Page and the voters from ‘hippy heaven’

Janelle Saffin, Labor’s candidate for the seat of Page. Photo: James Brickwood Nationals member for Page Kevin Hogan visiting the Grafton Gem Club. Photo: James Brickwood
Nanjing Night Net

Page is currently the site of Australia’s biggest infrastructure work – duplication of the Pacific Highway from Ballina south to Woolgoolga – and it has meant a lot of employment for the region. Photo: Tony Walters

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The influx of sea/tree-changers, surfers, hippies and new-agers over five decades into northern NSW sometimes counterbalance the rural mindset that once ruled and makes the seat of Page unpredictable.

Further clouding the outcome, the reappearance of that northern NSW hot button issue – coal seam gas – has developed into a big demarcation line between the two major party candidates.

The Nationals’ Kevin Hoganis an amiable, hard-working MP greatly assisted to victory in 2013 by the Julia Gillard/Kevin Rudd imbroglio.

Page Labor campaign workers remember not even bothering to unfurl posters bearing Rudd’s visage. Their task had also been made impossible courtesy of Rudd dudding his Labor colleague and then MP for Page, Janelle Saffin.

With Labor on the nose, Saffin, a seasoned politician, came out publicly against Gillard earlier in March 2013 only to see Rudd squib mounting a challenge, leaving her looking like a slightly silly shag on a rock.

She’d held Page since 2007 after 13 years in the NSW upper house, but suffered a massive 6.9 per cent drop in her primary vote to lose to Hogan by 3.1 per cent after preferences.

In the years since, she worked as a lawyer in Lismore and is recontesting Page. Depending on your point of view, Saffin’s candidacy, at 61, is testimony to her political will or the dearth of Labor talent in northern NSW.

In any case, a redistribution has improved Hogan’s chances of holding Page for the Nationals.

While the acquisition of the Lismore local government area in the north – including the hippy heaven of Nimbin – has helped Saffin, Hogan has acquired a bigger support block at the southern end thanks to retired voters of Woolgoolga and Coffs Harbour’s northern beach suburbs who tend to vote conservative.

The electorate was created 1984. Named for Earl Page, former Country Party leader and briefly Australia’s 11th prime minister, it was a Nationals fiefdom until Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s 1987 tilt for Canberra and its aftermath wrecked the party’s credibility and it passed to Labor in 1990. It has become a bellwether seat since, won at every election by the party that formed government.

Six candidates are contesting Page on July 2.

Hogan grew up in rural South Australia and worked as a bond trader in Sydney, becoming a familiar face to the finance crowd daily delivering financial market updates on Sky News. He moved north at the turn of the century and taught at St Mary’s Catholic College before setting up a superannuation business. He tried politics as a sideline, standing unsuccessfully against Saffin in 2010.

Hogan says hip pocket issues are the issues in Page.

“Everyone up here says the first budget was too vicious but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Malcolm is a different proposition. Instead of talking cuts, we’re talking growth,” he said. “We have over 13,000 business and if we can help them grow it’s good for everybody.”

Page is currently the site of Australia’s biggest infrastructure work – duplication of the Pacific Highway from Ballina south to Woolgoolga – and it has meant a lot of employment for the region.

“But that finishes in four years,” Hogan said. “We want to be in a position to allow people to maintain their standards of living. People say we talk about jobs all the time but in regional areas we always talk about jobs.”

And as to CSG, Hogan said it was the issue at the last NSW state election: “This community was, as was I, opposed to the issue for a variety of reasons. But it’s dead and buried. The Baird government, god bless them, has bought back the licences and it’s gone. This industry is not suitable for this region.”

Saffin, however, said CSG is far from over.

“Federally, they want to give all assessment powers back to the states. It’s stalled in the Senate but you allow that power to be returned back to the states who grant the licences. It gives you a second look,” she said.

“The Coalition is trying to water down water trigger legislation as part of cutting red tape. And at a state level, they put out a planning document across the north coast that had this area mapped for CSG mining and the NSW government is promoting it overseas as such.

“For locals, CSG is not certainly dead.”

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


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