Curiously dubbed a ‘Super Saturday’ (which sounds either exciting or terrifying or both) around 500,000 fellow Australians are about to participate in this event come Saturday July 28. It’s not an exclusive retail sales event, but rather an amalgamation of by-elections across 4 states, causing unseasonable excitement.
The thrills arise from the recent domino chain of dual citizenship resignations, plus one MP in Perth retiring from his position earlier than expected for family reasons.
Before performing an audit on the top candidates for each electorate, there are some important preliminary considerations. Much of the excitement that has been drummed up stems from the marginality of these seats. The former MPs re-contesting their seats after resigning and denouncing their dual citizenship, to varying degrees, originally won each of the 5 challenged seats on narrow margins - likely granting confidence to the new candidates.
One key questions is, could this change the game in Parliament? Considering the Coalition already holds a comfortable majority of seats in the House of Representatives (76 out of 150), and do not currently hold any of the contested seats, there isn’t expected to be a large shift. The main change is the voice for the individual electorates, and the collective impact of voices on national issues.
Another valid question is to ask are we close to a federal re election anyway? A election does needs to be called by PM Malcolm Turnbull by May 2019 and can be done so at any time. This is understood as an important time for understanding where Australians are on political issues, as a kind of testing ground for the next election, therefore presenting a timely opportunity for Australians in these electorates to identify clear, strong, voices for justice in our communities.
Below is a brief outline what each of the main candidates represent for their individual communities and as a contribution to Australia as a nation if they were to set foot in Parliament. Not present is a commentary on their personal life, focus on single acts or events, or an opinion on their political stances.
Longman – Queensland
On a typical drive from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, you would pass through the electoral division of Longman. The mostly urban area holds around 111,000 electors, where the former sitting member Susan Lamb was successful in the 2016 election by a margin of 0.8 percent, one of the smallest margins in Australia. Susan is running again after renouncing her UK citizenship, and is up against the Liberal Party’s Trevor Ruthenberg.
As will be illustrated in the other electorates below, by-election voting preferences are traditionally more reliant on local issues. Particular to Longman are concerns surrounding health, employment, education and hard infrastructure. For instances, after the 2018 Budget was released in May, an Australia Institute Poll revealed 43.5 percent of people thought that money should be spent on infrastructure and public services like health and education.
A former teachers aide, Susan’s main campaign concerns are anchored on education and healthcare access. You can view how she has voted* during her service as sitting member on issues such as refugee rights, Aboriginal land rights, media ownership and the Great Barrier Reef.
Trevor Ruthenburg has previously served in Parliament in the nearby electorate of Kallangur from 2012-2015. In his maiden speech in 2012, Ruthenburg touched on a few of his policy ideals; a carbon tax is unfair and unnecessary, the NDIS is important and requires proper funding, and the need for transport infrastructure in the area he represented. Currently, Ruthenburg oversees Mosaic Property Group’s not-for-profit arm Mosaic Foundation as CEO.
Braddon - Tasmania
Braddon covers the west and north-western parts of Tasmania, with around 73 000 enrolled voters, considered mostly rural, and includes the larger townships of Burnie and Devonport. Policies around the plethora of primary industries in this locality, infrastructure and unemployment have been of highest concern.
Labor candidate Justine Keay was the former sitting member after winning the Braddon seat in 2016. Keay has served on local council and most recently worked in the office of Bryan Green as an Electorate Officer.
Keay’s plan for Braddon focuses primarily on health services, funding for schools, TAFE and apprenticeships, as well as an upgrade to the West Park Oval sporting facility, tying into a larger initiative from Labor for a Tasmanian AFL team. On a national level, Justine is in opposition to the tax changes introduced in the May 2018 budget, as well as cuts to ABC funding. You can see how Justine voted for key issues over the past few years here.
Brett Whiteley was the Liberal Party’s member for Braddon directly before Keay, and has also represented Braddon in Tasmania’s state Parliament between 2002 and 2010. Apart from politics, Whiteley has been a marriage celebrant, a pastor and a banker.
In his 2013 federal Parliament maiden speech, Whiteley spoke of investment into transport infrastructure, particularly ferries to facilitate trade with Melbourne and remove shipping inefficiencies. He also would like to assist growth in the local timber and dairy industries. The Liberal Party runs autonomous state divisions, and a thorough list of policy plans from the Tasmanian Liberals can be found on their site here.
Mayo - South Australia
Covering a large area to the east and south of Adelaide, including Kangaroo Island, Mayo represents a little over 107,000 electors. This electorate historically has been divided on the issue of refugee detention centres, but more recently access to healthcare, environmental management and transport have emerged.
Previously the Nick Xenophon team, now Centre Alliance - Rebekha Sharkie was the member for Mayo and will be recontesting. Sharkie describes herself as an advocate for local industries, protecting farming land, improving local health services and addressing youth unemployment. A member for a minor party, Sharkie’s website interestingly contains a full report of her service as an elected member including her approach of community forums. With regard to international justice issues, Sharkie voted against preventing people who arrive by boat from ever receiving refuge in Australia.
The main opposition to the Centre Alliance’s former seat is Liberal candidate Georgina Downer. Downer is the fourth generation of her family to enter politics, as daughter of former foreign minister Alexander Downer who held this seat for 24 years. Downer holds degrees in Law and Commerce and has experience as a diplomat at the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, and most recently held the position of Director of Asialink. For the local area of Mayo, her campaign focus is on regional road safety, access for health and aged care services, mobile black spots, export growth, tourism and local jobs.
Labor is also running a candidate, Reg Coutts, a professor and commercial radio technologies and telecommunications expert.
Fremantle - Western Australia
The metropolitan electorate Fremantle holds not only the township of Fremantle but extends eastward to parts of Melville, holding around 103,000 electors - an increase of around 3,000 since the 2016 federal election where Labor's Josh Wilson first won the seat he is about to recontest.
In the years preceding his election to the seat of Fremantle in 2016, Wilson served as Fremantle’s deputy Mayor and then as a staff under Melissa Parke - former member for Fremantle. Earlier, Wilson has worked as an associate lecturer, paralegal, journalist and freelance writer, and has previously worked on community projects such as ‘Fremantle Forever’ and stopping the privatisation of the Port of Fremantle. Wilson’s current focus is stopping live sheep exports, the Metronet, and an Urgent Care Clinic at Fremantle Hospital. To read Wilson’s speeches on issues spanning live exports to marriage equality, click here.
With the Liberal party not running a candidate in Fremantle, the Greens candidate Dorinda Cox is the biggest contester to the seat. Having previously run in Jandakot at the 2017 state election, Cox is an Indigenous woman, currently a small business owner, and has previously worked as a police officer. She has also been an anti-domestic violence campaigner. If elected, Cox will be looking to specifically support renewable energy technology, raising the level of the Newstart payment and opposing the Liberal’s tax changes.
Perth - Western Australia
In the four other by-elections, the previous MPs are running again, but this is not the case in Perth, where Labor MP Tim Hammond is retiring for family reasons, unrelated to citizenship. Classed as inner-city metropolitan, local issues important to electors include Medihotels or Urgent Care clinics at the Royal Perth Hospital and holds the strongest support for same-sex marriage in the state.
Hammond is being succeeded by Patrick Gorman as the Labor candidate, who has been serving as the Labor State Secretary since 2015 and been a senior staffer under Kevin Rudd. Gorman sites a desire for fair pay and conditions at work, and for marriage equality as his primary motivators for representing Perth.
Caroline Perks, a former senior sustainability officer at the City of Perth, is running for the Greens. Holding a Bachelor of Commerce and a Masters in Environmental Management and Development, Perks was travelled to Paris as part of the 2015 Climate Change Agreement. Perks holds a focus policy pertaining to women, live export regulations and equitable treatment of minority groups, including refugees.
When it comes to local by-elections, it can be difficult to gather understanding about the candidates likely views on large notions such as international aid, poverty, justice and inequality both in our nation and beyond. Regardless if you are one of the Australian’s participating in Super Saturday, what is useful is to remember is that your local member is exactly that - someone from within your community, representing the 70-100 thousand odd people living closest to you. As your representative, you are able to demonstrate, inspire and empower them to be a bold voice on issues such a global poverty, and why events such as Voices for Justice have such credibility and impact.
Image credit: SBS News.