Redistribution turbulence in Monbulk


Monbulk: A safe seat or is turbulence ahead?

The 2022 boundary redistributions put the Monbulk electorate around the string of towns commonly referred to as “the hills”. Made up of lush temperate rainforests, charming semi- rural suburbia and pastoral landscapes, the district of Monbulk is home to the many intimate and bustling communities defining the culture of the hills.

Hitch a ride from Belgrave on Victoria’s iconic Puffing Billy Railway and stop off at Emerald “the gem of the hills” – if you’re lucky you’ll catch the monthly markets. Head east for another 15 minutes and you’ll arrive in Gembrook, a quiet yet thriving town nestled on the fringes of the Bunyip State Park.

Monbulk MP James Merlino has helped Labor maintain a tight grip on the electorate since 2002 – he even managed to retain the seat after Labor lost government in 2010 with a 1,417 vote difference. However, since Merlino’s resignation in June, and with the redistributions bringing in fresh voters, Labor’s new candidate Daniela De Martino has big shoes to fill.

“I believe bars should be set high and that’s what I would aim to achieve,” she said in an interview with The Ranges Trader.

De Martino said her experience working in unions and small businesses shaped her campaign, focusing on local business rights and the environment. She said it’s “vital” we take care of our ecosystem.

“Because we’re still living in it,” she said.

De Martino, and her Liberal opposition Gareth Ward, are both parents, and both have experience in owning their own local business. Their similarities only place more weight on their actions as they share concerns in local businesses and the state of the environment.

A concern among many families, who make up roughly three quarters of the district’s population according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is rebuilding after the 2021 June storm event. The 24-hour wrath of heavy wind and rainfall left 98 homes uninhabitable and a further 86 significantly damaged according to Habitat for Humanity Australia.

While De Martino proposes $1.06 million in funding for stormwater management – an issue which has plagued towns like Olinda for decades – Ward is promising to deliver a brand new $8 million SES unit in Monbulk if the Liberals are elected in November.

Monbulk is considered a safe Labor seat in the up-coming election. But, according to the ABS, youth aged 0 to 19 make up 28.1 percent of the population. So it is little wonder the emerging generation of voters are a consideration in the development of policy.

Events such as the Ignite Youth Festival (IYF) are significant in providing a “slice of entertainment” within the community, event producer Harrison Ashford said.

Ashford said the post-pandemic stress had strained children and adolescents from their usual social opportunities, an issue the 21-year-old Ashford aims to combat.

Ashford  said the Ignite Youth Festival, which took place at Emerald’s Gemco Theatre in June, gave younger people a “safe space” to explore their creative passions.

“We want [the Ignite Youth Festival] to be the likes of Auskick in the creative industry – offering a pathway to the AFL of the creative industry,” Ashford said.

The seat of Monbulk has always been a yawn during election time, and Labor’s dominance has left Liberal in the dust for the last two decades. Yet factors like boundary redistributions, a stalwart’s resignation and an emerging voter-base bring turbulence to the otherwise