Welcome to the first in an eight-part series covering the five-member upper house regions in the newly reformed Victorian Legislative Council (background detail available here). And what better place to start than with the part of Victoria that was lucky enough to have the Poll Bludger living in it from 1997 to 2005: the Northern Metropolitan region. Except in its outer reaches, this region covers some of the safest Labor territory in the state: from the city at its southern extremity, it passes through a thin band of north-eastern suburbs extending beyond the city limits, to Whittlesea in the north and along the Yarra Valley to Watsons Creek in the east.
The replacement of single-member elections with proportional representation in this electorally one-sided area has meant a squeeze for Labor and a new opportunity for the Liberals. The region covers all of the old province of Jika Jika and half of Melbourne and Melbourne North, each of which was a Labor stronghold. The only two Liberals representing any part of this region in either house are Bill Forwood and Graeme Stoney and only one quarter of their old provinces coincide with the new region. Even so, Labor has found room in Northern Metropolitan for one newcomer along with the two members for Jika Jika. All other members from the area have being accommodated elsewhere – with safe seats in the case of Gavin Jennings, Candy Broad and Marsha Thomson, and highly unsafe ones for Glennys Romanes, Lidia Argondizzo and Robert Mitchell. By contrast, the Liberals are guaranteed to have at least one member in what had formerly been a dead zone. Even more significantly, the region looks sure to provide a safe seat for the Greens, who have never previously had a Victorian MP at either state or federal level. Barring an unforeseen electoral convulsion, all evidence indicates the result will be three seats for Labor and one each for the Liberals and Greens.
Of Labor’s three seats, the first and third have gone to the Right and the second to the Left. At the top of the pile is Theo Theophanous, factional chieftain and member for Jika Jika since 1988. Originally associated with the Socialist Left, Theophanous shifted his numbers to Labor Unity via a tumultuous Left split in 1996 that initially put him in the front seat of a new group called the Labor Renewal Alliance. Colleagues in this group included his brother Andrew, the former federal MP who was jailed in 2002 for immigration fraud, and the other Right faction nominee for Northern Metropolitan (more on whom shortly). Along the way, Theophanous found time to serve as Consumer Affairs and Small Business Minister in the Kirner government, Leader of the Opposition in the upper house throughout the Kennett government, and Energy Industries and Resources Minister in the second term of the Bracks government.
The Left’s candidate is Jenny Mikakos, an old rival of Theophanous going back to the memorable Batman preselection ahead of the 1996 federal election. Then a Northcote councillor and taxation lawyer, Mikakos had won support from the hard left Pledge faction to replace the retiring Brian Howe, and was also backed by Labor Unity as part of a complicated deal that froze out the candidate of the Socialist Left Theo Theophanous. The complicated factional manoeuvres were ultimately trumped when the national executive intervened to install ACTU president Martin Ferguson. The Unity-Pledge alliance ultimately bore fruit for Mikakos at the 1999 state election, when she defeated incumbent Pat Power for the Jika Jika preselection. Mikakos has since rejoined the Socialist Left, and was promoted to a parliamentary secretary position following the 2002 election. She created a stir in May when she compared the mass exile of Pontic Greeks by Turkey during and after World War I to the Jewish holocaust, angering the Turkish and Jewish communities.
Third on the ticket is Nazih Elasmar, a figurehead of the Lebanese Christian community who in January received the Order of Australia for "service to the Lebanese community of Victoria through cultural, charitable and welfare organisations". Elasmar is also a former mayor of Darebin, a position he held at the time the council was sacked by the Kennett government in 1998. He has worked for many years as an electorate officer to Theo Theophanous, and followed him along the path through the Labor Renewal Alliance to Labor Unity. A report on Channel Nine’s Sunday program in 1998 accused Elasmar of stacking branches for the Right in Northcote ahead of Mary Delahunty’s preselection in 1997.
Topping the Liberal ticket is ASIC manager Matthew Guy, who ran for the lower house seat of Yan Yean in 2002. He is probably best known as the subejct of then Police Minister Andre Haermeyer’s attack on him under parliamentary privilege before the 2002 election, in which he was labelled a "liar and a thief". Guy was accused of telling the media "political opponents" had vandalised his car without making any such claim in his police complaint, and of having been picked up by police for stealing election signs. When parliament next sat 12 days later, Haermeyer was compelled to make a personal explanation in which he accepted only that Guy had not been charged over the signs incident. The Liberals complained to the Ombudsman who eventually found there had been unauthorised access to Guy’s police files three days before Haermeyer made his claims, and that the person responsible was the husband of Attorney-General Rob Hulls’ personal assistant although the Ombudsman accepted the latter’s insistence he had not contacted Haermeyer’s office about the matter.
The Greens preselection inevitably attracted considerable interest from party activists, candidates including Gemma Pinnell (who ran for the lower house seat of Richmond in 2002, and the federal lower house seat of Melbourne in 2004), Yarra councillor Jenny Farrar and former Yarra mayor Greg Barber. Barber and Pinnell were reckoned by all to be the front-runners, and the former prevailed by what was described in the press as "a couple of handfuls of voters". As well as his council credentials (he was the first member of the Greens ever to become a mayor in Australia), Barber has a Masters in Business Administration and works as a "corporate campaigner" for the Wilderness Society.
NB: This entry will be spiced up with tables and statistics at a later time, but this will do for the moment.