Dreyfus fighting fit to regain Isaacs margin

Mark Dreyfus running for Isaacs. Source: Facebook.
Mark Dreyfus hopes to win the seat of Isaacs campaigning on jobs, housing affordability and transport. Caitlin Dougherty and Davina Deluao report.

Mark Dreyfus, former federal attorney-general and member for the Melbourne bayside seat of Isaacs, hopes to regain some of what was lost at the last election in a campaign expected to be dominated by jobs, housing affordability and transport

Mr Dreyfus, who is seeking his fourth term after about a decade in federal parliament, claims the Labor Party is “match fit” and ready to take on a divided and demoralised Government.

“We are united, have a set of policies and ready for the election,” he said.

He holds the seat by 3.9 per cent after a 6.6 per cent swing in the 2013 election campaign to the Liberal Party candidate, Garry Spencer, who will also be contesting the seat this election.

Key campaign issues are expected to be rising unemployment, housing affordability and the future of manufacturing in an electorate that is expected to be hit hard by winding-down of the motor industry.

The potential loss of hundreds of jobs from the closure of up to 90 factories involved in the car industry and the doubling of house prices over the past decade are issues that a future Labor Government would tackle, he said.

Mr Dreyfus, 59, said he has been involved in political issues all his life but became “angered and disillusioned” about party politics during his years as law student at Melbourne University following Gough Whitlam’s sacking by the Governor-General John Kerr in 1975.

Before launching a highly successful career as a barrister and Queen’s Council he worked with Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory on ground-breaking land rights’ reforms.

He has also served on the Victorian Bar Ethics Committee and Victorian Bar Council.

Mr Dreyfus was conceived in Vienna, where his parents were both studying music, and born in Perth.

His parents, who had been Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Nazi Germany, instilled in him the importance of individual liberty, human rights and a “belief in the value of political action”.

One of his earliest political memories is from the early 1970s standing with his father outside the former Olympic Park athletics’ centre, now the home of Collingwood Football Club, to protest the tour of the South African rugby team and the apartheid regime.

Both his father and half-brother are composers and his children also play instruments. He still plays trumpet.

Mr Dreyfus was a scholarship student at prestigious Scotch College, bowing to his mother’s wishes that he should attend the private school rather than his father who wanted him to attend government-funded Melbourne High.

“I always conscious of having more left-wing views than almost all the people at Scotch,” he says about a school that has been an incubator for conservative prime ministers and premiers.

He joined the Darwin branch of the ALP in 1979  when working for the Aboriginal Land Rights Council as a field officer liaising with local communities about strategies and resolving issues.

To secure his preselection for the seat of Isaacs and successfully contest the 2007 election he joined the powerful right wing faction that included party power brokers’ such as Robert Ray and Bob Hawke.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he had spent decades working in the outside community as a lawyer, rather than moving through the party as a trade union official, party organiser, ministerial adviser and then candidate.

“I brought experience and some qualities to the job,” he said about his forensic research and questioning skills he has used to successfully attack government improprieties.

Mr. Dreyfus said it is “hard to tell” why Isaac’s vote swung back to the Liberals in the last election.

“I’d be interested to find out,” he says, having spent hours analysing the result with his team of political veterans.

Isaacs is a diverse mix of incomes, ethnicities, occupations, age groups, aspirations and communities of about 63,000 households and more than 100,000 voters, he said.

If re-elected he would like to continue his reforms of the legal system, which include boosting funding for legal aid, strengthening whistle-blowing protections and creating cohesive human rights protections.

He believes the Opposition’s policies will tackle rising house prices, by restricting negative gearing, reduce hospital waiting lists, complement state health and education reforms and make Australia a fairer and better place to live.