newsCO.com.au–Greens pick their woman for key battle of the north

September 17, 2017

The Victorian Greens hope a local Indigenous woman can finally achieve the political breakthrough in Melbourne’s inner-north the minor party has been threatening for years.

Lidia Thorpe, from one of the state’s most prominent Aboriginal families, will take on Labor hopeful Clare Burns in the upcoming Northcote byelection to fill the State Parliament seat left vacant by the death of the ALP’s Fiona Richardson.

Labor says it will fight hard to defend a seat it first won in 1927 and has never relinquished.

But the broader implications of the vote, most likely to be held in mid-November, are huge.

A Greens win, or even a narrow loss, makes Labor’s defence of its other threatened inner-city seats of Brunswick and Richmond in next year’s state election, look a lost cause.

But a comfortable Labor win in Northcote would give Daniel Andrews’ troops a massive confidence boost, 12 months out from the November 2018 state poll, in their battle with the Greens for Melbourne’s inner-city seats.

A poor Greens showing in the byelection would be yet another bad news story for a party that has endured an ugly year in the federal arena, dogged by internal tension and the loss of two of their most effective senators to the citizenship saga.

The conventional political wisdom says history is on the side of the Greens with the numbers telling the story of changing times in the seat that takes in Fairfield, Alphington, Thornbury, parts of Preston and ends abruptly at Bell Street.

In 2010, Ms Richardson held Northcote comfortably with a margin of 10.6 per cent from her Greens challenger.

But in 2014, the Greens cut the incumbent’s margin to 6 per cent.

While still notionally a safe ALP seat, the influx into Northcote of younger, wealthier, Greens-leaning voters, replacing Labor’s older working-class cohort, has been relentless.

A senior Labor campaign source acknowledged a 15-year trend of losing ground to the Greens in the inner city, but said the ALP would fight hard to protect its margin in Northcote.

Labor billboards are set to appear around the electorate within days, even before the byelection officially gets underway, with the ALP planning to campaign hard on housing affordability, targeting first home buyers and renters.

The Liberals, who have no chance of winning the seat but whose preferences might prove crucial, have still not said whether they will field a candidate.

The Greens say Ms Thorpe, a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman whose family have lived locally for 20 years, would be the first Aboriginal woman ever elected to Parliament in Victoria, should she win.

The candidate works as Managing Director of Indigenous business The Clan Corporation and is Chair of the Victorian NAIDOC Committee.

Her party did not make Ms Thorpe available for interview on Monday but in a statement she pledged to campaign on local issues as well as more traditional Greens causes.

“Overcrowding is a real issue here, from public transport to the local high school,” Ms Thorpe’s statement read.

“I will campaign for the tram extension and to secure the rest of the funding that was promised for the high school.”

Ms Burns was not available for interview on Monday.

In a statement, she said it was important that working people in the electorate got a “fair crack at life and at living in this area they love”.

“That is something that is becoming a real struggle for people here, including for me,” she said.

Ms Burns rents a share house in Northcote with three other people and spent her 20s moving from “rental to rental” in the area.

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