Flat White

Eden-Monaro: a bellwether seat on a knife’s edge — and a canary in a coal mine?

3 July 2020

5:43 PM

3 July 2020

5:43 PM

A summer evening by the river; a band playing movie themes, light classical and marches, kids, dogs, families sprawled on picnic rugs, beer wine and the food you picked up from the supermarket on the way to the event.

It’s Queanbeyan’s ‘Music by the River’ and people from both sides of the border are relaxing and enjoying the evening. Yes, Queanbeyan; once the poor-relation cousin to affluent Canberra, now enjoying a resurgence as families who want backyards for the kids and dogs move back into the easy-going small-Aussie town feeling Queanbeyan offers.

Little townships that cluster Queanbeyan; Googong, Bungendore, Braidwood, Collector and around Lake George, are also home to Defence employees, whose workplace may be Russell Hill, but also the new defence establishment just outside Bungendore or HMAS Harman, just across the now-closed railway line that marks much of the New South Wales-ACT border from Queanbeyan.

Googong, with its lake location, in particular, through tv ads that blitzed the ACT, has lured Caberrans across the border. “I don’t want to live among people who don’t speak English” was one terse, deeply non-PC but telling remark to your correspondent. And, as international students trickle back into the ACT, the old jokes about the ‘Chinese Quarter’, AKA the new student apartments, Asian grocers, eateries and convenience stores around the ANU, surface.

It isn’t exactly ‘white flight’, though if you drive past the school in Queanbeyan, you can’t help but notice the majority of kids are white and their mums, toddlers in tow, drive older cars or the family ute. These are the families, Dad a tradie or a public or private sector middle rank man in Canberra who changed the electorate of Eden-Monaro, where votes will be cast and counted tomorrow.

Eden-Monaro is a big, diverse seat, with the old farming families (the scrumptious Bega cheese from contented cows comes from here) and aspirational newcomers who might work in Canberra but prefer life across the ACT border. There are the retired public servants and press gallery members and tree and sea changes down on the South Coast and through its hinterlands. Then there are all the tourism operators, already battered by bushfire and waiting to see what will happen with the ski season.

Interestingly, Labor people in Canberra have been unsettled about tomorrow’s vote. They keep repeating what a popular figure Mike Kelly, who last held the seat for Labor and retired through ill-health, has been. 

They don’t mention that Fiona Kotvojs, the Liberal, came within one per cent, some 160 votes close of taking Eden-Monaro from Labor. The Labor candidate, Kirsty McBain — who boasts in her ads that her husband, too, is a small businessman — has pushed the line of more jobs for the region. ABC radio has played its part by repeating the footage of the unfriendly reception received by the PM when he visited the fire-blasted townships in that different world that was last summer.

Labor is also aware that trying to revive unhappy memories isn’t the best way to win votes. A government job is a government job and Labor isn’t in government, so even if Labor retains the seat, it won’t help the numbers in parliament, merely retain the status quo.

But there’s one job it could affect; Anthony Albanese’s.

Tomorrow will be interesting; a bellwether seat on a knife’s edge — and a canary in a coal mine?

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