Carrum's Patterson River. Source: Wikipedia
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The Melbourne south-east suburban electorate of Isaacs could be a flashpoint for the major parties in the federal election, with jobs, housing affordability and health care as key issues.
Mark Dreyfus, who was attorney-general in the last Labor Government, is contesting his fourth term against the resurgent Liberal Party candidate, Garry Spencer, who last election reduced Labor’s majority by 6.5 per cent.
An additional swing of 3.9 per cent to the Liberals in this election would win the electorate, which means preferences from the Greens could play a big role in deciding who will be the next member.
But Mr Dreyfus, who said he is still pondering the reasons behind last election’s swing, said his team is “match fit” for the coming campaign.
“We’re united, have a set of polices, we are ready,” Mr Dreyfus said.
Mr Spencer, a business consultant, soldier and community activist, claims successive Labor Governments have put “led in the saddles” of local business, particularly the electorate’s struggling manufacturers.
Candidate for Australian Greens, Alex Breskin, said his party preferences could be a game winner for Labor in a tight poll.
“What we stand for and what we would do is more important than ever,” said Mr Breskin, who was an unsuccessful candidate in the last Victorian state election.
Other minority parties, such as the Democratic Labor Party and Sex Party, have yet to decide whether they will run a candidate.
Isaacs, named after the former Chief Justice of the High Court and Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs, covers 166 square kilometres, has about 103,000 voters, 63,000 households and a diverse range of suburbs that don’t have a lot in common.
Affluent bayside homes in northern suburbs sell for about $2.5 million, or 10-times the value of an apartment in north-east Noble Park and parts of Dandenong, which has a high and growing immigrant population.
Parkdale and Mentone families, also in the electorate’s north-east, are more likely to have their children educated at private schools, compared to Carrum Downs, where most children attend government schools.
Other parts of the electorate, particularly along the 13 kilometre beach strip bordering Port Phillip Bay, have high concentrations of older voters, which means a focus on aged-care facilities and public health.
Mr Dreyfus, a former Queen’s Council and ALP political adviser, has a strong record as a law reformer in aboriginal land rights, legal aid, anti-discrimination and boosting political accountability and transparency. He is also a former director of the Law Council of Australia.
He has regularly led the Federal Opposition’s attacks in the House of Representatives on allegations of impropriety, such as its exposure of Stuart Robert and his secret deals with Chinese business interests. Mr Robert was dumped from the Government ministry as a result of the exposures.
Mr Dreyfus said parents in his electorate are worried soaring property prices will mean their children will not be able to afford to leave home until they are in their 30s.
During the past decade the median price of a house in Edithvale has increased by more than 117 per cent, according to RP CoreLogic, which collates data on property prices.
In nearby Dandenong South they have increased by 150 per cent over the same period, according to the research.
Median prices for more than 20 other suburbs in the electorate are up by more than 80 per cent over the same period, it reveals.
Tim Richardson, whose state seat of Mordialloc borders the federal seat of Isaacs, said prices are so expensive that he cannot afford to buy a house in his own electorate.
Melbourne prices have risen by seven times the median income since 2010, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
During the past six years median weekly incomes have increased from $1266 to $1398, a 10 per cent increase, while house prices are up from $442,000 to $749,999, a rise of 70 per cent.
Mr Dreyfus, who during a 27 year career as a lawyer before becoming an MP accumulated four houses, believes limiting negative gearing tax breaks will ease speculation without disrupting supply.
“Negative gearing is a distortion that has not helped housing,” he said.
He added that none of his houses, which include a holiday house, were negatively geared.
There is also a long – and growing – list of families that have been squeezed out of the private housing market and desperately need public housing that will be seeking answers from all candidates.
Liberal candidate Spencer, a management consultant and former military officer, believes cutting incentives to build and invest will lead to rising rents and falling numbers of new houses and apartments.
The winding-down of the car industry will have a big impact on jobs and businesses in an electorate where hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs are dependent on manufacturing.
Some companies, such as AW Bell, a metal casting firm that employs about 70, have made a successful transition from traditional metal casting to sophisticated, value-added components.
But others are languishing and look set to close as work is shipped offshore.
“The challenge is to find niches in global supply chains,” said Mr Dreyfus.
Mr Spencer, a business consultant with specialist experience in manufacturing, particularly defence work, said he can use his experience and knowledge of the electorate to boost business and create jobs.
The wildcard in the election pack is the impact of state policies. Mr Dreyfus believes the electorate distinguish between state and federal issues.
But a ground-roots campaign against the state Labor Government’s decision to build a skytrain is gaining momentum.
Supporters argue it will ease congestion and speed commuting times.
But a large and growing opposition claim it will disrupt existing services and harm property and business values in areas around the proposed route.
Local lobby groups have been formed warning they will lodge a protest vote by voting against Federal Labor, even though it is a state issue.