28/05/2009 - 00:00

Tough task to regain Fremantle

28/05/2009 - 00:00


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Jim McGinty may be the last Labor politician to hold Fremantle for quite some time.

Tough task to regain Fremantle

ALTHOUGH Jim McGinty is the man who let the Greens into the lower house, he shouldn't carry all the blame.

True, he was far from what could be considered a farsighted leftist factional grandee, since his record includes: vacating Labor's leadership on the eve of the 1996 election; altering the upper house seat numbers in accordance with Green demands; placing party members into parliament based on leftist factional loyalties, not ability; redistributing lower house seats in such a way that gave the Nationals the balance of power; and deserting Fremantle voters nine months after re-election.

WA Labor doesn't have too many with so illustrious a record.

But what of the Greens' victory in Fremantle?

Here, one must be circumspect.

Mr McGinty took the seat of Fremantle in 1990 amid fall-out from Labor's dumping of headstrong premier, Peter Dowding.

For reasons local historians may one day explain, the port city became the focal point for alternative lifestylers and a range of others with pacifist, anti-nuclear and pro-environmental views, which morphed into 'greenism'.

Fremantle is the focus of a range of myths based on its stevedoring past that fertilised various left-of-centre views and attracted many to its ageing cottages and cafe strip.

Furthermore, in the the 1970s, nearby Murdoch University emerged, founded on teaching and other philosophies that promoted so-called alternative approaches, thereby reinforcing the views of those already inclined to seeing the world thus.

There were also local identities like the late Bill Latter, a 1950s communist unionist and later Fremantle councillor.

State Scene highlights Mr Latter because he played a key role in ideologically instructing a generation of University of WA undergraduates at ongoing political seances in the guild building; and Mr McGinty was among his many disciples.

Mr Latter's student admirers called him The Professor.

Mr McGinty stepped into the port city's backward-looking milieu because he shared many of the ideological tenets so many others now living there also cherish.

He bought a house there and stressed he'd attended CBC Fremantle.

Most who knew him well were rather surprised since they'd associated him with Bunbury's Marist College.

Notwithstanding Mr McGinty's strong identification with leftism and Fremantle's many myths and fantasies, the tide had turned against stevedore-backed Labor several years before his election in 1990.

As Fremantle's MLA, Mr McGinty fully grasped this, since he could never score absolute majorities and so relied on the steadily growing Greens preferences to ward-off Liberal challengers.

After each election he'd carefully assess his performance.

What the percentages and aggregates showed was that Labor would struggle to ever again secure absolute Labor majorities, as prevailed before 1986.

Hardworking stevedores were long gone, replaced by a markedly different voting constituency - one that believed in vastly different forms of leftism.

Greens of the post-stevedore era had created a socially and culturally different Fremantle and their ideologies were on the march on the cafe strip.

At the 1990 election they scored a respectable 12.4 percent.

Also standing then was little-known local identity, future Fremantle mayor Peter Tagliaferri, who attracted a respectable 3.6 per cent as an independent.

Consider the WA Electoral Commission's web site figures.

The first available show Fremantle at the 1993 election, won by Mr McGinty with preferences, after which a 7.6 per cent swing was needed to unseat him.

At the 1996 contest he attracted 45.8 per cent primary support to the Greens 14.5 per cent. But after Greens and other preferences were in he won with 61.3 per cent, even though by then he was no longer Labor leader.

Then came election 2001, the one at which Geoff Gallop - a former Fremantle councillor and one-time Murdoch academic - took Labor into power.

This time Mr McGinty attracted 47.2 per cent to the Greens' 17 per cent. Significant here was the fact that the Greens candidate was one-time academic and Labor MP, Ian Alexander, who had represented Perth during 1987-93. Next came the 2005 election, where Mr McGinty scored a 44.9 per cent primary vote to the Greens' 15.8 per cent.

Not to be overlooked here, however, was the fact that one of the contesting independents was local lawyer, Adele Carles, now Mr McGinty's replacement, who attracted a respectable 5.8 per cent.

If one adds her and the Greens vote that's 21.6 per cent - a solid increase over the Greens' 17 per cent at the previous poll.

Things in Fremantle were becoming more interesting with Greens prospects looking ever brighter.

Then last year's contest - the one that further rattled Mr McGinty, now in opposition, and no doubt set him thinking about retirement sooner rather than later.

In September 2008 he only gained 7,286 primary votes, or 38.7 per cent, to Ms Carles, now as a Green candidate, who attracted 5,191 voters, or 27.6 per cent.

Interestingly, Liberal candidate Brian Christie only just pipped Ms Carles with 5,689 primary votes, or 30.2 per cent.

Of course, Ms Carles' preferences got Mr McGinty over the line.

The 2008 contest was therefore the loud warning bell.

Clearly Ms Carles had shrewdly combined her 5.8 per cent 2001 personal following with the Greens' then 15.8 to boost her 2008 figure to 27.6 per cent.

Mr McGinty and Labor now knew they faced a formidable challenger, either at a by-election or in 2012, if Ms Carles stood again.

All this is, of course, now history since she so easily beat Mr Tagliaferri, who Labor had turned to in the hope he'd attract enough Labor-plus-Liberal votes (since so many Fremantle locals were convinced of his alleged associations with the Liberals).

But like so many McGinty manoeuvres, this seemingly shrewd move also failed.

Fremantle is now Green, not Labor. And things are likely to remain so for years.

Mr McGinty will thus be remembered as the man who not only failed to stop Fremantle's steady Green rise while its MP, but also the one who hastened it along by retiring prematurely.

Despite his less-than-impressive parliamentary record, one shouldn't be too harsh.

Fremantle was inexorably moving towards leftist 'greenism' with Laborites even joining that wave of conversions, as Dr Alexander's 2001 re-emergence showed.

Younger voters abiding by left-of-centre views of the world opted to live there, like Mr McGinty did earlier.

Nor should Dr Alexander's Labor-to-Greens changeover be seen as extraordinary.

The just-released biography of leftist Burke-Dowding Labor government minister, Geoff Carr, titled, I Do Recall, indicates deep-seated pro-Green sympathies at Labor's most senior levels.

"I am coming increasingly to the view that the Greens have the clearest understanding of the longer-term problems in Australia and the world, and also some understanding of what an ideal world might be like," Mr Carr writes.

"I am conscious, however, especially at the federal level that much of the policy territory that attracted me to Labor has since been partly vacated by Labor and partly occupied by the Greens."


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