Friday, 30 January 2015

The Reluctant Political Candidate (Part 1) - Getting involved


This story of my political involvement spans 1985-1988 including the New South Wales (NSW) State election when Nick Greiner became Premier.

At the time I was passionate about the need for a change in government. Today, sadly, I barely bother even following the political news. It seems to me that there are few members of Federal and State Parliaments, on both sides of the house, who are anything more than career politicians. Please note that I do say few. I believe my current NSW Member of Parliament is an honourable and caring representative.

I always believed that you shouldn’t complain about a situation unless, subject to time and resources, you were prepared to contribute to change no matter how minor.  I was very concerned about the direction the country was going under the Whitlam Labor Government and while it was beyond my control as an individual to change the situation I thought I might contribute in some small way.

One evening politics in 1985 while we discussing politics my sister in law, a member of the Camden Branch of the Liberal Party, suggested I also join. I saw this as the answer to how I could make some contribution to changing the government.

Between 1985 and 1987 I served as branch delegate to State and Federal Conferences and as campaign secretary at local, state and federal government levels and also transferred to the Picton Branch (in the Shire of Wollondilly).

A State Election was to be held in early 1988 and part of the Wollondilly Shire was now in the new Electorate of Burragorang considered to be a safe Labor seat.

Safe seats of either political party have no trouble getting several members keen for nomination as election candidate. Even marginal seats often have two or three or more members to choose from as their candidate. When it is a safe seat for the opposite party the local branches struggle to find a candidate or even justify the cost of a campaign.

This was the situation that faced the Picton Branch of the Liberal Party in 1987. Do they run a campaign and throw fund raising time, and the resulting money, at a campaign they couldn’t win? Should they run a campaign so at least Liberal supporters in the electorate had someone to vote for? Who would be willing to spend their own time and money campaigning for a political seat they couldn’t win? Enter, ‘never do things by halves’, me.

When the Liberal Party ads were shown on television saying "We're Ready" - I was answering Nick Greiner back saying "No we're not – not in Burragorang!"

It became evident that if we didn't act soon we might end up with no candidate at all or someone from another area who was just looking for some electoral experience.

Burragorang would be far from easy to win, but there were good reasons why we needed a candidate:
  • Those voters in the electorate who will only vote Liberal - deserved to be able to voice their political preferences.
  • If there was to be no independent or minor party candidates we would be handing the seat to the Labor Party on a silver platter
  • For every vote we gained for the Liberal Party it would most likely to be a vote for our candidates for the Upper House.
    The Federal seat of Macarthur was considered unwinnable, but through the members efforts the swing needed had been pulled back over the two previous Federal Elections so it was considered marginal - this is what we needed to work towards in Burragorang.

It was suggested that I should nominate as candidate. I did not take it seriously as I had no political ambitions but I had already promised my time and effort to the Burragorang campaign, as Secretary. With the trust of my local branches behind me I accepted nomination in November 1987 for an election to be held in April the following year.

The electorate of Burragorang was very strange and considered a major gerrymander by the then Labor Government. It took in Warragamba, Oakdale and The Oaks, Picton (but not Tahmoor), Appin (in Wollondilly) and the northern suburbs of Wollongong. It was like a big banana with Liberal voters in the north and Labor voters in the south. Two thirds of the population of the electorate was in the south and a very much a Labor stronghold.  To win Burragorang, or at least make our presence felt we knew we had to concentrate our efforts and make our presence felt in the coastal area.

This Liberal Party campaign for NSW was led by Nick Greiner.

In Part 2 of The Reluctant Political Candidate I cover the experience and fun of the campaign itself

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