Who will stand against the Liberals in Strathfield?

Charles Casuscelli is a very lucky man. Nine months out from an election, the first-term MP for Strathfield still has no Labor opponent contesting his position. And boundary changes imposed by the NSW Electoral Commission have delivered him what looks like a windfall: he has jettisoned part of Ashfield, where he was unpopular, in return for part of North Strathfield, where he has a chance of picking up votes.

His tight margin has actually increased in his favour by 2 per cent. But nothing is certain in politics, particularly in NSW.

A 6 percent margin is not a lot, and his fate relies on just who the Labor Party eventually decides will stand against him.

It is nine months until we go to the polls. The Premier who won the state for the Liberals is no longer in power, toppled by a bottle of tipple. Mike Baird has done well to retrieve the situation, and Labor appears to have been caught napping with John Robertson, a caretaker leader at best, at the helm.

If a week is a long time in politics, nine months is an eternity.

Strathfield, however, appears stalled. Mayor Daniel Bott, just 33, is on the record as a “possible, but not probable” candidate. Observers say behind the scenes he is champing at the bit to take on the State challenge – but he must, apparently defer to party stalwart and popular Inner West identity John Faker, the mayor of Burwood.

Mr Faker won’t say if he will stand. He told the Scenelast week: “I haven’t made up my mind.” Some claim this is a selfish position  born out of fear that the Liberals will revive some events from the past that could be politically damaging. Mr Faker has paralysed the party, leaving little time for a newcomer to establish a profile if he decides not to face the electorate.

That said, many believe Mr Faker, an urbane operator comfortable in the spotlight and well-known throughout the Inner West, is possibly one of a handful who could unseat Mr Casuscelli.

But the state is not to be underrated. The zealous and enthusiastic MP, who ruffled feathers in his first term with statements underscoring his expertise in transport, won the seat from Labor veteran Virginia Judge.

Arts Minister, mayor of Strathfield for three years and a councillor for nine, Ms Judge was a formidable opponent.

It was a close call. Mr Casuscelli’s votes were counted well into the night, while the results for others on the ballot paper were called much earlier in the day.

He had worked hard to win the seat, campaigning outside railway stations and on the doorsteps of the constituency. He has been rekindling that personal relationship with electors from the moment he was confirmed for the seat earlier this year.

Mr Casuscelli won Strathfield with an 11 per cent swing and a 4 per cent margin. Personally, it was a great feat. He was a new face in the electorate.

He now believes his margin has risen to 6 per cent because of the changes to his electorate’s boundaries.

“My margin may have increased by 2 per cent, but there is plenty of work to be done,” he said. “I believe it’s not a big enough margin to be able to get a clear win in the new areas, and because the northern area will be greatly affected by WestConnex.

“These are the residents who will have their homes acquired.

“I am still going out on the road and making sure the electorate knows who I am.”

Boundaries are changed to try to ensure each MP represents an equal number of residents. Currently, Mr Casuscelli represents about 82,000 voters.

“There has been a population shift towards the Drummoyne electorate and therefore, to balance the workload, I will gain a small section of what was John Sidotti’s electorate,” he said.

This new territory includes North Strathfield, Homebush and Homebush West which was part of the Drummoyne electorate. According to the NSW Electoral Commission, this new part of the electorate has been a traditional Liberal voting area.

But he has also gained a small portion of the Canterbury electorate – this includes parts of Croydon Park and Belfield, which has traditionally been a Labor seat.

The trade-off is the Ashfield area, which was once the most eastern end of the electorate – Ashfield will combine with suburbs such as Summer Hill, Marrickville and Newtown to form a new electorate.

It has been reported that Mr Casuscelli has become unpopular in the area after spats with the council and residents. The stoush was triggered when RailCorp closed the parking spaces at Ashfield to complete essential works. It resulted in a rude exchange of insults between Mr Casuscelli and former mayor Morris Mansour.

The spats have continued – residents and Mr Casuscelli have been at loggerheads over the planning of the WestConnex project. He concedes that the eastern end of the electorate is the most “challenging” part of his constituency.

“I found it difficult engaging with that particular part on the electorate and presenting them with objective facts, but their own political affiliations marred their views,” he told the Scene. “But that’s the job of a politician, to be continually challenged. It should be a hard slog and the last thing constituents want is lazy politicians.

“I am confident, though, that because of the State budget, the Liberals have a solid chance of winning next year’s election.”

But Mr Casuscelli has local issues which could cause him problems at the electorate.

WestConnex is certainly one of them. Many still remember he began his address to a protest meeting by saying: “I am a Roman – and as you know, Romans love roads.”

Amalgamation is another. It is unpopular in Strathfield, but Mr Casuscelli has refused to sign up for the municipality’s $50,000 campaign against change.

But the biggest challenge is who will stand against him.

Labor has decreed there will be a public selection process, but it appears few Labor candidates will stand against Mr Faker.

Nonetheless, a public grilling is the last thing the long-serving Burwood mayor wants. He was exonerated in an Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into the council’s links to developers in 2006, although council was ordered to make changes to its overseas travel policy and the disclosure of pecuniary interests rules for management.

In 2011, investigating conduct at Burwood Council, the ICAC made 31 recommendations to the NSW Government as well as Burwood Council aimed at preventing any problems related to corruption.

Interestingly, it was the year Mr Faker was made mayor on the vote of Mr John Sidotti, now the State MP for Drummoyne.


Comments

Anyone in support of privatising the assets owned by the people of NSW without their consent should not be voted into power! NSW largest income producing asset yields 20% per year of what it will be sold for (yes, the sale for $15B of an asset that reaps net funds for the state of approx $3B per year)

Black Saturday bush fires that killed 173 people in Victoria were a result of non-maintained power lines as concluded by the Royal Commission. As a result, the energy regulator in turn allowed SP Ausnet (the already privatised Victorian network operator, with foreign owners) to raise its prices to cover the $19M fine imposed on it, if it's insurance would not cover the fine.. The cost of electricity to the end user is actually higher in all states that have already been privatised, which is a result of employing more sales representatives and a need for end of year dividends for shareholders, which take the retail cost through the roof. A natural monopoly needs to stay in public hands, there is NO COMPETITION. Please be informed before you vote at the next election, don't just take the words of the vested interests. Yes, that includes the banks who will in turn collect the interest bill on the borrowings required to make the purchase. It also includes this corrupted individual, who has been overseas looking to adopt a pay per km method to decrease congestion on our roads. No doubt Charles will end up on the board of whichever private company is awarded the rights to slug all road users AGAIN. We've paid enough to these thieves, let's make sure they don't sell us out to foreigners for their own personal interests!

On another note, Sydney Airport has not paid 1c in tax since being privatised in 2002. Anyone tried parking there lately?

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