This Saturday, NSW will go to a state election in what is being called “the tightest election in decades“.  That is may be, but up until this week, one of the most boring in memory.  

It’s been an election that hasn’t really used Federal leaders or issues to any large degree, but there is a case for discussing it within the context of Federal politics, especially in the light of the events of Christchurch.  Its result could also have larger ramifications for the looming Federal poll.  

That is, if you don’t count sprinklers in the defunct Sydney Football Stadium, which are VITAL to this election.

What makes this election unusual is that the election and its swinging seat intrigue isn’t entirely focused on Sydney’s inner suburban and outer suburban areas.  Almost all of the marginal seats this time around are in the rural and regional parts of the state. That’s what should make this a Sydney and the Bush election.

But listen to the media coverage, the Bush has been all but eliminated. It’s been about Stadiums and Alan Jones.  And, this week, about Michael Daley and “Asian PhD holders”

Sydney is Breaking, White People are Shaking

The election suddenly changed with the introduction of  comments by Michael Daley about “Asian workers taking our jobs” that was dropped by The Daily Telegraph four days out from the election.  It is emblematic of an underlying anxiety in Sydney on a number of counts.

It’s useful to set the scene for the event.  Michael Daley, the Shadow Minister of Planning, was at the Upper Blue Mountains white enclave of Wentworth Falls, at a “Politics of the Pub” event. Such events are full of baby boomers, in the relaxed setting of a pub, concerned about the future for their grandchildren. Sydney is, as everyone in this part of the world, a crazy, inaccessible, broken place. The public transport system breaks down, often, the roads are easily choked throughout, in peak and off peak. For those who live more than 20 kilometres away from the CBD, it gets exponentially worse.  The audience that night want their families to have easy access to the City. The people in that would wouldn’t have necessarily been wealthy people – it’s not overly expensive to buy homes in the part of the world. They would be, however, aware of the escalating cost of renting and buying homes in the distant inner city and grasping for answers. 

So Michael Daley, concerned father gave them one. The root of his stated concern might be one of the most Sydney fears imaginable – his daughter taking the shocking decision to move to Melbourne.  Melbourne.  How could the daughter of a Labor shadow minister make such a terrible decision?

Searching for the answer to give the audience, Daley used the lazy conversation trope of wealthy young intelligent Asians moving into Sydney and driving up rent and land prices. It’s a commonly heard refrain across middle class lunchrooms and BBQs across Sydney and Melbourne. It’s on Step One of the racism pathway that I outlined in my first Ausvotes 2019 post.  That’s why the audio of the moment reveals a general approval of this concern – though, it needs to be pointed out that at the time, not everyone agreed with the sentiment and at least one person at the event expressed concern about his comments.

But it’s not an answer. It’s a lazy excuse based on a racist notion that finding a home in Sydney is an us v them situation – poor white “Australian” children versus foreign invaders.

Little wonder (and rightfully so) that the Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, expressed disgust at the comments

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Leong also summed up the problem for the Liberal Party to take advantage of Daley’s comments.

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One such person to attempt to make political capital from it was the Treasurer, hard right figure Dominic Perrottet, who made this statement about Daley being a “hypocrite”, which is fairly hyperbolic, but has some merit :

“He’s trying to be Pauline Hanson in the Blue Mountains and (Greens Senator) Sarah Hanson-Young in the city,”

Leong, however, came up with the ideal way to respond to Perrottet:

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It’s difficult to say what impact this drop from the Australia, which has been a long time coming, will have on the election. Any kind of public racism is especially problematic right now, but it’s difficult to imagine the Liberal Party asking John Howard to make a video talking about the Liberal Party’s credentials in relation to Asian immigration.

In addition, and this is very important to Labor, the voters for the party aren’t just white people in the Blue Mountains and elsewhere.  Chris Minns, future leader in waiting (and may well get that job if Daley loses because of his statements) has used WeChat to apologise for his leader’s comments.

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Daley’s “apology” is more along the lines that he still seems to be annoyed the moving in of cashed up Asians has caused his daughter having to move to Melbourne.

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But does any of this matters? Maybe not in the light of the Stadium Sprinklers.

Stadium Sprinklers

I will let the issue of stadium sprinklers be introduced through this Tuesday conversation on twitter about an interview on 2GB between Michael Daley and Ben Fordham.

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What’s the deal with the Stadium Sprinklers?

Infrastructure Spending and Stadiums

Before talking sprinklers, there needs to be some context. One of the main issues in the 2015 election was selling off electricity assets in order to spend money on infrastructure. And spend money the government has done.  Light rail, new Metro lines, the Westconnex, Northconnex. A kind of logic would suggest that the NSW Coalition would benefit in the same way as the Victorian government has from such spending.  After all, it’s a topsy turvy world where Labor and the Greens are opposing the future Bankstown Metro line, where the current line is being upgraded from being an under-serviced line to high volume. The plan is to extend that line to rapidly upwards growing Liverpool, which is in desperate need of better access to other parts of the city. That way, people like Daley’s daughter may be able to move to places like Liverpool instead of having to go to Melbourne.  The main focus in this election, however, has been on another piece of infrastructure.

Stadium Spend

The policy area that is seeing the most heat for the government is in the knocking down and rebuilding of three stadiums.  The first of them, Parramatta, is arguably necessary, with two guaranteed tenants who could be relied upon to fill it for most of the year. The other two, however, have a marginal utility at best, especially the stadium at Homebush, which has caused headaches ever since the 2000 Olympics and would only fill a few times during a year.  The Sydney Football Stadium at Moore Park, it has been argued, especially by its managers, the SCG Trust, has more need to be knocked down and rebuilt, as there have been safety concerns raised about the 30 year old stadium, in regards accessibility and its lack of a sprinkler system. The main difference between the two parties is that the ALP have suggested that the well connected SCG Trust could take out a loan to have it built, and ask for help from its tenants – the NRL, ARU and A-League, in a similar process undertaken in Melbourne with both the MCG and the AFL’s Marvel Stadium. As polling is regularly showing, this issue is an unpopular one for the Government, as it appears to be largesse to the “big end of town”, especially in regards Moore Park.  It’s also a lot of money being spent a long way away from the bush marginals.

Daley made himself known in this election as someone with a personality (as opposed to his predecessor, Luke Foley) through his declaration to Alan Jones that he would remove the current SCG Trust, including Jones.  Part of Daley’s fight with the SCG Trust had him make a claim that the Trust deliberately removed the sprinklers from the Sydney Football stadium in order to suggest the stadium is unsafe. That claim, however, has been shown to be false, as there was never such a system installed in the days in which it was built.  And again in the Fordham interview, where Daley admitted he was wrong.

So, Sprinklers. That’s the most important issue for 2GB in the lead up to the state election in four days.  All because Daley decided to take on Alan Jones in this proxy battle over stadiums.

How. Very. Sydney.

And meanwhile, all those marginal seats in the bush? All the independent candidates? Swing seats?  At this stage, still a bit of a mystery in terms of media coverage. So, it’s difficult to see right now how this election on Saturday will have an impact on the Federal campaign. There’s racist views in that as well, the media related nonsense of Scott Morrison threatening The Project over Waleed Aly quoting from an 8 year old published article, Liberals pretending to suddenly care about racism in the community.

But no sprinklers. That’s just a Sydney thing.