LABOR’S candidate for McMillan in the next federal election Chris Buckingham is ready for a fight, but his first victory played out within his local party branch.
Above: Labor's man for McMillan: Chris Buckingham will campaign on progressive Labor values. Photo by William PJ Kulich
First published in the 29 May 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
Mr Buckingham recently narrowly won the party preselection for the seat. Local branch members who voted in the candidacy contest were divided – a 46/46 split between those backing him and those backing Bernadette O’Connor. The final say went to a state vote.
“The local ballot was very close and then it was decided pretty decisively at the central ballot, which is the state-wide ballot for the Labor party,” Mr Buckingham told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
“The convention is that there’s a local ballot weighted at 50 per cent and then there’s a state ballot loaded at 50 per cent. It’s democracy in process. It’s not a perfect process but certainly in this situation I’m happy with the outcome.”
Mr Buckingham has pitched himself as a non-factionally aligned progressive Labor member.
“I’m standing principally on values that people would expect of a progressive Labor politician,” he said.
“I put myself as an unaligned candidate, which means that anyone can vote for me if they so choose, and it means I’m not bound by caucus or factional positions in terms of the policymaking and thinking.
“I’m not sure that it’ll have a massive impact on the way I represent the community if I’m elected because at the end of the day I stand on values, which people are very familiar with.”
Mr Buckingham will base his campaign around equality and fair working conditions and pay.
“I stood [for preselection] on core Labor party values, which are a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and a fair go for all, and I think in the current climate that means a couple of things that are very relevant to the people of McMillan,” he said.
“The other thing is also about inclusive community leadership, so encouraging communities to work together for the greater good in the electorate. I think too often communities in this electorate have been caught in a divide and conquer, they’ve been encouraged to think parochially rather than working together. I will be encouraging people to work together, work collaboratively, learn from each other and support each other.
“Coming back to those values, I made very clear my support of marriage equality on my platform within the Labor party.
“It’s not a question of religion, it’s actually a matter of discrimination and it’s well and truly time for change, and if two people want to make a public commitment… then they should be able to do so.”
Mr Buckingham said a vote on same sex marriage in coming months might resolve the issue before the next election, but said his position represented his approach to other issues.
“What it comes down to is a fair go for all,” he said.
“Job stability and security [for example]. We’ve seen increased casualisation in the workforce and increased use of labour hire firms by companies around the region. That in turn undermines community confidence and people’s belief in their capacity to take out loans, purchase things, [and] has an impact on small business too.
“People in regional Victoria realise the employer/employee relationship is one of partnership, not conflict, and it saddens me to see larger companies not necessarily taking their responsibilities to the community as seriously as they could.”
When asked how he would make larger companies listen, Mr Buckingham would not give a policy position but said “sustained and gentle pressure” from the community could help.
“Oh no, it’s not going to [cause] change, it’s a values-based position. It’s about a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” he said.
“I’m not against workforce flexibility and increased productivity – they are good things. What we need to avoid is a situation where, slowly but surely, the community loses confidence in its capacity to prosper.
“I’m making very clear this position, because I think people need to realise milk factories, power stations, various large-scale employers are under pressure to compete, and compete internationally.
“The community needs to hold those employers to account on the way they treat their employees.
“While it may seem like subtle changes in the mix, what we’re facing here is a subtle degradation in workers’ rights and in turn undermining community confidence, and that’s no good for anyone in this region.”
Mr Buckingham’s fair go focus also applies to his views on the Liberal party’s policy of turning back asylum seeker boats.
“My position on asylum seekers is this: come back to the core Labor value of a fair go for all,” he said.
“We need to think long and hard as a country as to whether the ‘stop the boats’ policy that has been constituted by the Abbott government is anything more than a stopgap measure. We need to start thinking of some long-term solutions for this problem, we need to be treating people with more compassion, and we need to be recognising the deep discomfort that sits with people on this issue.”
Mr Buckingham took the chance to criticise the federal Liberal government’s budget.
“When we look at the federal budget and the mindset of the current government we’re not seeing any empathy for [all] working households.
“It still is the ‘give the money to business and the breadcrumbs will fall off the table’ [mentality], and I think we need a more sophisticated conversation and debate in this day and age.”
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By Matthew Sims
THE LABOR party has backed Chris Buckingham to contest the seat of McMillan in the next federal election.
The seat has been held by Liberal MP Russell Broadbent since 2004, who also held the seat from 1996 to 1998.
At the 2013 election Labor selected young candidate Anthony Naus, who lost to Broadbent with a two-party swing against Labor of 7.62 per cent.
The last Labor Party member to hold the seat was Christian Zahra, who represented the area from 1998 to 2004.
Mr Buckingham has been involved in the community since moving to Warragul with his partner, Baw Baw councillor Mikaela Power, in 1997.
He became a member of the Labor Party in 1998.
Buckingham has held many executive positions, including chief executive officer of tourism organisation Destination Melbourne and the general manager of Gippsland Tourism.
He is also a member of the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Victorian Tourism Industry Council.
The electorate of McMillan covers much of West Gippsland, including the townships of Warragul, Drouin, Trafalgar, Yarragon, Wonthaggi, and Pakenham.
The next federal election will likely be held on a Saturday between 6 August 2016 and 14 January 2017.
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