Melbourne: battle for a Greens stronghold

The city is a vibrant cultural and social hub famous for its laneways. (Photo: Macleay College)

Once considered a safe Labor seat, the electorate of Melbourne has been in the hands of
the Greens since 2010 and has become a symbol of progressive Victoria.
But is this the year the ALP regains its long-held seat?

Melbourne, the electorate, encompasses Melbourne, the city, along with bits and pieces of surrounding suburbs – and its recent history is a reflection of that geography: it is the only lower house electorate in the land with a Greens MP, Adam Bandt.

The electorate was among the first of 65 original divisions contested in the first federal election in 1901. Today, both city and electorate are known for bustling laneways, a vibrant arts scene and business hubs which earned it the title of world’s most liveable city for seven years straight from 2011. It had been a safe Labor seat for 106 years, until Bandt flipped history on its head in 2010. He won again in 2013 and 2016, and now holds the seat with a 19 per cent margin.

In many ways it is unlike any other electorate in the country.

In that sense, it has become a symbol of Victoria as Australia’s most progressive state: in the 2017 postal survey on same-sex marriage, Melbourne recorded the highest percentage of Yes votes in the country with 83.7 per cent. Its groundbreaking recent voting record has given it an influence beyond its borders, with progressive candidates challenging in other once-safe major party strongholds in the hope of replicating Bandt’s insurgence.

But with inner-city progressiveness comes electoral challenges: a traditionally diverse and cosmopolitan seat, Melbourne voters will be going to the election debating issues of housing affordability, climate change as well as public transport and congestion. 

In 2019, Bandt is being challenged by four rivals: Labor’s Luke Creasey, the Liberal Party’s Lauren Sherson, the United Australia Party’s Tony Pecora, and Animal Justice Party candidate Lawrence Pope. 

Climate change is as potent an issue here as anywhere, and with a large youth and student population candidates that are able to capture the votes of disaffected young people who vote on environmental issues have an advantage. 

Luke Creasey, a high school teacher, is running on a campaign of education and environmental issues. He says on his Facebook page: “This is a climate change election. And Labor has the most detailed climate policy any major party has ever taken to an election.” 

Melbourne is young, diverse and unlike most other electorates in the country. (Photo: Macleay College)

The Liberals’ Lauren Sherson is focusing on strong economic policy, which may speak to the business and financial sectors of the electorate. 

The incumbent Bandt has said he will be focusing on climate and changes to living standards. In a nutshell, he declares the Greens will “fight climate change by shifting to 100 per cent renewables and fight inequality by raising Newstart and making big corporations and the top 1 per cent pay their fair share of tax”.

Tony Pecora, running for Clive Pamer’s United Australia Party, founded The Green Power Company in 2008 and claims to be “responsible for installing thousands of solar power systems in Australia and the South Pacific”. On his candidate page, he states:  “I believe that freedom, liberty and strength are the defining principles on which all great civilisations are built.”

Lawrence Pope, for the Animal Justice Party, has led several high-profile campaigns on jumps racing, conservation and hunting.  

Melbourne is an electorate that stands apart from the Australian norm.

Census data shows it is considerably younger: the median age is 30, compared to the Victorian average of 37 and the national average of 38.

Its largest population groups are voters aged 20-24 and 25-29. Other Census results show the difference: 62.9 per cent of the electorate has never been married, compared to the national average of 35 per cent. It is among the most multicultural seats: 55.1 per cent of the electorate was born overseas; compared to the national average of 33.3 per cent.

Issues regarding income and especially penalty rates may also become an issue, with the top census responses for employment being service work in restaurants and cafes followed by hospital workers.

Melbourne has a large population of single professionals – as well as a sizeable student population. (Photo: Macleay College)

The challenge for Adam Bandt in holding the seat: recent disunity in the Greens, and the risk that a wider Labor surge – as seen at last year’s Victorian state election – could see Labor regain its long-held seat in a tight battle for preferences. The party lost a majority of its Victorian seats in the state election, including four of the five seats it held in the Victorian upper house.

That result – as well as the wider sense that Victoria and particularly urban Melbourne are Labor’s strongest areas in the country in 2019 – sets the stage for a fascinating contest on May 18, as the ALP attempts to reassert its historical claim to a seat it had held since Federation.