The battle for Chisholm’s key Melbourne seat is starting to heat up

In this election series, Crikey joins the Center for the Advancement of Journalism at the University of Melbourne to delve into the heart of fringe federal headquarters Chisholm, in Melbourne’s south-east suburbs, to see what people think before the polls. This first piece sets the stage for what is shaping up to be one of the key battlefields for the elections.

Among the country’s most marginal electorates, held by the Hong Kong-born liberal Gladys Liu with a paltry 0.5%, Chisholm is squarely in the spotlight in this election.

The prime minister had already passed twice before the official campaign began, announcing a next-generation vaccine manufacturing deal and plans for a new medical research facility. Both he and Labor leader Anthony Albanese will return.

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From its inner boundary, the sprawling seat encompasses sleepy enclaves around Melbourne’s bustling southeastern suburban metropolis, known for its busy arteries, cacophony of billboards and utilitarian-looking office blocks.

Pull off the highways and the streets are lined with oak, plane and eucalyptus trees. Box Hill punctuates its bustling commuter hub, with scents of umami, bubble teas, and Asian groceries.

“If you’re thinking of the Victorian landscape, it’s probably the key seat of the battlefield,” says Paul Strangio, professor of politics at Monash University.

Economic power

The 77-square-kilometre electorate is proudly diverse: local leaders frequently boast of their cultural credentials. It is home to a higher proportion of residents born in China, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Greece than the national average, ABS data shows. It is also an economic powerhouse encompassing health, education and industry clustered around Monash University, Victoria’s second largest employment center after the CBD.

The area’s diversity reflects waves of migration, initially from postwar Europe and later from China, India, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Monash and Deakin Universities attract high concentrations of international students.

Census data shows that half of Chisholm households speak a language other than English at home, with the majority, 15%, speaking Mandarin. Compared to the national average, the electorate is more professional, slightly younger, less religious, and more educated.

“We always proudly say that 50% of our residents are foreign born, which is astronomical,” says Monash Mayor Stuart James.

The Liberals held the seat narrowly in the last two elections. In 2016, Chisholm was the only electorate in the country to switch from Labor to Liberal, under candidate Julia Banks. In 2019, the party remained by 1,090 votes, after preferences.

Labor will target it hard, says Strangio. His nominee is Dr Carina Garland, formerly a deputy secretary at the Victorian Trades Hall Council and reportedly a surprise choice.

Recent redistricting changes shifted Chisholm’s boundary to the south, making the seat more marginal, according to ABC election analyst Antony Green, adding parts of Labor-leaning Clayton and Liberal-leaning Wheelers Hill.

While the campaign has been fierce in constituencies like Kooyong and Goldstein, courtesy of challenges to high-profile liberals by well-resourced Climate 200 independents, in Chisholm there is no sign of a teal disruptor as the campaign begins. campaign. Indeed, while signage has become a flashpoint elsewhere, as campaigning begins in Chisholm, there are few visual clues of the upcoming election.

At the RSPCA headquarters, a landmark on Burwood Highway, team leader Sophie Thomas sees all kinds of locals coming to adopt a pet. “I love working in this area…it’s a pretty green area. People always go out with their pets, their dogs,” she says.

Gardiners Creek is popular with dog walkers, whose packs and labs seem to enjoy dipping their toes in the water. It’s one of a handful of creekside trails that add to the electorate’s lush, green feel along with parks, street trees, and of course, backyards.

However, there are concerns about the suburban dream exemplified by the television show neighbours — filmed a few streets outside the Chisholm boundary — that drew many to the eroding area.

“It was the last bastion of backyard houses. But that is fast disappearing,” says Michael Crichton, a retired school teacher and longtime host on local community radio station 3WBC.

Outbreaks of high-rise residential and commercial development, and increasing housing density, is a problem that “bothers most people,” he says.

Although the suburbs are often synonymous with safety and comfort, that is no longer the case, says Amaroo Neighborhood Center coordinator Janine Saligari. She sees many households struggling with the rising cost of living, lack of affordable housing and access to public transportation. “Not everyone has a car, and people are struggling to afford their car,” she says.

Demand for emergency food aid offered during the closures has unexpectedly continued, it adds.

Housing stress affects about 21% of rental households in Chisholm, according to an ABC analysis. The recovery from COVID-19 has also pushed mental health and domestic violence services to the brink, leaving local businesses struggling with staffing shortages.

Before the election, a concerted push for federal money for more mental health services and social housing was part of a political narrative from East Melbourne councils, including Monash and Whitehorse. Other demands included employment programs, public and active transportation initiatives, and renewable energy to tackle climate change.

The advocacy effort has already secured a bipartisan commitment to a new youth mental health service from Headspace in Box Hill. Climate action, integrity and social respect are also main themes.

John Malvestito and a group of locals launched a community news website Eastsider News in 2020 following News Corp’s decision to stop printing the white horse leader.

“Something was missing, the whole sense of being able to share local stories,” he says. With a few thousand subscribers so far, the East publishers are creating local advertising with plans to print future editions.

Malvestito will soon present all candidates with a list of questions that reflect readers’ concerns, including climate change and integrity.

Back at the RSPCA, the building capable of housing hundreds of animals is reaching capacity. Some pandemic pets are returning to the shelter as people head back to the office, with “kitten season” seeing an influx of up to 15 a day.

It is also election season. It’s sure to bring an influx of politicians to Chisholm’s fringe seat.

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Peter Fray

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