State election candidates debate in Richmond

Almost 150 people attended the Richmond Town Hall last night to hear the candidates for the state seat of Richmond debate a wide range of issues in the lead up to the Victorian Election on November 25.

The debate was called by the Fairfax-owned Melbourne Times newspaper which is popular in the inner city areas of Melbourne. Senior Editor of the paper, Alison Dean chaired the first of 12 meetings planned in every state electorate.

The candidates in attendance included current sitting MP Dick Wynne (ALP), Gurm Sekron (Greens), Maina Walkley (Liberals), Ian Quick (Independent) and Stephen Jolly (Socialist Party). Each candidate was given 3 minutes each to introduce the debate.

SP candidate, Stephen Jolly was the first to speak telling the crowd that the people of Richmond deserved better than what the ALP has delivered. He talked about the community anger about inappropriate developments such as Salta and Banco and highlighted the problems faced by public housing tenants in the area. He spoke of the disgraceful situation where the ALP had forgotten local people preferring to look after their corporate mates.

Stephen stated that if you were unhappy with the current ALP government you only had two choices in the seat of Richmond. Either you can vote for the Greens or the Socialist Party. He challenged people to vote not only on policies but on records. He criticized the Greens for their ‘do-nothing’ approach and argued that SP had a record to be proud of.

Independent and well known planning activist Ian Quick spoke next. Ian is the President of the Save Our Suburbs group and said from the outset that he was a single issue candidate standing against the planning policies of the ALP. He also mentioned the Banco and Salta developments saying that the state government had continually used the VCAT system as an excuse. He called on people to either vote the ALP out or vote for someone that will make them even more marginalized. “If you don’t like what’s happened in your street, send the ALP a strong message” he said.

Leading Greens member Gurm Sekron was third on the platform making the point that on many issues the ALP had stolen the Liberals ground. He was referring to the fact that the Liberals are not only to the left of Labor on some social issues but also on issues like public transport. Gurm used a ’Wizard of Oz’ analogy (poorly) to illustrate his party’s stand. He referred to himself as Dorothy traveling down the yellow brick road, meeting other characters along the way. National’s leader Peter Ryan (Scarecrow), Ted (the tin man) Ballieu and Steve Bracks (the cowardly lion). He referred to Bracks as someone with good intentions but not following through with his promises.

Maina Walkley from the Liberals was next and was a stand-out on the night, not from the point of view of talent, but because she is perhaps the worst public representative a political party could hope for. She spoke not a word about local issues but instead told her life story. The only policy statements she made were that “If you want free public transport for students and changes to payroll tax – vote Liberal”. In an embarrassing moment for all at the end of her speech she got stage fright. After an uneasy pause she finished by saying “we don’t want any radical people in government – vote Liberal, thank you”.

Current ALP MP Dick Wynne spoke last starting his speech by trying to explain that (after 7 years in power!) the problems of the day were not the ALP’s fault. He said that the ALP had inherited a legacy of cuts from the previous Liberal government. He outlined the fact that in 1999 Victoria was faced with a situation where the system was in disarray. Thousands of teachers, nurses and public servants were sacked; health, education and housing had all been neglected.

Despite the fact that the ALP has not rectified any of these problems he claimed that on every measure the ALP stands the test! Unbelievably Dick mentioned that the role of his party was key to the saving of several local assets including the Abbotsford Convent. Amid heckling from the floor claiming it was community pressure that saved these assets, Dick told the crowd it was partnership between the ALP and the community.

The floor was then opened for questions to the candidates with between 30 seconds and 1 minute allowed for answers. The crowd asked almost 20 questions on issues ranging from industrial relations, public transport, aged care, gay rights, refugees, planning, Aboriginal issues, freeway extensions, pollution and public/private partnerships.

The debate was clearly had between incumbent Dick Wynne and SP’s Stephen Jolly.
Gurm was uninspiring to say the least, whilst Ian (who clearly has his head around the local issues) made it clear he was a single issue candidate, he agreed with Jolly on many issues. Maina Walkley dodged many of the questions with her most common answer being “that’s not really my area of expertise”.

Jolly continually made points highlighting the fact that the ALP is a party of big business and does not represent ordinary people. “No longer can they be given a blank cheque” he said. He made strong arguments which were backed up with facts and figures.

The truth is that the ALP has let people down in almost every area, from public housing to new development, from working people to small business owners. They can not represent ordinary people when they are supported by many of the companies that come into conflict with the community.

The ALP is extremely worried about this seat and so they should be. SP members and supporters left the debate feeling confident that our ideas are not only being heard but are gaining significant support. Richmond is clearly going to be a close contest and SP is proud to be positioning ourselves as the only genuine left alternative to Labor in the area.

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