Today, why shouldn’t more of us change political brands if it means getting what we need? That’s why the electoral eruption that put local teal independents in once-safe Liberals seats closer to the city could be repeated in the outer suburbs. But unlike the teals, who ran largely on national and global issues, the outer suburban independents would be intensely local, arguing for a better go for their communities.
The key challenge for the big parties will be to develop and demonstrate empathy for households and businesses in these areas. Basically, they need to work out how to organise and establish – or re-establish – networks in these communities, some of which are new and some of which are 30 years old.
Are they up to it? Local party structures are often pretty scant in these areas. The Labor Party still operates on the old top-down model of carving up seats along factional lines, disregarding genuine homegrown candidates that might be on offer in favour of whoever’s top of the pops among the various faction chiefs. In doing so, they are asking to be punished at the ballot box.
It’s been fascinating to see various Liberals urging their party to shift focus from the wealthy suburbs to the less well-accommodated outer areas, as if it’s like updating your wardrobe. Do the parties have the capacity to genuinely understand what it’s like to shop, use the roads and public transport, accept the long distances you often have to travel, educate your kids, form neighbourhoods and sporting teams, access entertainment, and develop a sense of economic and physical security in these places?
I long ago moved to the inner city to be close to work. The suburb I live in is overstuffed with public tram and train options, parkland and every type of shop and service, all within easy walking distance. A local controversy centres on a recent profusion of new bike lanes on our streets and roads, gumming up vehicular traffic while few cyclists seem to use them. The intensity of the debate is something to behold. My Frankston self wonders what to make of it. All too often we don’t appreciate what we have.