In this election series, Woh collaborates with the Center for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne to delve into the heart of the federal fringe branch in Chisholm, in the southeastern suburb of Melbourne, to see what people think ahead of the polls. This first piece sets the stage for what promises to be one of the key battlefields for the election.
Among the most marginal voters in the country – held by the liberal Gladys Liu, born in Hong Kong with a very thin 0.5% – Chisholm is squarely at the center of this election.
The prime minister had already gone down twice before the official campaign began, announcing a production deal for new generation vaccines and plans for a new wizard medical research facility. Both he and Labor leader Anthony Albanese will return.
From its inner boundary, the expansive headquarters stretches to sleepy enclaves around Melbourne’s bustling southeastern suburban metropolis, known for its busy thoroughfares, cacophony of billboards and utilitarian-looking office blocks.
Exit the highways and the streets are lined with oaks, plane trees and eucalyptus trees. Box Hill marks its bustling commuter hub, with smells of umami, bubble tea, and Asian groceries.
“If you’re thinking about Victoria’s landscape, it’s probably the key place on the battlefield,” says Paul Strangio, a professor of politics at Monash University.
Economic power plant
The 77 square kilometers of the electorate are proudly diverse: local leaders often pride themselves on their cultural credentials. It hosts a larger share of residents born in China, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Greece than the national average, ABS data show. It is also an economic powerhouse that takes into account health, education and industry clustered around Monash University, Victoria’s second largest employment center after the CBD.
The diversity of the area reflects waves of migration, initially from post-war Europe, then from China, India, Vietnam and Malaysia. Monash and Deakin universities bring high concentrations of international students.
census data shows that half of Chisholm’s families speak a language other than English at home, with the largest share – 15% – speaking Mandarin. Compared to the national average, the electorate has more professionals, is slightly younger, less religious and more educated.
“We always proudly say that 50% of our residents were born overseas, which is astronomical,” says Monash Mayor Stuart James.
The Liberals narrowly held the seat in the last two elections. In 2016, Chisholm was the only electorate in the country to go from Labor to Liberal, under candidate Julia Banks. In 2019, the party held by 1090 votesafter preferences.
The work will target him, says Strangio. Its nominee is Dr. Carina Garland, formerly assistant secretary at the Victorian Trades Hall Council and reportedly a surprise choice.
Recent redistribution changes have diverted the Chisholm border to the south, making the venue more marginalaccording to ABC election analyst Antony Green, adding parts of Clayton, leaning towards Labor, and Wheelers Hill, leaning towards liberals.
While the campaign was fierce in voters like Kooyong Other gold stoneCourtesy of the challenges to high-profile liberal members by well-endowed Climate 200 independents, in Chisholm there is no sign of a teal disruptor early in the campaign. Indeed, while signage has become a sticking point elsewhere at the start of the campaign in Chisholm, there are few visual clues to the approaching election.
At RSPCA headquarters, a landmark on Burwood Highway, foreman Sophie Thomas sees all kinds of locals come in to adopt a pet. “I love working in this area … it’s a pretty green area. People are always out with their pets, their dogs, “she says.
Gardiners Creek is popular with dog sitters, whose grenade and labs seem to enjoy dipping their toes in the water. It is one of the few paths along the creek that adds to the green and leafy atmosphere of the electorate along with parks, street trees and, of course, courtyards.
However, there are concerns about the suburban dream exemplified by the TV show neighborhood – shot a few streets outside the Chisholm border – which has attracted many to the area is eroding.
“It was the last bastion of the houses with courtyards. But that is rapidly disappearing, ”says Michael Crichton, a retired school teacher and longtime presenter at local radio station 3WBC.
Hotbeds of high-rise residential and commercial development and growing housing density are a problem that “annoys most people,” he says.
Although the suburbs are often synonymous with safety and comfort, this is no longer the case, says Janine Saligari, coordinator of the Amaroo Neighborhood Center. You see many families struggling with rising cost of living, lack of affordable housing and access to public transport. “Not everyone has a car and people are struggling to afford to run their cars,” she says.
Demand for emergency food aid offered during the lockdown has unexpectedly continued, he adds.
Housing stress affects approximately 21% of households renting in Chisholm, an ABC analysis found. The recovery from COVID-19 has also pushed mental health and domestic violence services to their limits and left local businesses struggling with staff shortages.
Prior to the election, a concerted push for federal funds for more mental health services and social housing was part of a political step from Eastern Melbourne councils, including Monash and Whitehorse. Other demands included employment programs, public and active transport initiatives, and renewable energy to tackle climate change.
The advocacy effort has already gained bipartisan commitment for a new Headspace Youth Mental Health Service in Box Hill. Climate action, integrity and social respect are also major issues.
John Malvestito and a group of locals have launched the community news website Eastside News in 2020 following News Corp’s decision of stop printing the Leader of Whitehorse.
“Something was missing, the sense of being able to share local stories,” he says. With a few thousand subscribers so far, the Eastside publishers are building local advertising with plans to print future editions.
Malvestito will soon present all applicants with a list of questions that reflect reader concerns, including climate change and integrity.
Back at the RSPCA, the building capable of housing hundreds of animals is reaching maximum capacity. Some pandemic pets are returning to the shelter as people return to the office and “kitten season” is bringing an influx of as many as 15 every day.
It is also election season. It will surely bring an influx of politicians to the fringe Chisholm headquarters.