Labor minister Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter in NSW is a Labor stronghold. Heavy industry – especially coal mining – is its backbone.
But while the seat is held by the agriculture, fisheries and forestry minister by a margin of 12.5%, the party has not emerged from a rough few years unscathed.
Rosalie Mann is 58 and has voted Labor as long as she’s been able to. This time around, she says, “I’d like to see the Liberals get in … and be hard like they used to be.”
She works in an auto shop on Cessnock’s main drag, and her support of Labor has finally given out.
“Nothing is being made in Australia any more.
“We used to have a factory at Rutherford which used to have three shifts… It never stopped.”
As Australia’s mining boom comes to an end economists say it is essential that other sectors pick up the slack and keep the economy growing. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has declared the China-driven resources boom “over”.
Mann, whose daughter works alongside her, working the phones for the family’s business, said she is also upset there are few jobs for young women in the community.
“There’s nothing for the young girls.”
At the local Mitre 10 shop, assistant Ken Fraser will be voting Labor but admits he hasn’t been listening much to either side.
“You don’t want to hear what I have to say about them,” he said. “I have equally harsh things to say about all of them.”
In a bar up the road we found some voters intending to support Labor, but with reservations.
“You know they are lying when they open their mouths,” said Daniel, 34, sitting in the front bar of the Caledonia Hotel.
Daniel wouldn’t give Business Insider his last name, because he was supposed to be at work.
But the metal machinist who makes pumps for the local coal mining industry is a good flag-bearer for the electorate: a tradesman brought up to vote for Labor, the “people’s party”.
“I thought after Ruddy got in after John Howard [ things would be better] … But Labor does not seem as strong as it was before Howard got in,” he says.
“I’m still going to vote Labor, that’s the way it is … [but] just tell the truth.”
The party’s leadership changes — in which Fitzgibbon played a key role by openly criticising Julia Gillard from the back bench — have worn his patience. He has some blunt views about the Gillard era.
“She’s the only politician who’s got in twice without being elected.
“It’s not because she’s female, not because she’s a ranga, but because she didn’t get in fairly.”
Darren, 46, another patron at the hotel — also supposed to be at work — wants Fitzgibbon to do more for the local coal mining industry.
“We’re all contract workers now.”
Darren — who makes conveyer belts — is also concerned about the number of graduate engineers taking shrinking number of jobs.
“Nobody likes to be told what to do by a bookworm.”
Fitzgibbon will in all likelihood reclaim the seat but perhaps with less enthusiasm this time around.
Ben Collins is on a road trip from opposition leader Tony Abbott’s electorate of Warringah in Sydney to prime minister Kevin Rudd’s electorate of Griffith in Brisbane ahead of the federal election on September 7. He’ll be speaking to voters and business leaders about their concerns and what they hope to see happen in the coming three years.
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