Families in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs tell us a lot about our Australia
Thank you for your patience. It’s been a month since I last wrote for One & Free and I’ll tell you why – although some of you might already know. I’ve been busy with the Liberal Party!
Here in Melbourne I stood for preselection for a seat in the Victorian Parliament that had been become vacant after the retirement of the sitting Liberal MP. Warrandyte is one of the 19 out of 88 seats the Victorian Liberals have in the state parliament’s lower house. It’s in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs and I live close by. With a 4% margin it’s classified as ‘marginal’.
The preselection was held on Sunday June 18 and I was unsuccessful. There were nine candidates and was reported in The Age in the second last round of voting two candidates were tied on 36 votes each (myself and the eventual winner) and one candidate on 38 votes. To break the deadlock all delegates voted between the tied candidates and I narrowly lost. The winner Nicole Werner will be a great representative for the Liberal Party and I spent last Saturday morning canvassing for her. The date for the by-election hasn’t been set as yet but it’s expected to be in August or September.
Before I nominated for preselection I spent a Sunday afternoon ‘doorknocking’ in the electorate. It’s one thing to have people who know you talking to you about issues in their area but it’s something entirely different when you’re asking strangers about their opinion. So I spent four hours knocking on people’s font door and saying ‘Good afternoon. My name is John Roskam and I will be a candidate for Liberal Party preselection for this seat of Warrandyte and if you had a few moments I’d like to hear from you about the issues you’re thinking about.’ I got to about 100 homes and from that I ended up up having 30 conversations on people’s doorsteps – half with individuals and half with couples. As far as I could tell (because I deliberately didn’t ask anyone how they voted) the split was 45% Liberal voters, 40% Labor/Greens voters, and 15% others – roughly the share of the vote at last year’s state election.
Warrandyte is nearly as close to a mainstream Australian outer suburban seat as you can get, but a little bit older and with more families with children. The average personal income in the electorate is $784 a week (Aust average $805), the average age is 43 (Aust average 38), and 53% of the families in the electorate have children (Aust average 39%).
I came away from a Sunday afternoon Warrandyte with a few conclusions.
a) (We know this already – but it’s good to be reminded of it.) For most Australians politics and Daniel Andrews and Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are a long way from the top of their list of priorities. People’s number one priority is their family – that’s what they want to talk about about and that’s what they care about.
Most of the conversations were about things like aged care for their parents, education of their children and grandchildren and the potholes on the road they’re worried about hitting as they drive to their friend’s house.
I’m often asked (and I wonder about it myself sometimes) ‘how after everything that Andrews did to Victorians did he get re-elected?’ And of course, he didn’t just get re-elected, he thrashed the Liberals. The answer is easily found in a place like Warrandyte – which after all is a Liberal electorate.
Andrews and the Labor Party succeeded in convincing Victorians they would care for them and their families. Victoria might have government debt that is more than NSW, Queensland, and Tasmania combined, and Victoria might be the highest-taxing state in the country, but as yet few voters are taking notice of all of this. That of course might change but for the moment at least Victoria’s financial condition is not a front of mind issue.
I wrote about some of this in my column in the Australian Financial Review last Friday and it’s consistent with domestic and international research on the topic.
Apparently, according to the media, pollsters and more than a few Liberal MPs, the Liberal Party has a problem with ‘young people’ and ‘women’ as these key groups vote for it in ever-decreasing numbers. As a statement of the obvious, it’s true – but trivial.
If you hold just two out of 59 seats in your state parliament’s lower house, as the West Australians Liberals do, or you’re polling at 23 per cent, as the Victorian Liberals are, you’ve got a problem with everyone – not just young people and women.
The public opinion polling released this week from JWS Research reveals the task ahead for the Liberals. Cost of living, housing and interest rates, and hospitals and healthcare are by a long way the issues Australians care most about right now. All are issues that in some way require the government to take action.
What’s interesting about these issues though is that while the first two come and go in priority as economic circumstances change, health and healthcare have for many years been constant as a top-of-mind concern for Australians. ‘Health’ is a proxy measure for people’s sense of their own and their families’ well-being, and it’s Labor’s perceived advantage in this area that Liberals should worry about much more than any lead the ALP is supposed to have on climate change.
To be fair, some Liberals have an inkling of this. In Victoria, former Liberal leader Matthew Guy had an election promise to build or upgrade 14 hospitals, while in New South Wales Dominic Perrottet went six better with his promise to build or improve 20 hospitals. Their strategy didn’t work. A decades-long perception that Labor is better on health than the Liberals can’t be overturned in the space of a few months.
In a post-COVID, post-Great Recession world, and in the midst of war in Europe and a growing sense of a globe in crisis, a ‘liberal’ political party that says (or at least once used to say) to the electorate we’ll cut your taxes and get the government out of your life so you can make your own decisions’ is trying to sell a message that few people want to hear.
If ‘liberalism’ and its political program of small government/more choice/more personal responsibility was on the ballot anywhere in Australia at the moment, it would lose.
b) Climate change is a preoccupation of the rich.
No-one in any of my 30 conversations in Warrandyte mentioned climate change. I mentioned in my Financial Review article polling by JWS Research that found only only 1 in 5 people listed climate change as one of their three ‘most important issues the Australian Government should focus on’. Which raises the question why climate change dominates the public policy and political debate the way it does.
Voters in Warrandyte did raise with me environmental issues – but not about climate change. They were concerned with about the loss of tress in their suburbs, the upkeep of council land, and the maintaining parks and nature reserves.
c) The Voice will likely lose by an even bigger margin than even the current polling indicates.
Admittedly that’s an assessment based on one data point from one electorate in one state on one weekend four months before the day of the vote. But even so… The Voice came up with about half the people I spoke to when they asked asked me what I thought of it. And when I told them there was a a quiet nodding of heads. According to the latest YouGov polling published in The Australian last week support for the Voice in Victoria is the strongest in the country. 48% of Victorians are Yes and 41% No, but in the pocket of Melbourne I tested those numbers were running at 40% Yes, 60% No.
The overwhelming sense I got when talking about the Voice on the doorsteps of Warrandyte is that people are deeply uncomfortable with permanently putting into the constitution an institution when no-one can explain how it will work. The feeling of goodwill towards indigenous Australians from those inclined to vote No is palpable and real but somehow the Yes campaign has succeeded in alienating and belittling anyone who has any doubts at all about the Voice. People feel their legitimate questions have been dismissed and they’re being browbeaten and intimidated into voting Yes.
What Linda Burney, the minister for Indigenous Australians said in Canberra yesterday at the Press Club is a case study in exactly what not to do. But it’s been how Yes campaigners have been carrying on for months. Burney said the No campaign was importing ‘Trump-style politics’ to Australia. She didn’t explain what she meant by this, nor did she give any examples – presumably believing that simply uttering the word ‘Trump’ was sufficient to convey her disgust at anyone who disagreed with her.
Then this morning, Fred Pascoe the chair of the Gulf Regional Economic Aboriginal Trust said on Sky News ‘Any fool, any idiot can so no.’ Still…calling someone an ‘idiot’ for voting No is better than implying they’re a ‘racist’, as did journalist Niki Savva a few months ago. According to Savva ‘ While it is not true to say that every Australian who votes No in the Voice referendum is a racist, you can bet your bottom dollar that every racist will vote No.’
Not even in Kooyong is name-calling succeeding as a tactic. This is a story from Melbourne’s Herald Sun on Monday this week.
YES CAMPAIGN IS ‘IN REAL TROUBLE’, LIBERAL SENATOR JAMES PATERSON SAYS
A majority of voters in the affluent seat of Kooyong oppose changing the constitution to enshrine and Indigenous Voice to Parliament, a new poll shows.
The survey, conducted a day after the referendum bill passed last month, shows 43.6% of voters surveyed would vote No if the referendum was held that day. That majority was slim with 42.5% of voters in the inner Melbourne seat in the Yes camp and 14% unsure.
The results fly in the face of Kooyong’s strong record of supporting social and constitutional change. The Teletown Hall poll of 1338 Kooyong residents on June 20 was commissioned by Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson.
‘If Kooyong – which voted by large majorities for the republic and same-sex marriage – is a dead heat on Anthony Albanese’s Canberra Voice, then the Yes campaign is in real trouble,’ he said. ‘This poll result comes after months of doorknocking, public forms and taxpayer-funded correspondence from their local Teal independent Monique Ryan imploring them to back the Voice.’
‘But the more Australians learn about what enshrining an Indigenous Voice in the constitution means, the more they realise that it is legally risky, lacks detail and would be permanent.’
Remember those 43.6% of voters who said they’ll vote No are only those brave enough to tell the polling company they’re voting No.
My final comment this week on Warrandyte and the Voice is about about something I overheard.
At one of the houses I doorknocked I came across a family having a barbeque on their veranda and I could hear they were speaking a combination of Greek and English. As I walked up the driveway I saw the barbeque and not wanting to interrupt the occasion I turned around but the family had seen me and someone asked whether they could help me. I told them why I was visiting and one of the family said ‘Liberal? – we’re all good thanks – good luck’ As I was walking away I heard one of the family say:
‘Did he say he was Liberal? I’m voting no – aren’t we all equal? That’s why we came here. I haven’t told anyone yet but I’m voting No.’