New Liberal MP pledges aid for transport and Town Centre plan

Election special
Upasana Chattopadhyay

 

Strathfield has cast aside Labor minister Virginia Judge as state MP, with voters handing Liberal Charles Casuscelli the seat with a swing of more than 16 per cent.

Casuscelli wasted no time, promising to push for $10 million to alleviate problems on the Parramatta Road and to press for the fast tracking of the $150 million Strathfield Town Centre plan.

The Liberals took 54 per cent against Labor’s 45 per cent on two party preferred and 46 per cent against 35 per cent on first preferences.

Interestingly, the swing showed where Casuscelli was taking votes – almost exclusively from Labor.

The Greens Lance Dale, forced to come to the campaign late after the party’s original candidate fell sick, was expected to take 13 per cent, up around 4 per cent.

Casuscelli told the Scene:  “I believe I have a job on Monday.”

Speaking at a local venue  - he and other local candidates chose to stay in the Inner West rather than party with O'Farrell in Parramatta - he said the first thing he would do is "get some sleep".

“What I am most impressed with is the number of Koreans,Tamils and Chinese who have come up to me and are looking for a change in government," he said.

“My first plan for Strathfield is to invest $10 million into the alleviation of traffic problems along Parramatta Road and provide easy access to a couple of the railway stations in the electorate, particularly Flemington because the Sydney markets is a major hub for the community.

“I am also addressing the Town Centre plan with Mike Baird (expected to be state Treasurer) and I am going to try and get that fast tracked.

“I am going to try and create a better dialogue between the State government and local councils to alleviate the problems in the electorate, so we can create a forum and address what the community wants."

Judge said: "The people have spoken and I respect their choice."

She added: "I don't know what I am going to do next, but I guess come Monday I will be looking for a job."

Some had thought Judge, a former Strathfield mayor and Arts and Fair Trading Minister, would prove a tough nut to crack with a strong personal following and a majority at the last poll of 15.1 per cent.

In the end, a tidal wave against Labor, a strong campaign from Casuscelli and the attention of leaders like Barry O’Farrell and shadow treasurer Mike Baird swept the Liberals into power in Strathfield.

It was a move seen across NSW, changing the face of the state’s politics forever.

The Inner West was a battleground for party leaders throughout the campaign  - and even in the closing hours.

Yesterday, both Labor and Liberal camps paid flying visits to Strathfield and Burwood – a sure sign that the area was being regarded as ripe for potential upset.

Emotions were running high.  According to news agency Australian Association Press, O'Farrell faced off Judge at a polling booth in Burwood.

Judge accused O'Farrell of "not wanting to talk about the truth".

According to the agency, she exclaimed: "We are fighting for a democracy my father fought for in the war."

While Strathfield voters took a while to create queues at the polling booths, the main party candidates were battling to the finish.

Strathfield Mayor Cnr Tony Maroun and Cnr Bill Carney were at the separate polling stations, and told our reporter the fight was still close, despite polls predicting a landslide for the Liberals.

“It will be a tight election and both candidates are putting up a hard fight,” said Cnr Maroun mid-afternoon.

Cnr Carney, who stood for the seat in the last election, added: “According to punters and Sports Bet, the tipping this morning shows Charles and Virginia were basically even.”

O’Farrell said at Burwood Girls High School the area needed a change of hands.

“Strathfield is a great snapshot of our society because it is culturally diverse,” he said. “Charles is a great candidate.”

Earlier, Kristina Keneally visited the same school with Judge.

Candidates have been furiously courting voters on the major issues of transport, crime and infrastructure- with Strathfield Town Square receiving more political patronage than ever before.

Casuscelli took an early lead by bringing shadow treasurer Mike Baird to Strathfield for a briefing by council officials on the $150 million Town Centre redevelopment. Baird pledged to fast track consideration of the plan if elected.

On the last day of the election, Casuscelli and Leader of the Liberal Party, Barry O’Farrell took an early morning tour of the Sydney Flemington Markets, where O'Farrell pledged his support to local produce for government use.

“NSW grows some of the best quality fruit, vegetables and crops in the world,” said O’Farrell.  “Whether it’s fruits for our hospitals or food for the school canteens, our bias will always be towards sourcing local produce and supporting NSW workers.”

Other parties were also vying for votes in what has seemed from the start, in Strathfield at least, to be a two horse race.

The Green's took an early hit when their candidate, Christine Donayre, was forced to withdraw due to ill health.  She was replaced by Lance Dale, a former Ashfield councillor. But little was heard from him.

Local activist Mark Sharma, who runs a blog and website highlighting Strathfield issues, ran a vigorous campaign as an independent, much of it using social media.

Little was heard from the Christian Democratic Party's Bill Shailer - an apparent late entry whose web page biography at www.cdp.org.au/nsw-candidates/strathfield.html was completely blank yesterday.

Why all the interest in the seat of Strathfield?

Early in the run up to this election, Judge's majority seemed pretty well unassailable, and even the Liberals were hard put to find candidates ready to take her on. She had held the seat since 2003.

But the size of the shift toward the O'Farrell team put Strathfield into the vulnerable category. The massive unpopularity of a Labor government in power for all but seven of the past 35 years made anything seem possible.

Judge's campaign slogan -  We need someone who never gives us  - was designed to capitalise on her personal hold on the seat.  Like many Labor candidates, her party credentials were not to the fore in her campaign.

“I’m hopeful with the results and even if I get in by a couple of thousand votes, then that’s all that matters,” said a stoical Judge. “I’m going to push hard for this.”

Judge hasn’t just been handing out fliers and roaming the streets of the electorate speaking to the residents. Announcements came thick and fast.

But Casuscelli was giving as good as he got.

With a strong history in transportation, one of the major plans on his agenda for Strathfield was to improve the growing congestion on roads.

“We’ve announced $100 million to upgrade Western Sydney roads with $9.5 million to be spent right here in Strathfield,” he said. “We’ve also announced a 50 per cent funding boost to the CityRail easy access upgrade program so we can fast-track upgrades at stations like Flemington, Croydon and Homebush.”

Casuscelli was appointed as an Australian Defence Force Liaison Officer for the Australian Army and has been providing advice for the past six years on emergency services, defence capability and policies that affect the state government.

Also having worked for the NRMA on a projects like the government’s Transportation Management Centre for the Sydney 2000 Olympics and establishing road transport related services for New Years Celebrations, the Sydney Marathon, the City to Surf and other major events.

As reported in the Scene at the beginning of the year, Casuscelli has pledged to provide more police services to Strathfield which he claims Labor has failed to addressed in its 16 years of power.

“Many people have expressed concern over the growing crime rate in our community, not just based on statistics but unfortunately from personal experiences,” he told the Scene. “Strathfield has no fully functional police station and, under the Labor Government, Enfield and Flemington police stations have also been closed.”

This weekend, the voice of the people took the place of the rhetoric of candidates.  

And while the Strathfield seat provided a bit more of a race than most once thing is certain:  NSW politics are unlikely to ever be the same again.


Comments

Good Piece.

Interesting to see Ofarrell and Casuscelli at Flemington Markets - hopefully this will start to bring about an agricultural/regional and urban dialogue.

Strathfield Town Square needs a monumental makeover and is slipping at the rate of knots into nothing-dom.

Casuscelli and team were out in force on many weekends. Judge appeared to have given up, I never saw her and her rag-tag band were done up in ill-fitting sloppy joes.

Looking forward to more focus on business development and commerce in the community.

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