After May 21, the electoral map north and northwest from Sydney could well be a fortress of red, Labor victories across an arcing wall, from the Blue Mountains all the way to Port Stephens.
The wall would track northwards from Katoomba along the Nepean and Hawkesbury rivers, the boundaries of the Division of Macquarie, into the Division of Robertson, centred on Gosford, and then Dobell, centred on Wyong. Up the M1, the divisions of Shortland, around Lake Macquarie, and Newcastle are certain to be as red as ever. And walling off the Nationals would be the divisions of Paterson, stretching north to Port Stephens and west beyond Maitland, and Hunter, running up the valley, all the way to Muswellbrook. Of course, two weeks is a doubly-long time in politics. However, if polls and seat-by-seat betting odds prove accurate predictors, with Robertson very close, Labor's northern fortress will be in place for the first time since Paul Keating led Labor to victory three decades ago.
My first observation is about the geography of the red fortress. What an astonishing array of geographical landscapes would fall under Labor responsibility. We shouldn't need reminding, the lands are the lived country of the Darug, Darkinjung, Wonnarua, Awabakal, Worimi and Geawegal peoples, and sovereignties need to be acknowledged. Not unrelated, Labor's dominion would hold more national park than any other type of land tenure, home to the Blue Mountains, the massive Wollemi and Yengo parks, the Hunter's ranges - the Watagans, the Goulburn Ranges, the Barrington Tops - and, then, custody of the greatest strip of coastal lakes and beaches on the planet.
All this country, so much opportunity. By proclamation 234 years ago, a foreign military man, Captain Arthur Phillip RN, claimed these lands for England. The Hunter's rich alluvial valleys became magnets for agricultural settlement. Frontier wars began between Aboriginal owners and settlers. The wars have never ended. All this red, all these lands, a Labor government would have an opportunity to right a grievous wrong.
In 1797, Arthur Phillip, now governor of the colony, ordered soldiers to have convicts mine coal from the cliffs along Newcastle. Ever since, coal has been won from seams bedded under the Hunter and, to the southwest, under the lands that skirt the Division of Macquarie. This coal has fired power stations, first for the colony's first city, then for energy for Australian industry and growing cities and regions, and now for electricity generation across Asian nations.
And so the land inside the pending red wall became colonised by new powers, the mining corporation, and its dutiful servants, the labour hire companies, and the privatised infrastructure operators, Aurizon and Pacific National, and the Port of Newcastle. A liveable climate for the planet is threatened as a consequence of all their deeds. But inside a red fortress, Labor has committed to engineer an end to this 23 decades-long endeavour. Labor's promise to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions at a rate to reach net zero by 2050, and its commitment to climate change action in general, mean coal mining won't be here in two-decades time.
Of course, the end to coal mining should be not only the just-transition rightly called for by many, and certainly more than the inflated dole cheque scheme for retrenched miners offered by the Greens. The end should look like a transformation, the resolution of Indigenous ownership, the revitalisation of regional economies inside the red fortress, where workers are valued for their skill and creativity, where land is re-nourished to grow the best produce in the nation, where tourists are astonished at the audacity of the restoration, where they stare at ancient sandstone cliffs, not giant open cuts.
If I were ever in government, I would want to manage such a transformation, because there is so much at stake and because there is so much to work with. The ingredients for a red transformation are all around, except for one. This ingredient is bravery, willingness, boldness and the like.
On May 21, seven Labor candidates may well be given political custody of these lands, the home to over a million people, one electorate after another coloured red. Can Labor deliver, there is much at stake?
However, if polls and seat-by-seat betting odds prove accurate predictors, with Robertson very close, Labor's northern fortress will be in place for the first time since Paul Keating led Labor to victory three decades ago.
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