House calls in Higgins

Paediatrician Dr Katie Allen, who suffered a significant loss in the Victorian election late last year in the Greens-held seat of Prahran, is hoping to succeed retiring MP Kelly O’Dwyer in the federal seat of Higgins this month.O’Dwyer, the Minister for Women, held the seat through three elections after winning a 2009 by-election to replace Australia’s longest-serving treasurer Peter Costello. She enjoyed an eight per cent margin ahead of the Greens at the 2016 federal election and announced early this year she was quitting federal politics to spend time with her young family.Prime Minister Scott Morrison had predicted O’Dwyer would be replaced by a woman, amid criticism of the relatively small number of elected female Liberal representatives.

Dr Allen, who defeated eight others including former Victorian Liberal vice president Greg Hannan, is facing a tougher challenge than she had initially signed up for with Labor replacing its candidate with high-profile lawyer Fiona McLeod late in the piece.

The affluent electorate in Melbourne’s east has historically been a Liberal stronghold. It has held Higgins since Prime Minister to be Harold Holt first entered parliament in 1949. This month’s federal election is the first time that a genuine competition for the seat is expected. The Liberals have never received less than half the votes.

A resident of the area for over 40 years, Dr Allen describes herself as a “Higgins Liberal”, saying more socially-progressive views than encountered  in the party reflect the concerns in a diverse and well-educated electorate.

Climate change has been identified by the Higgins residents as the issue that will most influence votes for this election, which could undermine Liberal prospects in Higgins.

“We need a sustainable future…a strong and sustainable environmental policy,” Dr Allen said in a candidate debate hosted by Joy FM. “I actually agree that we have to start weaning ourselves off fossil fuel. We need a proper plan to do that and we need to build a sustainable economy that’s using innovative technology.”

Dr Allen’s candidacy has received significant attention as the Liberals’ predicted margin shrinks and the electorate becomes more of a point of interest for political commentators.

Her campaigning efforts favour a grassroots approach, her frequently updated Instagram account documents early mornings at local train stations to talk to commuters, visits to local businesses, and other more official campaign events. The Liberal candidate’s campaign team declined an interview request.

“At a personal level I am interested in health, education and a sustainable future,” Dr Allen told us in the lead up to last year’s state election. “As someone who has got enormous experience in health and education I’d like to see innovation and progressive views being supported in parliament.”

The Liberal candidate is standing despite a 10 per cent swing against her in the state election late last year in the Greens-held seat of Prahran. Prahran became one of the most interesting and down to the wire seats of the election, as votes were incredibly close between the three parties. Preferences eventually ensured the seat remained in the hands of Greens’ Sam Hibbins. Higgins shares suburbs South Yarra, Prahran and Toorak with the state electorate.