The Eden-Monaro Project: the good, the bad and the patently ridiculous

Greens candidate Catherine Moore with leader Christine Milne and party elder Bob Brown. Facebook

When nominations closed for the 2013 election, eight candidates had nominated for the marginal seat of Eden-Monaro.

While the main game is clearly between sitting member, Dr Mike Kelly, and the Liberal candidate, Dr Peter Hendy, this is a marginal seat and preferences will determine the outcome. With a large field of candidates, allocation of preferences can be somewhat of a scattergun, but in this electorate it is the Greens that have established themselves strongly over almost two decades as the third “major” party, ensuring that their preferences can be the key to the seat.

The Greens’ Catherine Moore is contesting the seat for the second time. The party first contested Eden-Monaro in 1996 and polled 3.7%. They have stood a candidate at every subsequent election and have increased their vote each time.

In 2010 the Greens polled 9.7% and will be looking to build on this. Moore is an experienced candidate, has held Greens executive positions at state and national level, served two terms on the Palerang Council and knows her electorate and core constituency well. She is adept at reading the mood of local communities and extrapolating and articulating the issues most pertinent to those areas.

In campaigning for this election, Moore is taking a dual approach, campaigning on the Greens’ national issues as well as targeting issues of local importance. At national level, the key issues include those central to the health, well-being and viability of people and communities and environmental protection in regional areas. Climate change is a major priority, as well as the need to strengthen the mining tax and abolish subsidies to the mining industry.

At the electorate level, issues include the controversial Dargues Reef goldmine and mining exploration generally, particularly in regard to water catchments as well as locally targeted development and transport issues pertaining to Queanbeyan and its commuter region, and high-speed rail. Moore comments that one of the biggest changes she has seen over the past 20 years of her involvement in Green politics in Eden-Monaro is the current “absence of concern and mainstream discussion about the environment, and more recently, climate change, at a time when the impact of humans on the natural world is bigger than ever.”

The Greens are preferencing Labor third, after the Stable Population Party.

Palmer United Party is the potential wildcard. Cooma-Monaro Mayor, Dean Lynch, is contesting the seat for Clive Palmer’s Party, but appears unaware of the irony that the mayor of the shire that contains Australia’s largest hydro electricity development and which is also the largest employer in the region, should join up with Australia’s largest coal mining magnate.

Despite the anomaly Lynch says he stands for local jobs, particularly in small business, and is sick of the Liberal-Labor political duopoly. He is a fifth generation Monaro grazier who clearly understands his local community and their concerns and wants to advance those on the national agenda.

Regional food security is a high priority. He is critical of the current state of the political system, noting that we do not appear to have two parties but two participants: “It’s become a beauty contest with only two contestants. Both are boring, dull and a huge waste of time and money.”

While there is no doubting Lynch’s sincerity, at a recent candidates’ forum in Queanbeyan he did not really communicate what Palmer United would do differently from the major parties except expand big visions like the Snowy Mountain scheme.

Despite describing himself politically as “fundamentally Liberal”, Lynch advocates centralisation of services such as health and education, suggesting a referendum to change Section 51 of the Constitution to “remove some power of the states.” The Liberals, apparently, have no problem with this and will be benefiting from his preferences, followed by the Greens.

The Stable Population Party’s candidate, Martin Tye, lives at Broulee on the Eurobodalla coast. A small businessman with qualifications in applied science and geography, he believes that the weakness with current policy for sustainability is that it addresses only the symptoms.

The Stable Population Party has a well-developed, coherent and focused platform and Tye articulates it well: “A stable population transfers investment away from relatively unproductive land/housing speculation (and associated import of consumer goods) into more productive industries which create exports such as agriculture and manufacturing.” Rather than offer quick-fix solutions to population he says his aim is to raise the profile of the issue.

He is not making a recommendation for preferences. The sustainability element of the party platform would suggest that the Greens and Labor will benefit, however, Tye is a strong advocate of small business in regional areas, which could translate into a significant drift of preferences to Liberal.

The Citizens’ Electoral Council is part right-wing conspiracy theorist and part nationalist party. Goumas, nominated for the CEC out of disillusionment with the current state of politics, which, he says, is controlled by the ‘big four’ banks. At the Queanbeyan forum he made some sound observations, for example, pointing out that Australia was reducing an industrial economy to a raw material quarry, and called for more national infrastructure development and a rein on the power of banks to influence the economy.

However, later he predicted a post-election market crash, followed by economic depression and world war.

It was the antics of independent candidate Andrew Thaler, at the Queanbeyan forum, however, that provided the entertainment, if not any actual politics.

The party candidates including Kelly and Hendy as well as Moore and Lynch, sat facing the audience on the stage while the four more minor candidates, Tye, Goumas, Catton and Thaler, were invited to sit in the front row of the auditorium.

When his turn came to address the audience, Thaler, a scrap metal dealer from Nimmitabel, unwrapped a metal water container, poured all the water from a pitcher meant for the panel into his container, strode to the podium and announced that he would not abide by Queanbeyan Council’s rules either by sitting in the front row or confining his talk to three minutes.

His address contained a litany of what he opposes (the Greens, environmental landscape zonings in local environment plans, people who buy free-range eggs), and he claimed to have an interesting secret document about the Palmer United Party, unfortunately not unveiled on the night. He refused to return to his seat and spent the rest of the forum sitting cross-legged on stage, updating his Twitter account on his mobile phone.

Thaler is not directing preferences as he believes that the preferential system is further evidence of a corrupt voting and parliamentary process and he says he has made a 10-year commitment to winning the seat.

Of the six minor candidates, only the Greens and, potentially, Palmer United will influence the outcome. The Greens’ support base is solid and will draw the left-leaning protest from voters who oppose Labor’s asylum seeker or environment policies.

Palmer’s party in its first electoral outing will benefit from having a candidate with a good local profile and Lynch may do well in Cooma and draw the right-leaning protest in other areas of the electorate. In 1998, One Nation, then at the height of its popularity, polled 9.5% in Eden-Monaro, assisting former Liberal member, Gary Nairn, to retain the seat for the Howard government.

PUP, however, lacks both the populist rhetoric and simplistic message of One Nation and it is unlikely to make such a significant impact. The CEC and Christian Democrats, in previous outings in Eden-Monaro have never polled more than 1.5%.

Hendy has drawn the top place on the ballot form, Kelly has number three, Lynch is at four and Moore at five.