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The battle for Balmain

The last State election saw the Liberals, Labor and Greens all receive around 30 per cent of the primary votes. Parker edged out the then sitting member, Labor’s Verity Firth, by 254 first preference votes. Her preferences then lifted him to victory over the 2011 Liberal candidate James Falk, who had been 841 votes ahead of Parker prior to the distribution of preferences.

Both Parker and Firth have returned to contest the seat while Lyndon Gannon will be running for the Liberal Party. Verity Firth is once again the Labor candidate, after winning a community preselection in May 2014 in which 5,000 people voted.

With the Inner West struggling to deal with the increasing population it is no surprise that both Parker and Firth are looking to address similar issues. They both mentioned education, transport and sustainable development as key issues to address.

“We definitely need a new inner city high school. We know that by 2018 our schools will be at capacity, but by 2026, even if there is no new development there will be an extra 2,200 kids in the city requiring high school,” Firth said.

Parker agrees that Balmain will need a new high school but added: “We need an investment in our primary schools in particular, to make sure that there is good quality investment in our schools to help them expand. There is also the real possibility that we will need a new primary school in the electorate of Balmain.”

Both candidates also see a lot of benefits coming from the extension of the light rail down Parramatta Road and into Balmain.

“We also think light rail should be extended under Victoria Road where the lines already exist to White Bay and a short tunnel into Gladstone Park to revitalise the shopping strip and give people a really reliable, clean, alternative public transport option. Buses are just clogging the city and making it impossible for transport to work,” Parker said.

Sydney’s housing shortage is also causing affordable housing to become another key issue that both parties are looking to address. Verity Firth reiterated the importance of social mix. “Something that I am quite passionate about is that we maintain our housing mix, so that we don’t become a gated insular community of the very rich, and that we have the capacity for people of all backgrounds and wages to live here.”

Parker was quick to point out that for public housing “there was still a $300 million backlog left over from Labor that the Liberals haven’t met in maintenance”.

The Liberal government’s development plans for the Bays Precinct attracted the ire of both Firth and Parker. Both candidates are willing to allow development on the site but neither will stand for the housing targets that the Liberal government and UrbanGrowth NSW have set.

“The community needs to put its stamp on what will be happening there. We will not let 16,000 apartments, which they are proposing, happen. We will make sure the precinct is world class. It won’t be a developer’s paradise with me as the member for Balmain,” Parker said.

“Bays Precinct could either be really great or really terrible,” Firth admitted. She committed to the Labor Party’s Key Planning principles for The Bays, which include guaranteed public ownership of the foreshore, guaranteed open space and adaptive reuse of existing sites. “The government should go in first. They should do the harbour foreshore walk, they should lock in the open space, put in a couple of parks, a couple of sporting ovals and lock it all in.”

Both Firth and Parker admit that there are similarities between their campaigns, but one of the major differences comes from their parties’ set up.

Parker is adamant that, “If you vote for the major parties they will do exactly to you what they did last time. They will say everything in opposition but as soon as they get into government –? You have an alternative in this area. For example, in this last term of parliament, myself and the Greens have successfully passed over 65 amendments to bills, we’ve had over 140 motions adopted into parliament. We make a difference in the parliament and we make a difference in the community. That old kind of thinking will never change the way that politics works. I can be an independent voice in the middle of parliament for the community. I’m not subject to the dictates of Sussex Street or the factions.”

Firth stated: “I think the difference between Labor and the Greens is that as Labor we do understand that we are a potential alternative government. We know we have to be sensible and we can’t just run rampant with promises, and I think the Greens have the luxury of never having to be in government. There are a lot of similarities that Jamie and I have, the difference is that I can implement them. It is only going to be a choice, whether people like it or not, between a Labor government and a Liberal government. The difference is that when you are voting for Labor you are voting for a party that can implement those changes. The strongest message that you can send if you are unhappy with the Liberal government is to vote Labor.”

The Liberal candidate Lyndon Gannon grew up and has been active within the Balmain community, but was unable to respond to the SSH’s interview requests in time for publication.


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