The different faces and missions of Peta Murphy

 Labor candidate Peta Murphy in front of campaign signage at her campaign office in Carrum Downs

Labor candidate Peta Murphy in front of campaign signage at her campaign office in Carrum Downs

In photos taken with voters in Dunkley, Labor candidate Peta Murphy comes across as a friendly presence. Yet in person she is also driven to engage with the community and to win office.  

Her hours are largely spent out there ‘’on the ground’’, where her electoral fortunes will be decided. “One day I did 200 houses,” she says. Her Instagram and Facebook pages are filled with pictures of her engaging with the local community.  

When The Junction caught up with her on the campaign trail, she said her emphasis on speaking to residents was really striking a chord with them: “They are seeing me have the sort of meetings and the sort of conversations as the candidate that I would want to have as the member.” 

Preselected via the usual rank-and-file process, Murphy won overwhelming support from local Labor branches. She was also the Labor candidate in 2016, when she lost to current MP Chris Crewther by around 2600 votes after preferences.  

The former barrister has a background in criminology, a field she chose in the belief it would be of social benefit and help her examine the cycles of disadvantage many people become trapped in.  

Murphy worked in this policy area before transferring to practise law at Victorian Legal Aid.  

“I decided that I didn’t want to be the sort of person who was a purported expert in a policy area but hadn’t actually worked in the system,” she said.  

After the 2013 election, Murphy was one of the founders of Open Labor, a group that sought to change the ALP from the inside, to make it more open and optimistic.  

According to another founding member, James Button, Open Labor believed “the ALP needed to become a larger party, involving more Australians from a greater range of backgrounds, and that one vital way to grow was to become more inclusive and participatory”. 

Sean Cooney, a professor at the University of Melbourne and former member of Open Labor, said the organisation involved people both inside and outside of the Labor Party.  

“It was more about how you go about making policy and trying to have open discussions about things without necessarily saying, ‘Well, some committee decides and then everyone else [will] fall in line, ” Cooney said, describing Open Labor’s goal as a “thoughtful approach to policy formation”.   

For Murphy, the group represented “good policy” and “good politics”.  

“We want to see a positive politics and as many people as possible democratically participating in both our party and our politics. For me, that’s fundamentally what I’ve always believed in and pursued, and that’s what I’ve done in many different guises, including involvement in Open Labor.” 

Cooney said the organisation, and Murphy alike, aimed to “actually get beyond slogans and say, ‘Hang on, what is the problem here and how can we engage people to solve it?  

These days, Murphy is not involved with Open Labor. But she continues to practise the organisation’s values.  

For Murphy, the engagement means spending most of  her time speaking to local community members. Sometimes this means door knocking, other times it means picking up the phone herself or attending community forums.  

“You know, people in Dunkley haven’t met their federal member of Parliament,” she saidHe hasn’t knocked on their door, he hasn’t been around. When they see me standing on their doorstep and they see that, you know, I’m a local resident, I’m a normal person  I also say to them: I want you to be able to talk to me.”  

Murphy sees education as a key issue for the electorate.  

With the Labor Party, she has been campaigning for increased funding in the public school system and for TAFE nationwide. On the campaign trail, she spoke to Frankston High School, Monterey Secondary College, and other schools and local youth sports clubs. For Dunkley, there will be $26 million invested in local schools.  

She also sees education as a key factor in understanding crime. On measures to improve public safety, she said, “There’s no one answer. And people who pretend that there’s a simple answer, I think, are misleading the public.” 

She traces part of the problem to a decrease in education funding over the years: “Because there’s been billions of dollars ripped out of the public education system; because TAFE has been absolutely gutted by the Liberal Government, apprenticeships are down; we need to make sure that we are investing in education, training and opportunities, that everyone can access. 

“All our local schools have had from Scott Morrison and Chris Crewther are cuts.” 

According to Murphy, the people of Dunkley are frustrated with the current Federal Government.  

“People are sick of the dysfunction and the chaos and they understand the difference between what they’re seeing and a Government that quite frankly they didn’t vote for.” 

 Murphy sees disinterest and apathy in politics as one of the symptoms of this dissatisfaction. 

 “I want to be part of making people have faith again in federal politics, and the last six years with the Liberal-National parties has seen it broken.” 

 Named after Louisa Margaret Dunkley, union leader and feminist who founded the Victorian Women’s Post and Telegraph Association in 1900, the electorate has never been represented by a woman.  

 “I would be the first one if I’m elected, and it seems to me you couldn’t fight for anything better than [Louisa Dunkley’s values of] fairness, equality, and community,” Murphy said. “People say it’s time: it’s time for a change.”  

 The prospect of having a female representative is resonating with many voters. Alexander Nedanovski, a pensioner living in Frankston, prefers the Labor Party because it has more women.  

 Under the 2018 redistribution, Labor’s best prospects of winning Dunkley have shifted to the north of the seat – parts of affluent Mornington are gone, replaced by Carrum Downs – and Murphy has followed suit, locating her campaign office there.  

 Dunkley, which previously sat on a Liberal margin of 1.4 per cent, is now theoretically Labor-leaning by 1.3 per cent.  

 For Murphy, Labor is a group of “really talented, committed people … If we’re lucky enough to win the election,” she predicted, “we’ll be a strong and united government.”