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“I just feel they’re a bit forgotten”: NDIS and aged care may sway longtime Liberal voter

Concern for people with disabilities and older Australians will determine Blackburn South mother Alison Cooke’s vote. Her 18-year-old daughter is finding it harder to make up her mind. Alexander Dabb continues our election series Chisholm’s Choice, a collaboration with Crikey.com.au.

“I just feel they’re a bit forgotten”: NDIS and aged care may sway longtime Liberal voter

Alison Cooke, left, a lifelong Liberal voter and Blackburn South resident, says that support for the NDIS will be central to winning her vote. Her daughter Amber turns 18 on election day, and is approaching her first vote with lots of questions. Photo: Alexander Dabb

Words by Alexander Dabb
 

“Catarina … Catrina?”

Alison Cooke and her teenage daughter, Amber, strain to remember the name of the Labor candidate for their hotly-contested electorate.

“Ah yes, Carina! Carina Garland,” Cooke remarks when prompted.

“And Gladys Liu. We know Gladys Liu.”

The incumbent Liberal Liu holds the seat by a meagre 0.5%, and for some voters in Chisholm with strongly held views on matters close to heart — voters like Cooke — that presents a rare, powerful opportunity to strive for genuine change.

Disability and aged care are the issues that matter to her in the lead up to the election, and she discusses them with evident passion.

“I’m an occupational therapist, so I’m working in that sector, and I can just see there’s huge workforce shortages.

“It’s leaving people with disabilities and older people very vulnerable, and I just feel like they’re a bit forgotten.”

A lifelong Liberal voter and Blackburn South resident for 24 years, Cooke, 49, says that support for the NDIS will be central to winning her vote.

“I’m really interested to see what Labor will say they are going to do, because I’m not at all impressed —although I’m saying I’m a Liberal voter generally — with what the Morrison government is doing, or not doing, in that space.

“I think that’s the problem. A lot of politicians say, ‘we are going to do this, this and this’, but they don’t give you the detail.”

Labor’s plan to introduce six key measures to address the NDIS, which it says is aimed at putting people with a disability “back at the top” of the scheme, may be exactly what voters like Cooke are looking for.

The NDIS would appear to be a priority shared by many voters. Labor’s Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison traded blows over the scheme at the first leaders’ debate in Brisbane on April 20, with Albanese accusing the Liberals of lacking the vision to run the scheme. In turn, Morrison pointed to his party’s history of economic management as the rationale underpinning the scheme’s viability.

While Cooke will select either Liu or Garland’s name on her ballot paper come election day, it is the federal leaders who are ultimately influencing which party she will back. She recognises the general sense that the PM is a polarising figure, unpopular with many voters.

“I’m trying to understand why they hate him so much,” she says. “Because I’m a Christian as well, I guess his values align with mine.

“I mean, the Brittany Higgins thing … there are lots of mistakes that he’s made, but I guess what’s important to me is the ability to have religious expression.”

Alison’s daughter Amber, a year 12 student, turns 18 on election day, but her lack of knowledge of the candidates has dampened enthusiasm for her first vote.

“I don’t really feel a connection to any of the people we can vote for. It just doesn’t feel that exciting.”

Among her friends, policies relating to climate change and the environment rank highly, as does mental health, although politics isn’t exactly the topic of lunchtime chat.

“I think we have similar concerns, but we don’t necessarily vocalise them.

“Some people at school are super passionate about this stuff already, but I feel like we are just figuring things out.”

While she doesn’t feel well-informed ahead of her first vote, she thinks a lack of detail about local candidates is making it harder to choose.

Garland, the former Victorian Trades Hall Council assistant secretary, is seen by some within Labor circles as a surprise pick to represent the party, a late selection which, combined with a relatively low visibility online, has meant constituents don’t know much about her.

And Hong Kong-born Liu has questions to answer surrounding her background. Labor has released new ads asking “What do we know about Liberal Gladys Liu?”, questioning her national security credentials.

“I don’t really know anything about [the candidates]. We don’t learn about it in school, or anything to do with politics,” Amber says.

“And even just trying to find information about the candidates … it’s hard, there’s not that much about their policies.”

As polling day draws closer, Scott Morrison’s performance as prime minister over the past four years is weighing heavily on Amber’s vote, as are the campaign tactics of Anthony Albanese and the Labor party.

“They don’t say what they would do differently, they just say what’s wrong with Scott Morrison. So, I feel like I would trust Scott Morrison more just because… well, I don’t know, we know him.”

Of the 151 federal electorates, only nine changed hands at the 2019 election, illustrating the power of incumbency, echoed by this first-time voter.

“Better the devil you know!” says Amber.

This is part of a continuing series talking to voters in the knife-edge electorate of Chisholm, published in collaboration with Crikey.com. Link to the Crikey series here.

 

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