Banks is a marginal and demographically diverse inner metropolitan seat. Migrant issues are a focal point for this multicultural electorate. The key issues are affordable housing, WestConnex ramp extensions and concerns around activities on the Georges River.
Banks is a marginal seat in southwest Sydney with a diverse population, covering multicultural Hurstville, working class suburbs such as Carlton and affluent parts of the Sutherland Shire. In his 2013 maiden speech, Liberal member David Coleman described Banks as “embody[ing] modern Australia” with its community of young families, established older residents and migrants.
The electoral redistribution mean Banks has gained more of Revesby, Revesby Heights, Panania, as well as the entire suburbs of Picnic Point, East Hills and Padsow, along with large swathes of the Georges River. The redistribution is likely to increase the Liberal margin from 1.8 percent to nearly 3 percent.
A Labor seat since its establishment in 1949, Coleman won Banks for the Liberal Party with a swing of 3.3 percent. Political blogger Ben Raue predicted that Coleman will lose the seat, a perception supported by both Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his deputy Tanya Plibersek attending the campaign launch of ALP candidate Chris Gambian, a union official who grew up in the area. Also in the running is Greens candidate Philippa Clark, a 19-year-old law student who unsuccessfully ran for the state seat of Oatley last year, as well as the Christian Democratic Party’s Greg Bondar.
In the previous election, political preferences reflected the geography of voters. Wealthier waterside suburbs such as Lugarno supported the Liberal Party, while suburbs like Punchbowl in the west of the electorate returned a Labor vote. The battleground suburbs that were evenly split between the two major parties in the last election, such as Hurstville and Mortdale, are also among the most disadvantaged, with lower rates of home ownership and employment.
Only 54.6 percent of people living in Banks were born in Australia, with more than 50 percent speaking a language other than English. Banks also has the largest Chinese population of any Australian electorate. According to local resident Mikall Chong, who immigrated to the area in 2002, politicians need to work harder to connect with this group.
“David [needs to] build up a small community of volunteers and support them. . . politics is a new area for them, so he has to nurture them and give them that opportunity to participate, to have their voices heard, [instead of being] seen only when there’s a political arena.”
Pauline Gallagher, Chief Executive of the Riverwood Community Centre, said many newly arrived migrants in the area struggle to have their overseas qualifications recognised. Hurstville has a high unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, suggesting the Government’s campaign slogan of ‘Jobs and Growth’ and support for small business are likely to be vote winners.
The area is loved by locals for its family-friendly lifestyle, however, community life is not always idyllic. Between August 2015 and January 2016, 2,573 domestic violence incidents were recorded in the Sutherland Shire.
Dianne Manns, CEO of Sutherland Shire Family Services, hopes domestic and family violence will be an election issue. She recently launched the ‘Pull Ya Head In’ campaign to challenge the perception of the area as a middle class suburban paradise.
“Here in the Sutherland Shire, what we see is that covert nature of intimate partner abuse. . . ten years ago we were seeing lots of women with blackened eyes and broken ribs. We don’t see that as much these days. . . it’s psychological, verbal, financial abuse” she said.
Coleman has focused on transport infrastructure during his time as a local MP, including commencing work on an upgrade to King Georges Road. He is an enthusiastic advocate for the WestConnex motorway. Coleman has lobbied for the opening of M5 ‘on’ ramps at Riverwood, arguing it would allow two-way travel on the M5 from the Belmore Road exit near Riverwood and provide residents in nearby suburbs such as Punchbowl and Peakhurst with easier access to the Sydney CBD.
The Georges River, already a local priority for many voters, will assume an even greater importance this election, as more of the Georges River is part of Banks following boundary changes.
Coleman has been active in local environmental initiatives during his term, including recruiting a locally based ‘Green Army’ to clean up the River. Many voters are in favour of a jet ski ban on the River, which was canvassed following collisions between jet skis and kayakers. Both Coleman and Gambian have expressed their support for the ban.
As well as the Georges River, the region is home to waterways, beaches and a nearby national park. These natural assets should make the environment a key election issue, said Fiona Lewis, founder of the St George Climate Change Action Group.
Ms Lewis responded bluntly when asked if a different Prime Minister has improved the Government’s position on climate change: “Absolutely not. Same shit, different shovel.”
Lewis, who moved to the area eight years ago from inner west Sydney, reflects a growing progressive population in the electorate, which she said defies simplistic categorisation.
“The changing demographic is huge. You’ve got a lot more young people living here because of the new units, there’s a large overseas population, as well as older migrants who have raised families here,” she said.
While she concedes that the Greens are unlikely to win this election, she says all parties will have to campaign strongly to ensure they are “visible” to the community. In an electorate without firm political allegiances, the seat will be a hard won prize for the successful candidate.