Albert Park: Inner-city affluence and diversity

Anita Scott-Murphy, a Port Melbourne local of 13 years, said she doesn’t expect the Liberals to gain the Labor-held Albert Park electorate in the coming state election.  

A working mum, she says she’s seen significant change during her time living in the electorate. “The area has many more younger families now than five years ago and focus is much more on environment and education,” she says.

Heather Cunsolo, a Port Melbourne mum of three young children and admin behind the Port Melbourne Families group on Facebook said for her family, some of the key topics for the upcoming state election, particularly within the Albert Park electorate, were access to schools and public transport.

Helping local small businesses, the price of property in the area and the proper growth of areas such as the controversial Fishermans Bend, are other key issues she said.

Developers are being forced to reapply for permits following recent changes in the Fishermans Bend framework that introduced height limits and social housing uplift controls for development projects. Fishermans Bend is a key focus in the electorate, as it will see 80,000 people coming into the area in the next thirty years, significantly distorting the demographics of the electorate.

Port Melbourne will be transformed with the development of Fishermans Bend. Photo: Lucy Williams.

The Albert Park electorate includes the suburbs of Albert Park, Middle Park, Port Melbourne, St Kilda West, Southbank, South Melbourne and South Wharf, that lie south of the Yarra river. This covers affluent suburbs Middle Park and St Kilda West alongside apartment dense, high-rise suburbs Southbank and South Wharf.

A central feature of the electorate is the lake after which the electorate itself and the suburb at its heart, are named. A peaceful landmark, outside its annual stint as home of the Grand Prix, the lake hosts families and fitness fanatics, common mynas and black swans. All the while, a generous whiff of chlorine emanates from Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.

There are pockets of poverty in the affluent electorate. Public housing in Park Street, South Melbourne. Photo: Lucy Williams.

As an inner-city locale, gentrification has increasingly altered the demographics of the electorate and it has become an increasingly marginal seat in recent elections. Professor Sidh Sintusingha from the University of Melbourne’s School of Architecture said the issue of gentrification is more often addressed through essentially synonymous topics of affordability and homelessness, the latter being a key theme of recent elections of the Melbourne Lord Mayor. Local Scott-Murphy said if she were now looking to buy in the area the rising prices would certainly be cost prohibitive.  

Incumbent MP Martin Foley has held the seat since the 2007 by-election when the Liberals did not contest.  Foley was re-elected in 2010 and 2014 but in much tougher contests.

Labor currently has a 3 per cent swing, however Foley is reliant on Greens’ preferences to secure his position.

The 2016 Census indicated just over half of Albert Park identified their ancestry as English, Australian, Irish, and Scottish with Chinese ancestry at around 7.8 per cent. Suburbs in the electorate benefited from Greek immigration from the 50s and 60s onwards. More recently the electorate has received new arrivals from Africa and Asia, however hostility persists according to Margaret Fitzherbert, MP for Southern Metropolitan and a campaigner for the Liberal party’s Andrew Bond. Fitzherbert said the first issues raised by residents when she spoke to them were gang violence, carjacking and home invasions.

No other candidate or any residents to whom we spoke, however, raised these as priority concerns, some locals criticising fear mongering around crime. More often the issues locals raised were ones of school availability and public transport. 

The electorate includes Southbank and Crown Casino. Photo: Lucy Williams

Dr John Stone a senior lecturer in transport planning at the University of Melbourne said the Andrews government’s proposed introduction of a suburban loop “provides an acknowledgement that that’s what’s failing us,” referencing the difficulty of cross city travel in Melbourne.

“It opens up the idea of another loop service, on the edge of the 5km circle. A South Melbourne, St Kilda, Prahran, Richmond, Clifton Hill circle,” Stone said.

“I do think it will persuade voters, people are hungry for new ways in which the city can function,” he added.

New schools are “vertical”, unlike St Kilda Park Primary. Photo: Lucy Williams.

The overcrowding of schools in the electorate is another congestion issue that needs management. In January, the Education Minister James Merlino said Victorian schools would gain a further 90,000 students over the next five years necessitating vertical schools, a more expensive but compact option for a growing city.

As a parent, Heather Cunsolo said education was a priority for her and she said many community members have been “passionate about getting more local schools”.

“Now there is promise of a new high school and new primary schools already open in the area, people seem fairly happy it is being addressed,” Cunsolo said. 

St Kilda has a high proportion of Greens voters. Their preferences are crucial for Labor.