuade their "Coalition partners" that their future lies west of the Dividing Range. Again, this requires Liberals to be bold and innovative and ... you can see the problem here.
I have no idea what Indigenous people want from the NSW government, or what anyone was offering them, if anything.
How do you plan cities in a real estate market like this, and for whom? None of that is clear. The traditional media weren't asking, and the Political Parties can only avoid questions that nobody else asks.
We have in NSW a state government that wants to sell electricity distribution networks at the very time their value is collapsing, and which won't get the political support necessary to do so. It may go into debt to fund big-ticket infrastructure but they won't be around when it comes on line. It will come under pressure on health at the very time that their resident expert, Jillian Skinner, has had her best shot at reform and no-one else steps up to show what the next steps look like (the most likely alternatives being niggardly, self-defeating budget cuts that create more problems than they solve, much like the 'reforms' coming from the federal government). Its mixed messages on disability services, and small-scale donations, will wear it down without a clear way forward.
Foley seems disciplined but will make mistakes. He's already gone further than his Young Labor antagonists Reba Meagher and Joe Tripodi, but that will count for less and less over time. He didn't get where he is by entrusting policy development, electoral tactics or anything else to the wider ALP membership, so forget that. It will be interesting to see the extent to which education and health bureaucracies start leaking to Labor, and of course once the police do so it is all over. I trust Labor to make political capital from prison facilities that are both increasingly decrepit and overcrowded, but not to do much about it.
Still, where else would you be, etc.