25th January 2014
Having a Prime Minister as the sitting member drew significant attention to Griffith during the 2013 federal election, but there is a sense that this time around the eyes of the nation will be on Griffith with renewed interest, many seeing this by-election as the first test for Tony Abbott’s government.
On one side of the ring we have LNP candidate Dr Glasson, who is well liked in the electorate, and his personal appeal may be his greatest asset. He projected as much himself, when he was reported in the Fairfax press as saying that: “If we try to sell it (the election) on a political basis, or a leadership basis, we won’t get up.”
As the son of William (Bill) Glasson, Queensland Minister for Lands and Forestry and Police under Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Dr Glasson has an LNP legacy. “You may say politics is in my blood” he told Carindale Connect in March 2013.
Since the 2013 election Dr Glasson has been touted in the media as something of a giant slayer, having made significant inroads into the ALP’s primary vote in Griffith by gaining 42.2 per cent to Kevin Rudd’s 40.36 per cent.
In his campaign material, Dr Glasson lists his priorities as:
– Improving frontline health services and delivering on our commitment to establish Hummingbird House, a children’s respite and hospice facility at Kangaroo Point;
– Creating more local jobs by reducing taxes and regulations on small business and increasing their ability to compete – which will be helped by the Government’s new competition review;
– Reducing the cost of living by scrapping the Carbon Tax – making households $550 a year better off; and,
– A stronger, safer community through more CCTVs, and support for sporting and community groups.
While he may have wanted to ‘keep it local’ and focus the campaign around Kevin Rudd’s resignation, the Abbott government’s shaky start has largely enabled Labor and the Greens to set the agenda.
There has been particular focus in the past few weeks on school funding, Medicare, and action on climate change. Whether he had planned to or not, these are the issues to which Dr Glasson is now having to respond.
Much is made in Dr Glasson’s campaign material of his credentials as a local doctor and a past president of the AMA. It says of him that: “Bill’s character is reflected in his belief that all Australians should be able to access quality health care, regardless of their circumstances or where they live. As president of the Australian Medical Association he fought hard for that outcome working with governments of all persuasions.”
However, after going public with qualified support for a proposed new Medicare fee for bulk billed patients, these credentials have been under attack and a ‘Save Our Medicare’ campaign has sprung up in Griffith and found resonance nationally.
It is hard to know whether the Medicare fee issue has gained any traction beyond the Labor and Green’s party faithful. While the government has not categorically ruled it out, the Acting Health Minister Kevin Andrews has made it clear that a new Medicare fee is not current Government policy, and Glasson says Labor is just ‘scaremongering’.
Locals I have spoken with appear to be somewhat underwhelmed by the issue, some saying they already pay a gap fee anyway, and others that $6 doesn’t seem like much to ask. Nevertheless, Labor and the Greens continue to pursue the issue with vigour.
In the ALP corner, Dr Glasson’s opponent, newcomer Terri Butler told No Fibs that if the government does introduce a fee it is unlikely to be a one-off.
“The Abbott Government has hit Australians hard with the biggest increase to private health insurance premiums in a decade,” and added, “once they introduce a tax on every GP visit, the Abbott government will open the floodgate to annual increases of GP fees, making it tough for families already struggling with the cost of living.” she said.
As others have observed, the disadvantage for Terri Butler in this by-election is that she doesn’t have a profile in the electorate that could in any way equal that of her predecessor Kevin Rudd, and on top of that, she is up against a well-known and well-liked opponent.
On the plus side, Ms Butler is new: this can bring its own energy and freshness, and the old Labor leadership battles are no longer the ‘front and centre’ distractions they were in 2013.
While Ms Butler sees herself as the underdog in terms of financial resources, she considers she has the backing that will really count come election time.
“Though the LNP candidate has a lot more money to spend on this campaign than I do, I have more grassroots support,” she told No Fibs.
Yet in her campaign speech this week, Ms Butler warned her supporters: “Do not be fooled. We are right up against the wall in Griffith.”
In my first interview with Ms Butler, she said of herself: “I am someone that people can relate to. I’m a young mum, I’ve got a successful career, and like a lot of people in this electorate, I juggle the responsibilities of looking after my family with full-time work.”
Ms Butler said Labor’s volunteers (which some have dubbed ‘Butler’s Battlers’ as a retort to the ‘Glasson’s Gladiators’ tag), “are working on this campaign because they strongly believe in what we stand for: a fair go for the people of Griffith, and they’re working alongside me to engage with people as much as possible.”
Ms Butler said that Labor is keeping the campaign local. “We’re doing street stalls, meeting and greeting people at train, bus and ferry stops, making phone calls, speaking directly with local businesses, sending letters, and attending community meetings, among other things”.
As to the local issues, Ms Butler said people are concerned about: “The inequity in access to high-speed broadband, and concerns about Mr Turnbull’s second-rate broadband plan,
LNP backflipping on education funding”, and cited access to quality childcare and aircraft noise as other topics of concern for the electorate.
“More generally”, she said, “people are concerned that the Abbott government is not what they expected when they voted. We were promised no surprises and no excuses, but we seem to be getting plenty of both”.
“This by-election is people’s first opportunity to express an opinion about the Abbott government. From the conversations I’ve had, I don’t think people want to give the Abbott government a tick of approval,” she said.
Asked why she considers Labor is best placed to represent the interests of the people of Griffith, Ms Butler said: “We have wall-to-wall LNP governments. We don’t need yet another person agreeing with Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman. It’s important to restore some of the balance. Our community deserves a strong voice.”
Ms Butler said that the by-election is about the future. “It’s an opportunity for people to send a message to Canberra about the Abbott government’s performance, and about the type of government we expect and deserve.”
Over the past week, Ms Butler has had Labor Leader Bill Shorten at her side as they have taken to the streets. She told No Fibs: “It has been great to have had opposition leader Bill Shorten in Griffith this week. Bill has provided tremendous support to me right throughout the campaign, including campaigning with me at bus and ferry terminals across the Southside, making phone calls, meeting with local community groups and formally launching my campaign.”
Mr Shorten launched the Labor campaign on Wednesday evening with a fiery speech to a (mostly standing) whistling and hooting crowd of supporters in cramped footy clubs in Hawthorne. This was the Bill Shorten Labor people have been waiting to see.
At the conclusion of her campaign speech on Wednesday, Ms Butler said: “Everyone in this room knows that universal healthcare, a great education system, high speed broadband, and accessible affordable childcare, are, and always have been, Labor priorities, and we all know that only a Labor member will stand and fight to protect them.”
Dr Glasson has a very active Facebook site and a website but does not tweet.
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