THE first thing that hit the eye on the approach to the Middle Park Bowling Club in St Kilda on election night was the sea of red T-shirts and the first thing to hit the ear was a volley of thundering cheers.
In the large club room, giant TV screens were beaming the news that former PM Tony Abbott was gone in Warringah, and this, it turned out, was the cause for the jubilation at Labor’s Macnamara election watch.
But as 7.30 gave way to 8 and 8.30, beers warmed in nervous clutches and the democracy sausages on the buffet turned tepid, as a leaden glumness descended. Labor’s national seat tally had not been surpassing the Coalition’s, and was soon falling well behind. Could this be happening?
At 9.15, ABC-TV election analyst Antony Green uttered the words on everybody’s mind – he predicted the Coalition would prevail, and just after 9.30, Green called it for the government.
The room was not so much angry, as stunned. The red shirts desperately needed some cheer – not of the amber liquid kind but of the political kind. They got it with the news that Josh Burns had secured Macnamara.
Late on Saturday night, Burns had a primary vote of 7435, a 7.08 per cent swing to the ALP, placing him ahead of Liberal candidate Kate Ashmor at 7238 and Greens candidate Steph Hodgins-May at 6069. But on a two-party preferred basis, Burns held 5456 votes to Ashmor’s 3304. Labor strategists said it was the biggest Liberal-to-ALP swing in Australia.
As one campaign worker put it, “There were three things I wanted from tonight. Josh Burns to win – I worked my a*** off for him – Abbott to lose, and Labor to win government. But, as Meat Loaf sang, ‘two out of three ain’t bad’.”
When Burns entered the club room, the crowd erupted in chants of “Josh, Josh, Josh”. Burns told the crowd, “For 118 years we’ve held the seat of Melbourne Ports and tonight we hold the seat of Macnamara … this is not my campaign, this is our campaign.”
Asked by The AJN what it felt like to be the first Member for Macnamara, the Jewish candidate reflected, “I’m really proud of my team and I’m proud of all of their efforts … Michael [Danby] for 21 years has served this seat with distinction, but it’s time for a change and I hope to serve the people well.” Quizzed about the national outcome, he added, “It’s a good night locally, but maybe a rough night across the country.”
A short distance away at The Post on Inkerman Street, St Kilda, Jewish Liberal candidate Kate Ashmor, surrounded by campaign workers glued to a TV screen, was philosophical about her outcome, but buoyed by the Coalition’s unexpected national win. Before inviting supporters to last drinks from the bar, she told The AJN, “Unless there’s something special that happens [in Macnamara], Labor, as usual, are on track to win … off the back of Greens preferences.”
But then she brightened, “It’s been an incredibly positive day. The mood on the ground was completely different to what it was six months ago … Many people across the electorate have taken blue-only how-to-vote cards.”
Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg withstood a challenge from the Greens’ Julian Burnside to hold Kooyong, while Julian Leeser was re-elected in his safe Liberal seat of Berowra.
The Jewish contingent in the next parliament will be rounded out by shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, who increased his margin in Isaacs with a 5.3 per cent swing, and Labor MP Mike Freelander, who held on to Macarthur in Sydney’s southwest.
There will however be one less Jewish MP following the defeat of independent Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth, NSW’s most populous Jewish electorate, by Liberal candidate and former Australian ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma.
Full election coverage in this week’s AJN.