Arguably the most Left-leaning electorate in the country, Melbourne is the sole lower house seat held by the Greens. Historically a Labor stronghold, the two parties will be hoping to appeal to students, migrants, social progressives and the diverse gender and sexuality (DGS) community in their attempt claim the seat.
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As one of the most progressive seats in the country there can be no doubt that the battle for the electorate of Melbourne will be one of the most intriguing.
The Australian Electoral Commission lists Melbourne as a marginal seat. Historically a Labor stronghold, it was Adam Bandt’s win in the 2010 election that gave the Greens their first ever seat in the House of Representatives and confirmed the seat of Melbourne as Australia’s battleground for the progressive vote.
In the 2013 election, Bandt retained the seat, although his winning margin diminished slightly (0.64%). His main rival in this campaign will be Labor’s Sophie Ismail, an openly gay human rights lawyer who says Bandt looks like a Labor candidate and she looks like a Green candidate.
The electorate encompasses Melbourne’s Central Business District and extends to the traditional working-class suburbs of West Melbourne, Flemington and Ascot Vale in the west, the now largely gentrified suburbs of Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood in the north, and the culturally diverse Richmond area in the east.
Statistics show the area has a diverse population, but increasingly the largest single population group is young to middle-aged high income professionals. Many of these voters want action on issues such as climate change.
A spokesman for Friends of the Earth Melbourne, Cam Wilson, says climate change and renewable energy transition will be important issues in the minds of local voters.
“I think that since the last federal election there has been a really interesting transition in the Australian public,” he says. “Based on the polling I’ve seen, there’s a growing awareness amongst the community that climate change is real, humans have a hand in it, and we need to do something about it very rapidly.”
He believes the shift in polling has made the Labor Party consider its position, and may lead them to run an election campaign that includes a strong climate change platform “I think that opens up some really interesting policy tension,” he says.
Asylum seeker policy will also be a topic of focus for many voters in Melbourne. The issue is a significant one, given the clear policy differences between the Greens and the two major parties. While refugee policy has often proven to be a leading concern for progressive voters, it particularly resonates within the electorate due to the public housing towers that pepper the area, often the first home of newly-arrived migrants and refugees in Australia.
Stephen Jolly, a Councillor for the City of Yarra, which is one of the largest in the electorate, is a strong advocate for under-represented voices including those new arrivals. He believes that “working class people, public housing tenants, the homeless, and those people who are struggling to pay their high rents aren’t really represented” by the major parties
RISE, an organisation run by former refugees, asylum seekers and detainees, is one of many based in the electorate that reflect the importance of the issue in the minds of local voters.
In the lead-up to the election, they have called for an end to what they describe as the “abusive and divisive wedge tactics used by Australian politicians against refugees during successive election campaigns for over a decade in this country”.
“Furthermore, we are appalled at how refugees are referred to as commodities to serve the political and economic interests of the privileged.”
The call for human rights in Melbourne is not just limited to asylum seekers. The electorate is widely considered to be home to the city’s gender and sexually diverse community, both in the local demographic and as a social hub.
Simon Ruth, CEO of the Victorian AIDS Council, is used to advocating for health issues within the community, but believes that marriage equality is the biggest political issue for gender and sexually diverse voters.
“We have a formal position of not supporting a plebiscite as an organisation,” he says. “We think marriage equality is a basic human right.”
“But we also think the campaign into a plebiscite is going to be very divisive and will have an impact on the mental health of people in queer communities, and we can see that from people in other countries.”
“This is the election where we will be hoping that political parties say, ‘we actually support your right to exist, and your right to be a part of Australia’”.
Local gay couple Dale Hawthorne and Caesar de Souza agree. “For me, I think same sex marriage is a fait accompli,” says Hawthorne. “It’s just a matter of time, when the right government gets in with a mandate to deliver.”
“I just hope if Labor manages to squeeze in, that they stay true to their promise to deliver a same sex marriage bill in their first one hundred days in power, “ adds De Souza.