Dominique Jones gives you the rundown on one of the most interesting contests in this election.
44 kilometres from the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus lies what is set to be one of the most hotly contested seats—the electoral district of Melton. A larger electorate, Melton includes the suburbs of Brookfield, Cobblebank, Exford, Eynesbury, Grangefields, Harkness, Hopetoun Park, Kurunjang, Long Forest, Melton, Melton South, Melton West, Merrimu, Mount Cottrell, Strathtulloh, Toolern Vale, Thornhill Park and Weir Views
Melton is rapidly growing and is projected to reach the population of Canberra by 2050. A relatively young community with a median age of 33 years, it has a rich multicultural character as over a third of the district’s population was born overseas.
Despite this growth in population, fuelled by the injection of new residential estates, Melton’s rate of Year 12 or equivalent attainment remains low at only 60.4%. 2021 Census data also revealed that 33.4% of the district earned a low weekly income and only 8.4% earned a high weekly income.
The Melton district has shown an affinity for continuity, with Labor keeping the seat warm since its inception in 1992. It has only been represented by three ministers — David Cunningham (1992-1999), Don Nardella (1999-2018) and the incumbent representative Steve McGhie (2018-present).
An expenses scandal rocked what would become Nardella’s final term when in 2017 he resigned from the Labor Party over a second residency rort. Nardella had claimed over $100,000 for living expenses in Ocean Grove and Lake Wendouree. After initially refusing to repay the amount, Nardella returned $98,000 of the allowance in instalments later that year. He served the rest of his term as an independent on the crossbench.
Labor’s historical safety in Melton continued to be shaken in 2018, In the last state election, there was a 15.5% swing against Labor’s first preference votes and a 6.9% against Labor in the two-party preferred polls.
Despite Melton’s fast expansion, the electorate’s inadequate infrastructure will be one of, if not the most, contentious voting issues. With 63.5% of Melton residents travelling to work by car, roads are at the forefront of citizens’ concerns. Congestion on the often-gridlocked Western Highway was at the centre of the Melton City Council’s Fix Our Roads campaign earlier this year.
The Victorian Liberal Party last month pledged to fund a $900 million road upgrade package. If elected, $700 million would be allocated to the Western Highway, $177 million to duplicate the one-way Melton Highway that connects Melton to Taylors Lake and the Western and Calder Freeway and $91 to duplicate Taylors Road. In contrast, Labor has only allocated $14.9 million for works on the Melton Highway as part of the state budget.
The next most important issue is the new hospital for the district, for which plans were announced by the Victorian government in 2019. Currently, construction of the hospital is set to begin in 2024, but if elected, the Liberals have pledged to begin construction within 12 months. The capacity of the hospital, currently projected to be at least 274 beds, has also been a matter of debate, with independent candidate Dr Ian Birchall maintaining that only a 500-bed hospital would be adequate.
Plaguing the Melton district is its growing indifference to politics and the major parties. In the last state election, 10% of the district’s votes were deemed informal. Additionally, more Melton citizens are veering away from Labor and Liberal as Birchall (Independent) received 10.47% of the 2018 first preference votes.
Here are the major candidates running for the Melton seat in 2022.
Steve McGhie (Labor): McGhie has been the representative for Melton since 2018 after replacing the original Labor candidate for Melton, Justin Mammarella, weeks before the election. He was a former paramedic and secretary of the Ambulance Employee Association before joining parliament. From July this year, he has served as Cabinet Secretary after previously acting as the Parliamentary Secretary for Health. His campaign has rested largely upon plans for a new TAFE, the removal of three level crossings, school upgrades, and following through on Labor’s hospital promise.
Graham Watt (Liberal): A former athletics champion and small business owner, Watt served as the member for Burwood from 2010-2018. During his time in parliament, Watt was the Chair of the Coalitions Jobs and Business Committee (2014-2018) and was a member of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. Watt has maintained that a Liberal state government will fix the Melton Highway and Western Freeway, accelerat construction of the Melton hospital and oversee the cessation of toxic soil dumping.
Dr Ian Birchall (Independent): Dr Birchall continues his contest for the Melton seat after running as an independent for the first time in 2018. Dr Birchall is currently the manager of the Neuropathology department at the Florey Institute. He, along with other Melton residents and professionals, formed the Melton Hospital Group which sought to bring attention to the district’s dire need for a hospital. His main policies include a fast-tracked 500-bed hospital, the accelerated construction of higher education facilities and road and rail infrastructure as well as an increase in IBAC’s powers.
Jarrod James Bingham (Independent): 31-year-old Bingham is a local snake catcher and former councillor. In the federal election, he ran as an independent for Hawke and remains committed to “catching those snakes in Parliament” at the state level. Bingham is a fervent opponent of the Western Renewables Link which will see nearly 200 kilometres of overhead electricity lines be placed from western Victoria through to Sydenham. His campaign insists that if elected he would not vote for new taxes and would advocate for better population growth management and the widening of freeways. Bingham is also not a fan of “career politicians”, and has called for maximum terms of service and mandatory sentencing for politicians who rort the system.
Only Saturday will reveal the destiny of this marginal seat, which lays in the hands of the citizens of Melton.
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