Labor’s David Feeney discusses issues facing constituents and his policy priorities
What convinced you to join your party?
David Feeney: I joined the Labor party as a very young man when I was in University. I was motivated to join as, at that time, I came to believe that Labor was the only progressive force in this country that could achieve real and lasting change. At the time that I joined, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were Prime Minister and Treasurer and it was an exciting time. I was very motivated by the mission of the Labor party.
What has the campaign trail been like so far?
David Feeney: Campaigns and elections are times when there is a great deal of static and noise, but the challenge for us is to focus on the issues that matter to the people we represent.
The most important thing that we can do during a campaign is to meet as many people as possible and talk to them about the issues they care about and the policies that Labor has. That takes the form of good old fashioned door knocking and letter boxing, running Labor stalls, billboards in prominent spots in the community over the weekend as well as calling people wherever possible.
We have endeavored to run a high profile campaign and every weekend you will find Labor party stalls in Reservoir in Thornbury, Northcote Shopping Centre and other places. We are very keen to remain highly visible.
What are the three key issues facing the people of Batman?
David Feeney: The first key priority is to protect Medicare and universal health cover. Universal health care is one of the strong foundations for fairness in Australia, and Labor is absolutely determined to strengthen it and to resist efforts by the Coalition to undermine it. They have undermined it in several ways and that impacts the people of Batman directly when they seek treatment or visit a diagnostic centre or when they want confident solutions to their healthcare.
The number two issue would be Labor’s Better School plans and our support of the Gonski model of funding. Our education policy and Labor’s schools plan would mean an additional $16 million for schools in Batman.
We have schools in Batman like William Ruthven that needs continuous strong investments; we have the Northcote and Thornbury High Schools that are both at capacity in terms of number of students. There is a conversation in the community about opening a new school in Preston. All of those schools are meeting increasing demand, reflecting the change in demographics, and people want to know if the schools are doing everything they can for their kids. This also makes it a crucial issue for Batman.
Third, jobs is a crucial factor. We have continuing anxiety about making sure that our children can get the school and university education they need to equip them for the modern economy. We have a strong TAFE presence in this electorate that needs to be nurtured and protected. $100,000 degrees are obviously an anxiety, and Labor’s university plans really speaks for our jobs plan as well.
How do you plan to improve employment opportunities for people in Batman, particularly the youth?
David Feeney: There are a few exciting opportunities that we need to grasp and one of them is Labor’s plan to improve public transport and get rid of the railway level crossings, in particular, Reservoir and in Bell Street. There is a potential for a big boost for the Reservoir Activity Centre in terms of opportunities that will flow from that, for business, retail, professional service and jobs.
Another big issue for people is apprenticeships, as over the last few years we have seen the numbers decline in Australia by 25 per cent. This reflects the fact that the Coalition government does not really have an industry plan or policy and it is an urgent priority for Labor to get that vocational training back on track.
With the Coalition’s proposed budget, over 75% of people within the Batman community will not receive tax cuts. What is your view on that?
David Feeney: This goes to the central issue of this election campaign and that is the different economic plans of the two major parties. Bill Shorten has articulated a plan for budget repair that is fair, which ultimately is about demonstrating that we can have key institutions in this country like our schools, universities, hospitals and we can also have a strong and sustainable budget.
We don’t need to go down the path suggested by the Coalition, that they would have us believe that the only way for this country to experience growth and prosperity is to only give taxation relief and services to the wealthiest.
Trickle-down economics is a recipe for inequality and for growing disadvantage. Labor’s message is that budgets are about priorities and we can get the budget back into balance while defending the things that matter to the people of Batman.
What is your opinion regarding preference deals in the election?
David Feeney: The Greens are being very careful to avoid letting their supporters know that they are working in alliance with the Liberal party whereas the Liberals are being more honest about it.
The Victorian President of the Liberal Party, Michael Kroger has talked about his agreements with the Greens in several media interviews; the agreement takes the form of the Liberal party preferencing the Greens in the inner city and the Greens no longer putting the Liberals last in the outer suburbs where the key marginal seats are in the Labor/Liberal contest. The alliance means they are working hard to defeat Labor.
What is your understanding of issues concerned with the multicultural community in Batman and how are you best placed to address them?
David Feeney: Batman is a very diverse community. People living in the area come from over 150 different countries. The multicultural scene here is very vibrant and you can see that when you walk down High Street.
The issues are many – social cohesions, access to legal services, language services and issues particular to certain communities.
A lot of new migrants in Batman are from Chinese and Indian backgrounds. My ambition is to continue to offer people from all backgrounds access to services and ensure they get the support they need.
How can we better encourage new Australians to become involved in politics?
David Feeney: Groups like the Sub Continents Friends of Labor (SCFOL) is an initiative that is precisely about this challenge of bringing more Indians in to the political sphere. For over a decade, the Labor party has sought to be open to new immigrants in Australia and we have been the vehicle that fights for their issues and their justice. We saw that with Greek, Italians, Vietnamese and Lebanese in the past and are seeing that today with Indian immigration.
As the Indian community’s presence and contribution to the wider society grows and strengthens, and as Australia’s national relationship with India becomes increasingly important, there has been a terrific surge of Indians in the Labor party.
I can boast that the Labor Party in Victoria has very successfully secured the support and activism of a large number of people of Indian heritage.
Have you had any dealings with the Indian community? Have you travelled to India?
David Feeney: My step father Basil Varghese is from Kerala in India. He has been married to my mother since I was 9 years old, so in many respects he can claim to have raised me. His younger brother, Peter Varghese was the Australian High Commissioner to India. I have travelled with Margarette, my mother and Basil to parts of India, including Kerala, and did the tourist thing and I’ve visited the Taj Mahal. India is an amazing country.
What do you enjoy most about politics?
David Feeney: The opportunity to make a lasting difference for the better to people’s lives.
What might people not know about you?
David Feeney: I am quite a private person really. I am a father and I enjoy that very much, I am a voracious reader and I like to read about the history of the world, the Labor Party and Australia.
Read Greens candidate Alex Bhathal’s responses HERE
Read Liberal candidate George Souris’ responses HERE