Existing since Federation, Melbourne Ports has been held by the Labor Party since 1906 and has had only five members in 107 years. Labor had a swing of 6% against it in the 2013 election and Michael Danby was re elected with the help of preferences. The seat is now marginal and will again be decided by what preference deals are made between parties.
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Tram bells ring as they stop just long enough for passengers to board or disembark. Cars weave through the maze of intersecting streets, headed somewhere. A line of buildings tower above, their shadows ever-present.
Interweaving, overlapping colours harmonise and clash; the lines compete for space but remain resolutely unified. These are the graffiti walls of St Kilda Junction.
St Kilda Junction bridges the city and the suburbs and in many ways this reflects the ever-changing, diverse inner metropolitan electorate of Melbourne Ports, founded at Federation.
Speaking to residents in the central thoroughfare, Glenhuntly Road to learn what issues matter most to them, it was clear that education is always important. According to Elsternwick Sussan Retailer Corinne, it is always their “first thought.”.
Around 800 children live in the growing inner-city suburb of South Melbourne, but with no local primary schools, Port Phillip’s schools are pressured past capacity to accommodate.
And while schools are a state government responsibility, funding is granted by the federal government and voter concern about the issue often plays out in federal elections.
“We’ve got double story portables, possibly more on the way”, says Peter Martin, principal of Port Melbourne Primary School, told ABC News in March. ‘We’ve got to use the park over the road at lunchtime because we don’t fit here.”
The primary school has 760 children enrolled and next year this is to grow to 800. For the short term, adjustments have been made so year levels have breaks at different times to allow kids the space to run around and play. But such arrangements are temporary fixes.
The imminent Fisherman’s Bend Urban renewal developments will only escalate matters, with the project expected to attract 80,000 new residents. The current educational infrastructure is not equipped to absorb such numbers.
Two schools are in development to be completed by 2018. One is a six-storey vertical primary school on Ferrars St; the other is the South Melbourne Park Primary School, to be built in a heritage-listed building in Albert Park. However, said Port Phillip Councillor Serge Thomann, “We need the new places now and also new places in the future.” So the new schools will act to alleviate the pressure of current crowding, but leaves future concerns unanswered.
“The planning has not been done well over the years,” Thomann says. "This should not have happened.”
New schools need to be constantly built to keep up with swelling population and the contemporary birth rate. On the other hand, planning for new school sites competes with developers for available land. Bulldozers sideline education, and this comes at cost.
Melbourne Ports residents value “equal opportunity for education, not just for the wealthy,” Ettie Rosenblum of Caulfield North told UniPollWatch.
“No matter from private or public, every child’s education needs to be prioritised.”
The electorate contains a diverse mix of demographics, identities and political ideologies, but it is this unique landscape that gives Melbourne Ports its endearing character.
Melbourne Ports includes the high-density housing of Southbank, South Wharf and parts of Docklands. It has a vibrant Jewish community in the south-eastern suburbs of Caulfield and Balaclava. The open spaces of Middle Park, Albert Park and Elwood are home to established middle class neighbourhoods. St Kilda has an outspoken LGBT community and a large number of young adult residents who enjoy the nightlife of Acland Street.
From the outside, Melbourne Ports is a safe Labor seat and nothing else, but closer examination suggests some chinks in its armour.
In the past, Melbourne Ports was home to working class voters who for decades secured the seat for Labor.
This has progressively changed. Redistribution in 1990 extended the boundary eastward to the Liberal-voting Caulfield and so has made the seat more marginal. Continuing gentrification around Port Melbourne and South Melbourne have displaced the founding residents and attracted young professionals to move into high rises. The original ethos of the industrial suburb was levelled for more economical developments.
On a two-party preferred basis, Labor retained Melbourne Ports by 7.9% in 2013. Having receiced fewer first-preference votes than his Liberal opponent Kevin Ekendahl, Labor incumbent MP Michael Danby relies upon Greens preference voters to retain the seat. A strong challenge from Liberal candidate Owen Guest has some doubting the safety of the seat for Labor, which has held it for 100 years.
The Greens also view Melbourne Ports as a winnable seat. The party hopes to jump in front of Labor on first preferences, “if not this election, then the next”, says candidate Stephanie Hodgins-May.
The graffiti of St Kilda Junction with its contrasts and conflicts, changed through the contribution of time, and a back-drop to the transport and buildings around it, is a perfect metaphor for the electorate. A colourful melting pot of varying views and issues that make for an interesting key contest in this election.