Kelvin Thomson MP was previously elected to the Victorian Parliament as a Member for Pascoe Vale in 1988
Kelvin Thomson holds the seat by 15.2% margin over the Greens but with the Liberals leaving open the door for preferencing the minor party, a Green victory is not impossible. Wills is one of the most diverse electorates in Victoria, encompassing many of Melbourne's northern suburbs including Brunswick and Coburg. The electorate has gathered public attention recently with issues including the Labor pre-selection battle and controversies surrounding traffic and transport and cost of living.
For a full list of candidates please see 'election at a glance' and use the electorate search tool or click Wills.
The inner northern Melbourne electorate of Wills is a new frontline in Labor’s battle against the Greens.
Long held by Labor, Wills was once the seat of former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Labor has only lost Wills once - in 1993, to Independent Phil Cleary.
Labor currently holds Wills with a margin of 15.2%. But it’s not considered to be a safe seat, due to the retirement of long-term sitting MP Kelvin Thomson at the election and the Greens making headway in the rapidly gentrifying area.
A bitter Labor pre-selection battle has seen Peter Khalil, former SBS executive and international security advisor to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, now carrying the hopes of the party.
Mr Khalil, of Egyptian background, believes his migrant origins will help him win the support of voters in the culturally diverse area. He’s expected to campaign hard on Labor’s core issues of health, education and jobs.
The Greens’ candidate is City of Moreland Mayor Samantha Ratnam, of Sir Lankan background. She's looking to unseat Labor with policies on issues including housing affordability and unemployment as the northern areas of the seat are hit hard by decline in manufacturing.
A major arterial road that cuts through the middle of Wills, Bell St, is considered where Labor and Greens voters generally divide, with an older population north of Bell St. South of Bell St, the Greens are expected to have the most impact among younger voters in the trendy and increasingly expensive suburbs such as Brunswick.
About 40% of households in Wills are bilingual. The 2011 Census shows that 35.5% of residents were born overseas, predominantly from Italy, Greece, India, Lebanon and Turkey.
On May 28, violence erupted on the streets of Wills, after an anti-racism rally - Moreland says no to Racism - in the suburb of Coburg turned violent. A brawl erupted between anti-racism protestors and anti-Islam groups. Ratnam had been scheduled to address the rally, but pulled out due to concerns relating to the risk of violence. Khalil was not officially invited to the rally due to the Labor party's stance on the offshore detention of asylum seekers.
Such unrest on the streets of Wills is unusual. The extremely diverse, and vibrant, nature of the area is usually regarded as one of its strengths and this is reflected in schools such as Brunswick Secondary College, which has students from over 52 nationalities.
There are challenges though. The Acting Principal of Brunswick Secondary College, Heather Secomb, says the Coalition government’s refusal to continue with current levels of funding for public schools will see a range of support programs at her school “under threat”.
“Our support for disadvantaged students, for example, those who speak English as their second language or have learning difficulties, will be in question if funding is cut,” said Secomb, referring to programs like “Homework Club”, where students in need get help with school work in specific subject areas.
“The amount of funding that’ll be pulled out of Victorian education would be very significant and we are very concerned,” she said.
Schools funding is a central election battleground. The Coalition has promised to give $1.2 billion for needs-based school funding between 2018-2020. The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has argued that more funding has not delivered better educational outcomes and that teacher quality is far more important. Labor has promised $4.5 billion between 2018-19.
Parts of Wills have experienced a dramatic change in demographics in recent years, with young students and well-paid professionals flocking to suburbs such as Brunswick in increasing numbers.
Many are attracted by the vibrant food and music culture along the main artery of Sydney Road. Brunswick is an attractive choice for home ownership with its close proximity to central Melbourne. The area has recently seen rapid population growth with significant developments underway such as high-rise apartment blocks.
Community leaders have voiced concern regarding what they have described as “developers’ greed” - a proliferation of high-rise apartment towers. They argue that infrastructure and public transport in Wills are struggling to keep up with such growth.
A spokesman for the Brunswick Residents Network, Nic Maclellam, and the Deputy Convenor from Moreland Bicycle User Group, Ross Millward, believe funding for public amenities like open spaces and transport facilities is inadequate. “The conservative government would only fund roads but not infrastructure,” said Mr Maclellam, referring to recent proposals including the now-abandoned East West Link – an 18-kilometre tollway project dubbed as “scandalous” by current Wills Labor MP Kelvin Thomson.
Mr Millward agrees. “We need more Commonwealth funding for sustainable transport, while currently millions of dollars worth of megaprojects are mostly profiting motor vehicles,” said Mr Millward. “I think in the federal point of view, driving is being prioritised over riding, walking and trams for residents.”