Battle for Parramatta: Man from the East wins in the West

WHILE Andrew Charlton, the “man from the East” managed to retain Parramatta for Labor in the Federal election, with a slight swing his way, the Liberals’ Maria Kovacic put up a good fight.

Both were up against a field of candidates that won support from those disgruntled with the major parties.

In fact, more than 23 per cent voted for the minor candidates, particularly the Greens and the United Australia Party.

Not surprisingly in an election campaign from which much of the electorate were disengaged, 8.9 per cent of Parramatta voters voted informal and a staggering 35 per cent did not vote at all, according to Electoral Commission figures

So, who is Andrew Chartlton and what can we expect from him?

DI BARTOOK REPORTS

THE day after the May 21 election that elected Andrew Charlton as the new Federal MP for Parramatta, he was back on the streets, talking to his new constituents, as he had done daily during the six-week campaign.

“I’m back at railway stations to thank the people of Parramatta for putting their trust in me and again to promise I will work hard for them,” the 43 year old told the Parramatta Times a few days after election that swept Labor to power..

Parramatta already was a Labor seat, vacated by Julie Owens who held it for 18 years, in the end with a 3.5 per cent margin.

Charlton, in the final count, swung it to Labor by 1.06 per cent, less than the 3.63 per cent national swing to Labor, showing there was some backlash against the “millionaire from Bellevue Hill”, who was Anthony Albanese’s pick that ruled out local branch pre-selection.

Liberal candidate Maria Kovacic also was a controversial choice, Scott Morrison’s pick in the wake of ongoing internal bickering in local Liberal Party branches. Still, the businesswoman and co-founder of Western Sydney Women did as well as a Liberal candidate could do amid the anti-Morrison mood of the electorate.

“The swing  to Labor in Parramatta was less than the 3.6 nationally, so I’m pleased with that,” Kovacic said.

After buying a house in North Parramatta and parading his good-guy image, Charlton was able to water down that initial concern that he was out of the area.

As Labor councillor Pierre Esber said – Charlton was a quality choice, seen as a possible future Minister.

“It will be good for Parramatta to have an MP in the Ministry, with a seat at the table of government,” Esber said, optimistically thinking ahead..

Charlton, married with three young children, certainly has the goods.

He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, economic adviser to PM Kevin Rudd during the global financial crisis and while in government was appointed Australia’s senior official to the G20 Leaders Summits. He also represented Rudd at the United Nations Climate Conference.

After that, Charlton started strategic economics consultancy AlphaBeta and has written or co-authored many books and essays on economics.

With Accenture, a global consulting and technology firm, taking over AlphaBeta, Charlton

took on a global role in sustainability services.

Parramatta voters who initially were dubious about the “parachuted” rich bloke from the East were swayed just enough to give him a chance.

Riding on the anti-Morrison wave and with Labor’s promises for a lift in the basic wage, cheaper childcare, action on climate change, rebuilding manufacturing in Australia  and integrity in politics, Charlton also made his own pledges to Parramatta – namely a  $3.5 million upgrade lighting and parking in Harris Park and a push for World Heritage status for the neglected Female Factory site also helped.

“People who came up to me knew a lot about me – they had done their research on my background,” Charlton told the Times. “I aim to be honest with people and that is important to voters.”

He said people also were impressed that his father had worked as an engineer at Rheem in Rydalmere, connecting him to the area, along with his new North Parramatta house, enough for them to no longer worry about his initial out-of-area status.

He is excited about Parramatta’s booming future, but also mindful of the past of Australia’s cradle city, seeing the past, present and future working together to make a stronger city.

“There is a huge potential for the Fleet Street Precinct,” he said.

“This area needs to be activated for tourism and recreation and obtaining World Heritage status for the Female Factory is essential.

“There can be a good balance between retaining heritage and commercial development. Parramatta has some of highest quality colonial assets in Australia, and even if people are not interested in colonial history, this precinct could be a great place for families to go on the weekend.”

But, looking to the future, Charlton said it was important to bring jobs and skills to Parramatta, as well as keeping up with transport and infrastructure..

“Parramatta has a whole world of talent so it is vital we bring good jobs and build confidence in the business community,” he said.

“Supporting businesses, building wealth and prosperity builds communities.”

Image: Andrew Charlton on the hustings in Parramatta with his former boss Kevin Rudd and local voters.

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