THE AGE - Socialists hope union donation will secure jolly good election result

Stephen Jolly and Sue BoltonSocialists hope union donation will secure jolly good election result

Article in The Age

Stephen Jolly and Sue Bolton

The fledgling Victorian Socialists party has been given a major boost in its push for a seat in state parliament, securing a $50,000 donation from the Electrical Trades Union.

The powerful blue-collar union has backed the party's maiden campaign, in which it hopes to steal votes from Labor and the Greens in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

The Victorian Socialists applied to register as a political party on Thursday, having secured the necessary 500 members.

The party is headed by Stephen Jolly, a prominent Yarra City councillor who has previously run against Labor MP Richard Wynne in the lower house seat of Richmond.

He won 8.5 per cent of the vote at the last election.

The Victorian Socialists are an alliance of left-wing political groups that hopes to tap into the same anti-establishment mood behind Bernie Sanders’ and Jeremy Corbyn’s recent competitive campaigns in the US and the UK.

“We’re testing the ground,” Mr Jolly said. “Socialist ideas don’t scare the kids these days; it’s not Stalin and Siberia.”

The party's policies include the reversal of public transport privatisation, free public transport, a massive expansion of public housing and an end to internal police investigations of alleged police brutality.

Mr Jolly said the party believed it had a realistic chance of securing one of the five upper house seats in the Northern Metropolitan region, which takes in left-leaning electorates such as Melbourne, Northcote, Brunswick and Richmond.

“The northern suburbs are the heartland of the progressive left; it’s where the Greens vote is strongest and it’s where Labor rose up in Melbourne,” he said.

But to secure fifth spot in the region, the Victorian Socialists would likely have to knock out Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, who has developed an impressive list of policy victories since entering politics in 2014.

Ms Patten, formerly of the Sex Party, campaigned for the legalisation of voluntary assisted dying, of ride-booking service Uber, and of a medically supervised heroin injecting room in Richmond, before the Andrews government adopted each of these policies as its own.

Mr Jolly said Ms Patten had a good track record, but had overestimated the strength of her personal vote.

“We believe Fiona Patten made a major political error changing the name of the party,” he said.

Ms Patten said she expected a lot of parties to be coming after her upper house spot at the next election.

“But it would be nice if Stephen went after a Liberal or a Shooters and Fishers MP instead of a progressive,” she said.

Electrical Trades Union Victorian secretary Troy Gray said the union had made the generous donation to reflect Mr Jolly’s level of support among working people.

“He’s been a tremendous advocate for working people and the disadvantaged for many years; his reputation in that area is second to none,” Mr Gray said.

The ETU has previously donated $300,000 to Greens MP Adam Bandt’s campaign.

Health workers' union, the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association, has also donated $3000 to the party, plus a similar amount to pay for the production of party T-shirts.

Secretary Craig McGregor said the union movement had lacked a genuine political wing since Labor introduced the Accord in 1983.

Also on the Victorian Socialists’ ticket is Moreland councillor Sue Bolton and lawyer Colleen Bolger.

The Northern Metropolitan region is represented by two Labor MPs, one Liberal, one Green and Ms Patten.

The Liberal Party is considering not running candidates in four state seats in the region where its primary vote has slipped below Labor and the Greens, in a move that could bleed Labor of Liberal voters’ preferences.