Former ALP stronghold on a knife edge


Joshua Benitez

View from St Kilda Pier in the seat of Macnamara.

The marginal seat of Macnamara will most likely see one of the closest races in the 2019 federal election. The polls indicate a tightly fought three-way neck and neck competition between Liberal, Labor and the Greens.

After 113 years of Australian Labor Party (ALP) rule, Macnamara could change colour for the first time since it was formed in 1906, according to polls.

South of the Melbourne central business district, the electoral division is the smallest in Victoria, covering an area of approximately 41 square kilometres that includes Caulfield, Port Melbourne, St Kilda and parts of Albert Park, Balaclava, Elsternwick, Elwood, Middle Park, Ripponlea and South Melbourne.

In the 2018 redistribution, the inner metropolitan electorate of Melbourne Ports was renamed Macnamara in honour of scientist Jean Macnamara (1899-1968). She was famous for her research and extensive work with children affected by polio.

The seat has also gained the suburb of Windsor from neighbouring electorate Higgins, reducing the gap between Labor and the Greens to 0.3 %.

In 2016, ALP incumbent MP Michael Danby beat the Greens’ candidate Steph Hodgins-May by only 477 votes at the first-preference stage. Second-party preferences secured the seat for Mr Danby against the Liberal’s Owen Guest.

Labor has won the seat in 43 consecutive elections, but in the last decade support for the ALP has significantly dropped due to shifting demographics.

As the once poor, industrial area of Port Melbourne went through extreme gentrification and housing development, a vast majority of wharf labourers was replaced by professionals living in bayside mansions. According to the 2016 census, the city of Port Phillip, which covers most of the electorate, is now the second richest in Victoria after Stonnington.

The seat is home to a relatively young and highly educated population, with a median age of 35 and with 44.4 % of people holding a bachelor degree or above, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

This change has contributed to a jump in Greens’ preferences from 16.4 % in 2007 to 27.6 % in 2016. The Coalition saw a gain of 2.8 % in 2016, while Labor experienced a significant loss of 14.5 points in the last federal election.

Notably, Macnamara’s Jewish population is one of the biggest in Australia and constitutes 9.9 % of the electorate. This is reflected in the candidatures of Labor’s Josh Burns and Liberal’s Kate Ashmor, who both have Jewish ancestry.

Retiring MP Michael Danby, who is part of the conservative Labor Right, has been at the centre of various controversies in the past few years, especially due to his stands on the Israel-Palestine conflict which has caused tensions with the Greens.

Mr Burns, however, seems to be taking a more progressive position than his predecessor.

Progress was in fact at the core of the statements made by the ALP candidate, who took part in the Macnamara Candidates Forum on Climate Change and Energy. The forum was held on April 3 and organised by several environmental groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

In a fully packed St Kilda Town Hall, Mr Burns spoke with fervour, often interrupted by heartfelt applause in the audience. “I want to be part of a progressive Labor government”, said the young candidate.

“We don’t want coal to be part of our future,” he added.

Surfing on an even bigger wave of support, Greens’ candidate Hodgins-May made an emotional pledge to turn Macnamara green and finally take the long awaited second seat for her party in the House of Representatives.

The same could not be said for Liberal’s Kate Ashmor, who found herself in clear contrast with her two adversaries while defending her parties’ policies to protect jobs and tackle climate change in an “achievable and responsible way”.

The event showed the engagement of the Macnamara community and confirmed claims that environmental policies will indeed play a major part in deciding the results of this election. A large majority of attendees raised their hands when asked whether they oppose the construction of the Adani coal mine, and whether action on Climate Change will impact their vote.

Among members of the audience were several high school students who took part in the March 15 climate rallies in Melbourne.

Sixteen-year-old Albert Park college student Eloisa Moses-McMahon eloquently addressed the three candidates, speaking for millions of young students worldwide. “We need you to listen to our demands,” she said, galvanising a standing ovation, “we need you to be the climate leaders.”