By Jenny Bates
27 July, 2013
Melbourne’s outer western suburbs of Werribee, Hoppers Crossing, Laverton, Point Cook, Little River, Werribee South, Wyndham Vale, and parts of Altona Meadows are just some of the areas belonging to the federal seat of Lalor, soon to be vacated by Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard.
Wyndham City is the local council, with the principal areas of population at Werribee and Hoppers Crossing, although there is substantial growth in Tarneit, Point Cook, Truganina and Wyndham Vale, as well as the newest suburb Williams Landing.
Werribee South is home to one of the most significant market garden regions in Victoria, with 70 per cent of our lettuce grown there. Laverton North is a major industrial area and Point Cook is the birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force. Werribee itself is home to Werribee Park Mansion, Victoria’s Open Range Zoo and the State Equestrian Centre.
The estimated population at June 2013 was 187,788, indicating a 7.1 per cent annual growth rate. Wyndham has experienced the largest and fastest growth in all Victorian local government areas and is the third fastest growing in Australia. Its estimated residential population is set to exceed 245,000 people by 2021.
The electorate is named after the leader of the 1854 Eureka Stockade Rebellion, Peter Lalor, and has a history of colourful characters. It is the only electorate to have elected two deputy prime ministers, Dr Jim Cairns in the Whitlam government and Julia Gillard in the Rudd government. Barry Jones, a leading activist and academic, was the member for Lalor from 1977 until 1998, when Premier John Brumby’s chief of staff Julia Gillard won the seat.
As prime minister, Julia Gillard was subjected to unprecedented personal attacks, many of which were gender related. One result of this treatment of Lalor’s MP, from within and outside the ALP, may be that Lalor is no longer the very safe seat everyone assumes it to be. In my opinion Labor’s 22.1 per cent majority will be reduced. The ALP’s attempt to parachute Lisa Clutterham into the seat – in disregard of local members – upset people even before she said in a radio interview her only connection to Lalor was through her partner visiting family there as a child. Lisa sensibly decided not to run for pre-selection.
Only once in Lalor’s 64-year history has it been won by the Liberal Party (1966). Could the ALP, with its party politics, be pushing Lalor towards the Liberals once again?
Living in Wyndham and experiencing the effects of rapid growth on public transport, roads and infrastructure as well as hearing concerns and complaints from other residents, I can safely say people are not happy. While these are not federal issues, if people feel they are not being looked after it doesn’t matter whether it is a council, state or federal election – the sitting representative will be punished. Considering the sitting MP lost her prime ministership role due to party shenanigans and will not be contesting the seat, the punishment could be aimed at the ALP.
As a lifelong resident of Melbourne’s west (apart from the first four years in England) and belonging to a generation that benefited from Whitlam’s reforms, in particular free tertiary education, my political leanings have always been to the left. During the last few years of John Howard’s reign I could no longer stomach what Australia was becoming. The demonisation of asylum seekers through provocative language encouraged by the Howard government and spread by the media was so disturbing I felt the only way to have a say was to join a political party.
I contacted Ms Gillard, who recommended I join the local branch. I remained a member for a few years and enjoyed the experience, but became concerned with the direction of the ALP regarding asylum seekers and marriage equality. I also came to believe (rightly or wrongly) that the party was being used by some as a step towards obtaining council seats.
So I resigned from the party, but I know for a fact that many politicians become involved because of their social conscience and a desire to help their community become a better place. I do not envy these brave, community-minded people, because the abuse and media scrutiny they are subject to would curl the hair of a bald man.
Lalor has six declared candidates representing the ALP, DLP, Greens, Liberal, Palmer United Party and the Stable Population Party. The ALP, Greens and Liberals are well known, but what of the others? During the course of this journey I will find out more about these parties and their candidates. Hopefully I will discover if any or all of the six are able to help Lalor with the issues confronting the fastest growing area in Melbourne.
I had the privilege of meeting Julia Gillard and she was gracious enough to allow me to take a picture of her with my young cousin Mia Brittain, a huge Julia fan. Julia’s amazing legacy will be remembered and history will show the real story. Julia has also given inspiration to young people from the western suburbs, especially young red-headed girls such as my cousin, who we said to Julia at the time of the photo was her ‘mini me’.
Julia has given young girls the hope and knowledge that they too can become anything they want to be. There was a time living in the west – a working class area struggling with many issues – meant you would go nowhere, but with people like Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon the west is now a place people one can be proud to belong to.
Julia Gillard has left very big shoes to be filled, and it is my intention to find out if any of the candidates vying for the seat of Lalor are up to the task. I do not know whom I will vote for in the federal election this year, which makes this exercise very important for me.
ABC Radio interview with Jon Faine