Labor ranks get a boost from cranky Deakin swingers


An unpaid army of Labor supporters have come out of the woodwork in the comfortable middle-suburban Melbourne electorate of Deakin and thrown themselves into the battle to wrestle the seat off the Liberal Party.

Several of these volunteers told The Citizen it was their first venture into political campaigning, and that they were persuaded to become active because of concerns over the record of sitting member, Michael Sukkar. Mr Sukkar was a prominent backroom player in the toppling of former PM Malcolm Turnbull, and in the failed attempt to install Peter Dutton as leader. He also walked out of Parliament before the historic same-sex marriage vote.

Retiree and mother Andrea Bowden said that at the first Labor volunteer meeting she attended, when people were asked to say why they were there, “the number of people that said, ‘to get rid of Michael Sukkar’ (was) astonishing”.

In other circumstances, the Liberal Party’s 6.4 per cent margin would make it a safe seat. But the electoral fallout of the Coalition’s tumultuous term in government, as reflected in the polls, and Mr Sukkar’s central role in some of that drama, has Labor targeting the seat as a possible long-shot gain for its candidate, Shireen Morris.

The walls of her campaign HQ in Ringwood are plastered with campaign material and whiteboards mark progress towards their goals.  One party source said, “the campaign is huge, the biggest Deakin has seen in a decade or so”. While no figures were given to back up this assertion, the commentary from volunteers flowing through the doors has a consistent thread.

Andrea Bowden, sitting down to explain her involvement, said she decided to volunteer for Labor after the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite. Mr Sukkar was a prominent player in the ‘No’ campaign. His abstaining from the parliamentary vote on account of his conscience angered her and many others in the electorate, where returns from the national postal survey showed overwhelming support for marriage equality, with 65.7 per cent returning a Yes vote – well above the national average.

“He’s our representative so his conscience should say: ‘I am a representative, I need to do what the electorate asked for’. ”

Judy Keville, a retiree who now spends three to five hours a week volunteering on the Morris campaign, described Mr Sukkar as “very polarising”.

“He is just so conservative and, for someone who professes to be a Christian, just so un-Christlike it’s not funny.”

Donna MacKinnon, a teacher, said, “we’ve had Liberal members before, and obviously they haven’t shared my vision or belief of what’s important in society, but not to the degree that Michael Sukkar goes completely against it.”

Richard Kennedy, a technical writer who describes himself as politically centrist, praised Dr Morris as “a good candidate” because of her stances on health, education and climate change.

Mr Kennedy decided to campaign because he believed a Labor government would secure a better future for his young daughter. “I regret not taking more political action.”

Welfare worker Mary French, who until this year had only ever campaigned for environmental groups, said Labor’s planned actions on climate change were what had brought her on board.

“Shireen Morris will be a fantastic advocate for the people of Deakin,” said Ms French.

These new Labor supporters also expressed disappointment at Mr Sukkar’s support of Peter Dutton in the leadership spill last August, and at his absence from a public meeting designed for candidates to spruik their parties’ climate policies.

Mr Sukkar’s team was approached for a response by The Citizen, but chose not to comment.

Emily Johnson is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne.