Dunkley, which takes in a diverse socio-economic mix of voters, has been held by Liberal stalwart Bruce Billson since 1996. But with his retirement, new Liberal candidate Chris Crewther, 32, had to make his presence felt against Labor’s former criminal defence lawyer Peta Murphy and another popular local, TAFE teacher Jeanette Swain for the Greens.
Latest figures show Crewther securing the seat, with more than 51 percent of the vote. But Murphy did better than expected, enjoying a swing of 4.2 percent.
Unlike his predecessor, Crewther is less comfortable talking to the media. In a press statement, he thanked his support crew, particularly Billson for his mentoring and assistance during the campaign.
“Few have championed their electorate and worked harder for it than Bruce, he leaves massive shoes to fill,’’ said Crewther.
Political commentator Sean Carney noted during the campaign that many votes for Crewther would stem from residual goodwill felt towards the hard-working Billson. Crewther has yet to outline his policy priorities in any detail.
In contrast, Murphy and Swain both campaigned hard on local issues, promising to do more to invest in education and jobs. Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula have a 14 percent unemployment rate, according to ABS figures.
The drug Ice has contributed to an increase in assaults and other crime in Frankston, according to Victoria Police data. Violent crime increased more than 30 per cent from 2013 to 2014 on the back of a doubling of drug offences in the same period.
Murphy was pleased that Labor tackled difficult issues. “All our policies locally were well thought-out commitments to the things the community really needed,’’ she told UniPollWatch after the election.
The Liberals criticised Murphy during the campaign for having put her name to a submission to Parliament, which called on the government to deny the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the police greater powers to detain terror suspects without charge.
Attorney General George Brandis called for the Labor party to dump Murphy for this stance, but Labor leader Bill Shorten refused to do so.
“There was no way I was going to let myself be distracted by petty smear attacks by the Liberal Party,” she says. “It didn’t stop us from running the campaign we wanted to run.”
She was also not impressed by the belated interest shown by the Liberals in the dispute between the CFA and the United Firefighters Union. “The Liberals hadn’t cared one iota about issues in the CFA until they thought it could get them votes,” says Murphy. “They’re not in a position to do anything about that dispute.
“The area they campaigned the hardest on for the CFA was in Langwarrin, and we got a swing of about 8.5% towards us at that polling booth,” says Murphy. “It says something about how our positive policies really resonated with people.”
Greens candidate Jeanette Swain was pleased that her party secured more than 9 per cent of the primary vote, conceding that there was competition. “We have a lot of progressive left wing parties so it muddies the water.’’
She says Crewther benefitted from “a fair whack of training” from Billson. “So he will probably continue on in a similar manner.”
In contrast, she says the Greens have changed. “I think it’s a different party now, especially under Richard Di Natale.”
But this is not recognised, she says, because it is hard to get an “even debate”.
“There has been quite a bias, even on the ABC, against the Greens.”
She says the party needs to get a fair hearing, rather than just through the press. She also suggested the Labor party might like to reconsider preferencing the Liberals at the cost of the Greens. “What was the benefit of getting the Greens out? If it goes to the Liberals, they have to have a big think about that one.”
The rise of the Greens in Dunkley is reflected across Victoria. “Dunkley is a microcosm of the state,” she says, noting the party won votes from farming areas, housing commission residents and those in affluent areas. Dunkley takes in this mix, with Langwarrin, Frankston and Mornington illustrating the socioeconomic diversity.
Swain also says she was “disgusted” by the Liberal’s giant TV screen billboard depicting Malcolm Turnbull stating, among other things, ‘We will keep our border secure’, which sat outside a key Langwarrin polling booth.
“Peta and Chris were neck and neck at that polling booth. Half a kilometre away is another polling booth that had an 11 percent swing against the Liberals. I think people got so disgusted by the circus at that polling booth they went around the corner….it was like Big Brother.”
Phil Hurwood, a priest at St Luke’s Anglican Church in Frankston, says his parish followed the election closely.
“I think quite a lot of people are very engaged in political issues,” says Hurwood. “A lot of people are interested in the future and are concerned for the future of our society and our nation.”
Immigration and the treatment of asylum seekers was a prominent issue in Dunkley, according to Hurwood.
“There are people around here who are passionate about refugees and asylum seekers, and how we mistreat them in detention centres,” says Hurwood. “The marriage issue might have also been discussed.”
Hurwood feels he is part of a group in society who no longer feel they are represented in the major parties.
“I feel that mainstream parties are a little less representative then they used to be,” says Hurwood. “I think those parties have moved further to the political left over the past few years.”
Hurwood believes these feelings are leading to the emergence of more minor parties.
“We’ve seen the rebirth of Pauline Hanson, which I think is because people who probably once voted Liberal are not so sure if the Liberals represent them any more,” says Hurwood. “I think people are concerned with the way they see the nation going and are trying to find a way of expressing that in their voting.”