Who to vote for in the 2012 Sydney by-election?

On 27 Oct 2012, voters in the state seat of Sydney will elect a new MP to the NSW Parliament following the resignation by Clover Moore to serve as the Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. Despite the rhetoric, Clover was not forced from her seat in the NSW Parliament – she made a choice to be Lord Mayor over continuing to be an MP.

This by-election represents a genuinely difficult choice for me and many other locals in the inner city, as the NSW ALP has decided not to run a candidate. Many local residents and ALP supporters think their decision to not run a candidate is a mistake, and people have spontaneously said this to me over the last few weeks. But their decision not to run is a subject for another post.

To me this by-election is a Morton’s Fork – a decision in which every choice is unsatisfactory.

Despite thoughts to the contrary, the ALP has not endorsed any of the candidates running in the election. It is frankly surprising that a former ALP Premier endorsed one of the independent candidates – Alex Greenwich – given that, if he wins, the ALP might have trouble winning the seat in the future.

There are probably a couple of factors that will impact my voting decision.

Policy

In a sense, policy does not matter for this by-election given that the Coalition government holds 69 of 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly. An independent or Greens MP could say whatever they wanted, without any responsibility, and be completely ignored. A Liberal MP would presumably support the government line. Nonetheless, a few key points:

– I asked Alex Greenwich at a public forum last Tuesday whether he disagreed with Clover Moore on any policy issue. His answer was no, but that he would act more on small business issues, could disagree with her in the future, and would promote residents’ issues to Council. It’s surprising that he doesn’t disagree with Clover on any issue at the moment.

– I asked Alex Greenwich and Chris Harris (Greens candidate) what they thought the biggest issues facing NSW are and how the NSW Government should address the fact that the ‘rivers of GST revenue gold’ are not as substantial as was once thought.

I don’t recall Chris Harris’ response to the first part of the question, but to the second part he said that the state should not be scared of borrowing, that the government had decided to give hundreds of millions to the Clubs industry and millions to waterfront jetty owners, and that it was a matter of government priorities.

Alex Greenwich said the most important issues facing NSW are the cuts to education and health, and that GST revenue issues could be addressed by cutting waste – not giving a $300m tax cut to registered clubs and not having the Sydney by-election.  

It was frankly surprising that neither of them identified housing affordability or the relatively low growth in Gross State Product over the last ten-odd years as key issues. It’s even more surprising when these issues are brought up in the media quite regularly by economic and social commentators.

Nonetheless, it was clear that, of Chris and Alex, Chris had a better understanding of issues facing NSW and inner Sydney. 

While each of Chris, Alex, and Shayne Mallard (Liberal) have policy platforms, suffice to say that Alex’s reads very similar to Clover’s, while the Greens and Liberals are standard party or government platforms. 

I’ve been quite surprised at some of Alex’s ideas – at Tuesday’s public forum he said that there needs to be a new inner-city high school, that ‘the community’ had identified the old Cleveland St school (corner of Chalmers and Cleveland streets) as a site, and that he would lobby for the re-establishment of a school on that site. I strongly suspect that there are detailed technocratic processes within the Department of Education and Communities the aim of which is to decide when and where new schools are to open and existing schools are to close, to efficiently allocate limited funds for schooling purposes. DEC has limited funds – you can’t just say “let’s have a school where I think it should go.”

Alex has also vowed to ‘save Oxford St’ if elected, by introducing a 40km/hr speed limit and converting one lane to traffic to outdoor dining/additional parking. He also calls on the state government to seriously look at light rail. Putting aside the fact that he was calling on people to ‘not talk Oxford St down’ during last month’s Council elections, it has to be asked whether his plan: (a) would work, if implemented, (b) has a chance of being implemented, and (c) would not result in detrimental impacts elsewhere. As anyone who’s had any involvement with government policy-making knows, policy-making is often complicated with many interacting elements in which there is no clear or straightforward solution. You cannot simply say that a major thoroughfare to the Sydney CBD should be made much slower and nicer without considering the wider impacts. And there appears to be buckley’s chance for light rail to be rolled up the middle of Oxford St.

Alex is also promoting Clover Moore’s idea that liquor licences should have to be renewed on an annual basis.

Approach in a future hung parliament

Alex and Chris were both asked who they would support in a future hung NSW Parliament.

Alex said he was open to negotiating with both sides, while Chris pointed to how the Greens approached the current hung Federal Parliament as a guide to what he would do (in the federal parliament the Greens support an ALP government).

Preferences

Chris indicated that, at that time, the Greens had not finalised their preference arrangements. However, he was wanting the Greens and Alex to swap preferences to prevent a Liberal being elected. The Greens were intending to give Alex a second preference.

Alex indicated that he would not be recommending a preference as it should be up to the voters. This was Clover Moore’s approach.

Tactics

Many Labor voters I’ve chatted with have brought up the tactical issue – the election of which candidate would be in Labor’s medium-term interest? 

Some supporters will vote, in any election, for the Liberals before the Greens or a Clover Moore-style independent. Some also think that Shayne Mallard should be elected as the by-election is likely to be high water mark for Liberal support and Labor would have a good chance of winning the seat against the Greens in the future. 

Some supporters, who can’t stand the Liberals, will vote for Chris Harris and not give preferences as they see Alex Greenwich as a ‘soft liberal’. Some people will vote for Chris or Alex and preference the other, and put the Liberals last.

Some people will think that the best tactical outcome would be for Shayne Mallard to win, but of Chris and Alex, Chris should win as he would be easier to defeat in a future election.

Some people will cast an informal vote, e.g. voting for Paul Keating as a write-in candidate.

The by-election outcome will be interesting.

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