The blue hills of Aston


Aston: And electorate of contrasts

The Division of Aston is nestled in the foothills of the Yarra Ranges. It is a network of sleepy working-class suburbs, spread before the hills like a series of doormats. Despite each suburb being part of the same electorate, the atmosphere changes dramatically as you travel from township to township.

The electorate is home to the drug-addled Boronia, the retiree-city of Ferntree Gully, the buried rainforests of the Basin, the lost-in-space air of Rowville, the taste of the country in the paddocks of Lysterfield, the chameleon atmosphere of the elusive Wantirna, all sliced from the city side by the Eastlink cutting the land like a scar.

Aston has been a safe Liberal seat since 1990. The current MP, former Minister for Education and Liberal stalwart, Alan Tudge, has been re-elected three times, and according to his website, his current priorities are addressing “congestion”, “community safety”, “community infrastructure” and “jobs and small business” – in that order.  These priorities are not surprising when one considers, in the mortgage belt that is Aston, there are 45,145 family units within of its population of 159,103.

Almost 70 percent of Aston’s families have children and, of the 34.8 percent of couples without, one can only speculate on how many are planning. An MP who used to be the Minister of Education (ie Alan Tudge) would make an attractive vote for families planning to send their 1.8 average children to school.

This is especially relevant in suburbs that rank in the middle indexes of Relative Socio-Economic Advantage and Disadvantage (IRSAD), and Education and Occupation (IEO). The average median weekly income in Aston is $1,884 per household, and $797 per person. So not disadvantaged, but not necessarily advantaged either. Despite the shabbiness compared to neighboring electorates, the Aston people seem to get by just fine.

In his key speech Universities and the Economy: Suggested Priorities of the new Labor Government, Tudge addressed economic growth in the context of education, detailing the expansion much of Aston seems to be lacking.

“The second substantial reform of recent years that I mention today, and was my top priority when I was Minister, was the reforms to help make our brilliant research more impactful and more relevant to Australia’s economic needs; to translate it into commercial applications and in doing so, boost productivity, create jobs and new industries,” he said.

And then recently, in late 2020, it was revealed Tudge had an affair in 2017 with former staffer, Rachelle Miller. The following year, Miller claimed their relationship was at times “abusive”.

Yet despite Liberal having held this seat for so long, the history of Aston is a rather mellow one. When compared to neighbouring divisions, not much has changed. Here middle-aged men are still seen drinking in the park, some kids are still taught by their families that people different from them are ‘wrong’, and family violence is largely unchanged since 2016.

In the 2022 election, there was a 7.32 percent vote swing toward the Labor party in a two-party-preferred result. Overall, Liberal had lost 11.64 percent of overall votes since the last election. It will be interesting to see which way the votes swing next.

When you drive into Aston, you fall into the area, then you rise again when you leave for the mountains. You fall and you cruise, underneath the tranquility of the mountains surrounding the horizon there’s a pervasive sense of stagnation. Many buildings aren’t up-kept. The roads are rough and patchy where they’ve been mended like old pants. The businesses are either dated and rooted, or hip and incoherent. Change doesn’t sweep through the area. Instead it seems to thaw out, slowly, drip by drip.