29 March 2022

Michael Organ hopes to overcome the odds a second time and win the Riverina

| Max O'Driscoll
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Politician Michael Organ

Michael Organ has been selected as the Greens candidate for the Federal seat of Riverina. Photo: Supplied.

Nearly 20 years ago Michael Organ achieved the seemingly impossible. The Federal seat of Cunningham had been held by the Labor party for 49 years when its then member Dr Stephen Martin unexpectedly resigned, triggering a by-election.

Believing it was a safe Labor seat, the Liberal Party did not offer a candidate. But the people of Cunningham, disenchanted with Labor Party inaction on several local issues, voted in a well-known local activist and the first-ever Greens party member to the House of Representatives, Michael Organ.

Mr Organ says that his two years as the Federal Member for Cunningham was a “terrific experience”, where he made genuine progress for the Greens movement and helped mould it into the influential party it is now.

“When I got elected, I was the first Green in the Lower House, but I was fortunate to have Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle in the Senate. Bob and Kerry were very experienced and we were able to deal with a lot of environmental and other issues, and my focus was always on social welfare such as health, education and heritage issues,” Mr Organ said.

“I remember I’d talk about Aboriginal heritage and none of the major parties were talking about that at the time.”

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Nearly 20 years later, he’s looking to achieve the near-impossible again – to unseat Michael McCormack and the Nationals party’s Riverina electorate, which may be an even safer seat than Cunningham in 2002. Mr Organ says that while much of the Coalition’s funding has gone into seats that they hold, the safe seats are often taken for granted.

It would require a significant shift from Riverina voters to see a Greens party win after Mr McCormack achieved 60 per cent of the region’s first preference votes compared to the Greens candidate Michael Bayles, who reached slightly more than 6 per cent at the 2019 Federal Election. But Mr Organ believes his prior experience in politics and his focus on engagement with the local community could make him a desirable candidate.

“Being a former politician, I can look at a lot of the current issues and go ‘look, some of these issues are around all the time such as cost of living, health and education, but there are other issues that are specific to the country areas as well’,” he said.

Three people speaing

Mr Organ became the first Greens member of the House of Representatives when he won the Cunningham by-election. Photo: Supplied.

Following defeat in the 2004 Federal Election, Mr Organ continued working with the Greens for another decade before leaving to focus on bringing up his kids. With his recent retirement and the kids now grown up, Mr Organ was forced to leave the coast where he had lived most of his life and relocate to the Hilltops town of Murrumburrah.

“It’s part of the whole housing problem we’ve got in Australia,” he says. “As a retiree, I had a certain amount of money and I couldn’t actually afford to live where I grew up but I could afford to find somewhere to live out in the country.”

Mr Organ purchased and currently resides in the old Murrumburrah Council Chambers. Following his move to the South West Slopes, he rejoined the Greens, ultimately leading to his preselection for the upcoming Federal Election.

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“I’ve always had an interest in Australian politics and I think in recent years, there’s been a lot of things that caused a lot of people to be concerned. Whether that be COVID, employment change or health/education, all those sorts of things,” Mr Organ said.

“If you live in the city, the fuel price rise doesn’t mean that much because you can always get on a bus or a train. But if you’re in the country, fuel prices are very significant. You might have to drive half an hour to drop your kids off to school and then half an hour home and that could end up costing you $80 to $100 extra a week just on fuel prices.

“…the price of fertilisers has [also] been an issue for people in the country over the last 18 months because of supply problems in Russia and now the war has made that worse.”

Mr Organ said a recent local survey pointed to climate change, corruption in government, health and leadership as issues voters are concerned about. He is hopeful the survey serves as a sign that people are “ready for change” away from the major parties.

The 2022 Federal Election will be held on or before 21 May.

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really need to be rid of Mcormack the problem is who is a viable alternative.

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