The real battle in Calwell: entrenched disadvantage

Jun 28, 2016 Arianna Lucente
Ottoman Mehter Military Band at the Broadmeadows Street Festival. Photo by Arianna Lucente.
Batacuda percussion and circus performers at the Broadmeadows Street Festival. Photo by Arianna Lucent.e.
Students at the Olsen Place Street Art and Vertical Garden Project. Photo by Arianna Lucente.
Sitting Member:
Vamvakinou, M (ALP)
Size of electorate:
175 sq. Km

Key Comments

Calwell is a safe Labor seat, held by Maria Vamvakinou since 2001. Located northwest of Melbourne, it covers the areas between Craigieburn, Keilor Park, Calder Park and Somerton. It has the highest percentage of Islamic residents in Victoria and concerns among voters include access to health services, education and employment.

Electorate Profile

For a full list candidates please go to 'election at a glance' and use the electorate search tool or click Calwell.

Calwell is one of the most disadvantaged electorates in Australia. Unemployment, crime, and low levels of education are key issues in the area.

The electorate covers suburbs in Melbourne’s north-west including Broadmeadows, Campbellfield, Coolaroo, Keilor, Meadow Heights, Melbourne Airport, Roxburgh Park, Somerton, Taylors Lakes and Westmeadows.

These areas are experiencing long-term disadvantage. According to the 2015 Dropping Off The Edge report, Broadmeadows, Coolaroo and Campbellfield are among the most disadvantaged suburbs in Victoria, and have shown little improvement in the past eight years.

One indication is locals' low levels of education. Campbellfield has the highest number of residents in Victoria who have left school before the age of 16; Coolaroo and Meadow Heights have the second highest; and Broadmeadows, Dallas, and Jacana come in fourth.

Karla Collerick from Hume Youth Services says young people leave school relatively early and don't do further study for a number of reasons. She says they may be dealing with mental health issues, alcohol or drug abuse, family violence at home, or any other significant events that has made it harder for them to return to school or work.

Fernando Ianni, Principal at Roxburgh College in the suburb of Roxburgh Park, says the biggest challenge in running a school in a highly disadvantaged area is that a lot of the students have experienced trauma.

“Kids in our school have lost people that are close to them through turmoil and conflict and war,” he said. “There’s also trauma that relates to relocation. Many of our students have been in the country for less than 10 years, but a big portion of them have been in the country for less than five years.”

Calwell’s large migrant population comes from countries including Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Lebanon, Ethiopia, and Somalia. It also has the highest number of Islamic residents in Victoria.

Ianni says education funding is a big issue for his school. This year’s federal budget revealed that the Turnbull government will invest $3 billion less in schools than the Labor party have promised.

Ianni is worried that Roxburgh’s speech pathology programs, small classes, reading recovery and multicultural aid teachers might be cut if enough funding isn’t delivered.

“If we don’t get that funding, my prediction would be that there’d be many more kids in the street,” he said.

Unemployment rates in Calwell are also particularly high. Broadmeadows was home to a number of entry-level manufacturing jobs, but the closure of these factories means these jobs no longer exist. The Ford factory in Broadmeadows is due to close in October, and will put 500 employees out of work.

The Victorian Arabic Social Services is based in Broadmeadows. CEO, Leila Alloush, says high unemployment rates and low education levels are contributing to a cycle of crime and poverty.

“Gambling, drugs, and unemployment would be the biggest issues that need attention,” Alloush said. “The issue of [the illegal drug] ice is massive in the north.”

“On every corner, there is a gaming machine,” she added. In the last financial year, gamblers in the City of Hume lost more than $104 billion to gaming machines.

Campbellfield and Broadmeadows have some of the highest crime rates in Victoria. In the City of Hume, police receive a call-out for a family violence incident every three minutes, and Somerton has the highest number of domestic violence intervention orders in the state.

Apart from raising awareness to change attitudes in relation to family violence, Hume Mayor, Helen Patsikatheodorou, believes tackling unemployment, gambling, and mental health issues will help the situation.

“Far too many women and children are abused by the people who should love and care for them,” she said. “No woman or child should die as a result of family violence.”

Islamophobia is also a major concern. Ayman Islam from the Islamic Council of Victoria, says "you’d have visible incidents of people pulling off women’s headscarfs, abuse to bearded men."

But he believes more inclusive political rhetoric has a positive affect. “Ever since Turnbull has come into office, that has completely stopped… The rhetoric and the language from government has been incredibly helpful and supportive of the Muslim communities.”

Calwell has been a safe Labor seat since it was created in 1984, and was initially held by Andrew Theophanous. In 2000, Theophanous resigned from the Labor party after he was found guilty of bribery and fraud offences relating to visa and citizenship applications. He served out his term as an Independent and lost the seat to his former staffer and current Labor MP, Maria Vamvakinou, in 2001.

The Liberal party candidate for Calwell, John Hsu, resigned in early June after it was revealed he owns a brothel.

It’s unlikely that Ms Vamvakinou will lose the seat.

The real contest will be the ability of whoever wins government to pull this electorate out of persistent disadvantage.

2013 Election Results

Candidate Party Votes % Swing(%)
WATSON, Brett Katter's Australian Party 1915 2.23 +2.23
GRAHAM, Paul Family First Party 2175 2.53 -2.15
LETCHER, Bryce Newton Palmer United Party 3728 4.34 +4.34
VAMVAKINOU, MariaElected Australian Labor Party 42819 49.81 -7.8
SPIROVSKA, Nevena Sex Party 2367 2.75 +2.75
KHAN, Ali Liberal 24490 28.49 +2.97
BENGTSSON, Maria Australian Christians 2121 2.47 +2.47
ROZARIO, Charles Rise Up Australia Party 415 0.48 +0.48
OMAR, Omar Jabir DLP Democratic Labour 1310 1.52 +1.52
NEVILL, Joanna The Greens 4632 5.39 -5.8
...... Australian Democrats 0 0 -0.02
...... SEP 0 0 -0.99


Arianna Lucente



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