FREMANTLE’S elections have become bogged down and dull.
Many voters the Herald has spoken to bemoan the lack of political lustre; how hard it is to decide; too many small and overly-moderated meetings; in a very fractured local political landscape.
And lots of electors are voicing despair about a Fremantle in desperate need of reform, yet facing more of the same whomever wins.
The latest mayoral event, on Thursday October 30, didn’t quite fill Notre Dame’s Tannock Hall, though it was bigger than the Freo Society’s city ward meeting a few days earlier, several weekly meets at The Local in South Freo and the odd event in the ‘burbs.
But it’s all a bit same-same. Fine and decent candidates, all sincere about their values and in wholesale agreement with everything possible in this hyper-aware world, and full of a commitment to work with residents and ratepayers to solve Freo’s woes.
Where’s the point of political difference?
Hosted by Notre Dame, Fremantle Chamber of Commerce, Fremantle Network, local blog Fremantle Shipping News, and Oxfam, only candidates Marija Vujcic and Hannah Fitzhardinge – both sitting councillors – turned up.
Former Greens MP Adele Carles, struck by a virus she didn’t want to spread, was an apology, while Rod Grjljusich and Martin Douthwaite politely declined, preferring to campaign in other ways.
From the beginning the omens were bad. Fremantle’s foremost political scientist, NDA’s Martin Drum, was consigned to an introduction and carrying the microphone to the handful of residents who got a look in with a question at the end. Not a good use of his considerable talents.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Danicia Quinlan and Shipping News publisher, former State Administrative Tribunal chair and lawyer Michael Barker, then took over for the debate-that-was-not.
Each candidate made a brief statement – nothing new arose – and were asked carefully constructed questions that did nothing to flesh out their personalities, any real points of difference, their thrilling capacity to lead, or to elevate the event to a hard-fought battle for the political leadership of Fremantle.
There is such fear in this destructive, troll-heavy social media world that moderators are applying the heavy hand of censorship to ensure the wild political genie is shut firmly in the bottle. It’s a crying shame.
The only point of difference on full display was Hannah Fitzhardinge’s determination for a steady-as-she-goes, business-as-usual approach, but with a much higher resident involvement to help sort out Fremantle’s problems; and Marija Vujcic’s crusade to throw lumens of light on the council’s opaque and troubled finances. And that’s it.
Within a short time the lack of emotional thrill made the crowd restless, as was the Chook. Looking left. Looking right, to see who else was fading, as Cr Fitzardinge’s promise of a data driven, value-laden engagement and Cr Vujcic’s promise of a project management, problem-solving process for financial rectitude dulled the senses.
A few people upped and left. The only political spark was councillor Rachel Pemberton, the high priestess of former mayor Brad Pettitt’s era, loudly heckling Cr Vujcic from the back. It earned a Mintie from the moderator’s bowl – perhaps chosen to stick people’s teeth together if they spoke out of turn or too long.
Finally, after the debate-that-was-not came to an end, the people – only about six or seven – got their chance. And what a pity. Impromptu questions should always be the main game of meetings like this. They are the ultimate test of a candidate. They make or break a political career.
Only one question really stood out: from Freo’s colourful Suzanne John. Would Cr Fitzhardinge, like former mayor Brad Pettitt, use the mayoralty to chase higher office
in the land if she won? The reply from Cr Fitzhardinge, long regarded as Labor ‘royalty’ and who had earlier spoken fondly of her work with former premier Geoff Gallop, shocked the Chook and others with an emphatic “No!”, explaining her daughter, family, business and life in Freo were enough whether she won the mayoralty or not.
Who will win?
Finally, it was up to Rob Delves of Oxfam/Fremantle Network to wrap it all up. Well, he was a real blast. Like an orator of old he had the audience rolling in the aisles, wishing he was on the mayoral ticket.
The after-meeting social was quite lively too with just one question on everyone’s lips – but one no one could yet answer: “Who do you think will win?”
The only person to venture an opinion of sorts was the partisan acting mayor Andrew Sullivan who said the election was Hannah Fitzardinge’s to lose.
Editor’s note: Were you at any of the election meetings? What do you think? Email your thoughtful or humorous reply to news@ fremantleherald.com and we promise to publish it. Just remember: please keep it short and don’t name, blame, shame, inflame or defame. Are we moderating too heavily here?