Greens tackle Calwell’s main social concern

Greens candidate for Calwell Natalie Abboud volunteering with the local community

Greens candidate for Calwell Natalie Abboud volunteering with the local community

For Greens candidate Natalie Abboud, contesting the seat of Calwell is about advocating for better mental health resources and supporting the local LGBTIQA+ community.

Abboud is running at federal level for the second time, after receiving 8.47 per cent of the vote in in 2016. Calwell has been a Labor stronghold since 1984, and its current member Maria Vamvakinou secured the seat for the first time in 2001.

“She will be re-elected,” concedes Abboud. But, for her, the upcoming election is not about winning, but rather having a progressive voice in the area. And after more than two decades with the same federal representative, she’s keen to see change.

Abboud’s particular focus is on improved mental health support for Calwell residents.

By increasing taxes for billionaires, Abboud said the government can fund services through Medicare.

“The Greens just think that if the proper, appropriate amounts of tax were paid by the people who make the most money, like other countries over the world, then the stuff that all the rest of us need can be paid for and provided,” she said.

“The mental health piece is the biggest one for me, seeing how people have been affected by Covid, and the social isolation that exists.”

Recovery for a pandemic hotspot

In a survey conducted by the Salvation Army this year, mental health was the biggest social concern for residents of Calwell, with 49.5 per cent of people ranking it at number one.

Megan Campbell, community awareness officer for Headspace Craigieburn, said that mental health support was especially important for young people in the area amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re really looking at Covid recovery,” Campbell said. “Craigieburn and surrounds were that hotspot for both 2020 and 2021 in terms of Covid infection rates.”

She said the mental health system is incredibly difficult to navigate, especially for younger people, and that long waitlists meant that many seeking help were not receiving immediate care.

“We’re actually seeing a lot more young people stepping up for support than what we were seeing before.”

Another key issue for Abboud is support for the local LGBTIQA+ community.

“The best thing I can achieve is representation, in my opinion,” said Abboud, “because Calwell has the dubious honour of being the electorate with the highest ‘no’ vote for marriage equality.”

Calwell’s 56.8 per cent ‘no’ vote in the 2017 Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey in 2017 was the highest in Victoria.

Abboud said that anyone in Calwell who was impacted by the survey would benefit from having Greens representation, as they consistently championed LGBTIQA+ rights.

Boosting queer representation

Cristina Santa-Isabel, a branch secretary and content developer for Queer Greens Victoria, lives in the electorate of Calwell and says queer representation in the area is vital.

Santa-Isabel, who identifies as pansexual and gender-fluid and uses they/them pronouns, said the Greens’ focus was “equality and creating awareness in the community”. They believed it was important “to combat all the transgender fear mongering that’s happening at the moment”.

Having a Greens presence in the electorate would, Santa-Isabel hoped, “create awareness within Calwell and to show that we’re not boogeymen”.

Santa-Isabel said the area was highly religious, with large Sikh and Muslim populations in the electorate.

Calwell has one of the biggest Arabic-speaking communities in Australia. According to the ABS, 9.5 per cent of people in the area speak the language at home, and Abboud says this community would benefit from more support.

Supporting the Arabic community

“There’s quite a common scenario with certain cohorts in the community, where there’s a little bit of pride about asking for help.

“The people that I know in the Arabic community are some of the most generous people that I could hope to meet, but they’d be the last ones to ask for help.”

For Abboud, who is of Lebanese descent, there’s a personal connection to that community. Abboud herself does not speak Arabic, but her husband, Joseph, speaks Lebanese Arabic.

Abboud’s parents-in-law live in Craigieburn and her husband grew up in the area. She was raised in Carlton with her mother and sister in a single-parent household.

Today, she works at Rumi, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Brunswick East owned by her husband. Together, they have three sons.

In 2016, Abboud was elected to Moreland City Council and in 2018 she served as the Greens Mayor of Moreland. Abboud said four years on the council was enough.

“It’s really important to know when to walk away and let somebody with a different vision and a different perspective put their own tilt on things,” she said.