Greenway, or the place which Jaymes Diaz is trying to represent

This opinion piece by Professor James Arvanitakis, from the Institute of Culture and Society at the University of Western Sydney, was originally published on The Conversation(opens in a new window).

The ultra-marginal seat of Greenway in Sydney's western suburbs has recently drawn international scrutiny after the embarrassing media performance of the Liberal candidate Jaymes Diaz, who faltered when asked to explain the Coalition's plans to stop the flow of boats with refugees.

Greenway is currently held by the Labor Party on the wafer-thin margin of 0.9%, Labor's smallest margin in New South Wales. It is centred on the suburb of Blacktown. Like many electorates in western Sydney, it is a snapshot of modern Australia.

Populated by voters from an incredibly multicultural background, Greenway has the nation's fourth highest proportion under four years old. It is also the country's third highest number of households with dependent children.

Created in 1984 when the size of parliament was increased, the history of Greenway is similar to many seats in western Sydney. It was once regarded as Labor strongholds until former prime minister John Howard's pitch to aspirational voters. The region is now home to some of the most hotly contested seats in the country.

The Coalition first captured the seat in 2004 amidst the backdrop of a whispering campaign against the ALP candidate Ed Husic, a Muslim union official. This campaign saw an anonymous pamphlet drop stoking anti-Muslim sentiments, stating:

Ed Husic is a devout Muslim – Ed is working hard to get a better deal for Islam in Greenway.

The former ALP state secretary Eric Roozendaal claimed the campaign was "very effective" in inflaming anti-Muslim sentiment in the region, and Husic was ultimately unsuccessful in his bid for the seat.

This disturbing operation was seemingly mirrored three years later in the infamous leaflet scandal in the neighbouring seat of Lindsay, where Liberal-aligned workers were caught distributing bogus leaflets thanking the ALP for supporting terrorists involved with the Bali bombings.

As an electorate, Greenway is far harder to categorise than seats such as Lindsay, one of the nation's bellwether seats. This is mainly because the boundaries have been radically redrawn in recent years. In 2007 the electorate shifted north into the semi-rural Coalition voting regions of Windsor and Richmond, but three years later was pushed back south towards traditional Labor voters.

Labor's Michelle Rowland is the current sitting member, and after an indifferent campaign in 2010, migration lawyer Jaymes Diaz is again contesting the seat. As we have seen, Diaz has moved from indifferent to embarrassing.

At the last election Tony Abbott railed against the NSW Liberal state machine for some of the candidates contesting marginal seats. Jaymes Diaz, who only achieved a modest swing against the backdrop of a big shift in voter sentiment to the Coalition, was clearly one of those who felt his ire. According to The Australian, Diaz's father Jess, a Blacktown City councillor, holds sway in three local Liberal branches in Greenway (a claim that is denied), and Jaymes Diaz has once again emerged triumphant over a strong field to contest the seat for the Coalition.

The Liberal Party's campaign in the seat could hardly have had a worse start after Diaz fluffed his lines badly during an interview with Channel Ten that provided the campaign with its first major gaffe. Under repeated questioning over the Coalition's plans to "stop the boats", Diaz stumbled repeatedly before being ushered towards a nearby car park by his minder.

Despite this setback, polls suggest the seat, like many in western Sydney, is likely to fall to the Coalition. The ALP has responded by flicking the switch to personal and unleashed its own letter bombing campaign, claiming Diaz has recently lived in a luxury city apartment he still owns.

The flyer goes on to claim that Diaz has attempted to conceal his work as a migration lawyer – a line of work seemingly at odds with the Coalition's hardline policy against asylum seekers. Diaz has responded by employing the ultimate small target strategy: being a no-show at a public forum in Blacktown in the penultimate week of the election.

Despite the many needs and great potential of the electorate, it seems like they have only been served dirty tricks and seven second grabs. And like the rest of us, it will be poorer for it no matter who wins the election.

James Arvanitakis receives funding from Australian Research Council and the Office of Learning and Teaching as part of being named Prime Minister's University Teacher of the Year (2012).


3 September 2013

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer 

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