Trouble in Kath and Kim Country


Trouble is afoot in the seat of Lindsay. This wild-West electorate on the outskirts of Sydney is now a hot marginal seat, attracting all kinds of controversies as the big Parties get down and dirty scrambling to win hearts and minds on the eve of the election.

Jackie Kelly, the reigning Liberal Queen of Lindsay, who will retire this year to let the unknown Karen Chijoff contest her seat against Labor’s David Bradbury has been implicated in a desperate smear campaign playing on prejudices against Muslims to sabotage Labor’s chances in the area.

Reports yesterday revealed that several Liberal Party members, including Kelly’s husband Gary Clark, and possibly Chijoff’s husband, Greg Chijoff, were involved in distributing pamphlets around the Lindsay electorate from a bogus organisation called the ‘Islamic Australia Federation.’ The pamphlets suggested supporting the ALP because the Party promoted forgiveness for the Bali Bombers and outlined a proposal for mosque in St. Marys.

Kelly has bizarrely laughed off the ‘stunt’ as a ‘Chaser like prank’ to liven up the election advertising that the unfortunate voters of Lindsay are being bombarded with.

Meanwhile, Howard has gone into his pro-forma ‘damage control’ response, dissociating himself from the smear but on one level he should be pleased. After all, hasn’t the favourite daughter taken a leaf from the classic Howard book of race politics?

There was a time when a proposal for building a mosque was no big deal. But we live in post-Camden times, where the mere mention of an Islamic facility is enough to provoke protests. This is the climate fostered by a Federal Government which has repeatedly used fear and race as election-winning strategies.

Election winning is Jackie Kelly’s forte. Her meteoric rise in Lindsay capturing what was essentially a Labor workers’ heartland in a surprise attack in the 1996 election made her a Howard darling. Promotions quickly followed, including a stint as Minister for Sport and Tourism and as Parliamentary Secretary to the PM.

The secret of Kelly’s success has puzzled political experts, but being familiar with Lindsay I can tell you it’s a combination of Kelly’s political cunning and her fine-tuned antennae for the area that has made her so successful. Lindsay is Kath & Kim country, an electorate of (depending on your brand of pundit) ‘working families,’ ‘Howard battlers’ and ‘aspirationals.’

On ABC TV’s Four Corners, a Lindsay voter when asked what he thought of Liberal contender Karen Chijoff remarked ‘Don’t know anything about her. I can’t even pronounce her last name.’ Kelly and Howard understand this lack of recognition and their furious electioneering in Lindsay with the PM making celebrity visits to the area reflects their concern for the chances of the newbie with the suspiciously ‘woggy’ name as much as the recognition that a win in this marginal electorate is desperately needed.

Kelly’s popularity in Lindsay has not been without support from the Muslim quarter. Whether it’s wearing a traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez to mosque functions or helping with the speedy processing of immigration claims, Kelly is genuinely liked by the Muslim community. But it remains to be seen if they’ll find this ‘Chaser stunt’ funny.

The Liberals now appear out of control, forced to spout crazed conspiracy theories about rapidly mutating bogeymen miscreant migrants, Indonesian fishermen, pesky Muslims, non-integrating Sudanese or union thugs in a desperate attempt to retain power.

In previous elections, Howard and, through him, the Coalition were able to maintain a degree of gravitas as they assumed the role of the ‘strong man’ protecting us against invaders. But in 2007, the unraveling of the Lindsay-gate affair, far from being some kind of self-referential satire, as Kelly would claim, has only succeeded in making the Libs a caricature of themselves. And it has confirmed their critics’ worst accusations that they are prepared to win in Western suburbs seats like Lindsay by appealing to fear, not hope.

These tactics are all too familiar but, this time, the question is: Will the voters of Lindsay be swayed?

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