Early voters in Cooper alarmed at far right rise


Placard supporting the Greens on a Preston gate in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election. Photo: Maria Porcellar-Calvo

Speaking with voters at an early polling site at the AEC office in Thornbury days before the election, several expressed disillusionment with the state of Australian politics while also being concerned about the recent rise of far-right groups in Australia and internationally.

Cooper spans Melbourne’s northern suburbs, commencing in the southern area of Bundoora near La Trobe University and stretching south towards the city centre to include the eastern edge of inner-city Clifton Hill, covering 60 square kilometres.

You may have noticed that Cooper has undergone a bit of a renovation.

Firstly, it used to be called Batman, after the man often credited for founding Melbourne – John Batman. While you might remember Batman being portrayed as a humanitarian, another look at past records has cast this into doubt.

The electorate is now named after activist and Yorta Yorta man William Cooper, who called for Aboriginal land rights and direct representation for Aboriginal people in government. He is also known for leading a march to the German Consulate in Melbourne to protest the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Cooper is very culturally diverse with about 1 in 8 people being recent migrants and more than 1 in 3 being born overseas (mainly from Italy, Greece, China and India). Compared to the wider Australian population, the number of people born overseas sits at 1 in 5.

It isn’t surprising, then, that the rise of the far-right alarms some of the Cooper residents we spoke to.

Placard supporting Labor in a Preston front yard in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election. Photo: Maria Porcellar-Calvo

“I think people need to stop sitting back and saying well, I’ll just try to vote for the lesser of two evils, when really we need to stand up and make more effort to stamp out these racist groups,” said Kara, 23, a university student from Northcote.

“I used to vote for the Greens, but now I think they are all talk and no action. Today I voted for the Socialist Party because I think they will work towards dealing with Islamophobia, treating refugees better, and that sort of thing. None of that ‘make Australia great’ crap.

“I don’t know if the major parties will do anything. Trump has given these people a voice but we don’t want that in Australia. Otherwise, well, I think right now we are just –expletive–. We need more Egg Boys! People like him to stand up and actually do and say something before it gets out of control,” she said.

Kurt, 49, of Reservoir, said he was also concerned about some political groups. “I just voted and couldn’t believe I was seeing One Nation on the list, in 2019. Unbelievable. I thought they’d died out years ago. She’s like a cockroach!”

“And then there was Clive Palmer’s lot, and all these other parties no one’s ever heard of, who might get a few votes but they may as well not even bother. Some of them just stand for rubbish like Trump and all that.”

We’ve got heaps of problems (like) homeless people but the politicians don’t acknowledge that.”

— Self-employed carpenter Mick, in his sixties

Kurt says he’s always voted Labor, and probably always will.

“My parents, too. Never the Liberals. Used to get the Greens door-knocking years ago to try and convince me, but no one’s showed up so far this time.”

Pharmacy assistant Sahar, 21, saw the issues of funding for jobs and education linked to immigration.

“If we don’t have a job we can’t really live the best life that we can…it’s important that more jobs are available and more services and opportunities for the younger generation,” she said.

“Nowadays companies hire people from overseas because its cheaper – keep everything Australian, keep Australia together.”

The inner-metropolitan seat of Cooper also includes all or part of the suburbs of Kingsbury, Macleod, Reservoir, Coburg, Coburg North, Preston, Thornbury, Fairfield, Alphington and Northcote.

There are 108,935 recorded electors in Cooper as of the 2016 census.

One of them is Renee, 68, of Preston, who said she had voted for a party other than Labor for the first time.

“I’ve always loved animals and had pets, right now I’ve got two cats and a little dog. I’ve never known of a party like the Animal Justice people before, so they’ve got my vote,” she said.

“I don’t know if they will ever get enough power to really do anything, but I agree with their ideas. People need to learn respect for animals and not treat them like things.

“Duck shooting, horse racing, it’s all disgusting and I truly hope we see it banned in my lifetime. I think the big parties keep saying they will ban live exports, but nothing gets done,” she said.

She expressed hope the Animal Justice party could get a few votes and bring attention to these issues.

Currently, the seat of Cooper is considered marginal by the Australian Electoral Committee meaning that the winning candidate received less then 56% of votes after the full distribution of preferences.

Apart from the far-right’s rise, taxes and health care are also cited as concerns for voters in the electorate.

“I don’t want tax relief if it means that that’s a shortage to services such as healthcare and education,” Sara, a 42 year old PhD student, says.

She described the Liberal party’s preference deal with Clive Palmer as “disgusting”.

“I am deliberately going to be arranging my vote so that Clive Palmer is one of my lowest, if not my lowest preference-he has retained his personal wealth and yet he’s arranged his business assets so he’s getting away with declaring bankruptcy…leaving 7 million dollars unpaid to his workers,” she said.

“He has said he will pay that, but he’s made no commitment and I don’t believe he’ll end up doing so.”

Self-employed carpenter Mick, in his sixties, said healthcare was a major issue for the people of Cooper.

“Hospitals – there’s not enough and people are waiting a long time and also dentists… people can’t afford dentists, they’re expensive,” he said.

“Medicare should pay part of it, at least half…We’ve got heaps of problems (like) homeless people but the politicians don’t acknowledge that.”