Talking tough challenges in Tarneit

Photo Julius Dennis
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The ALP's Sarah Connolly sees opportunities in infrastructure planning to ensure "great lives" in a fast-growing electorate where youth crime has been highly publicised. Madeline Bourn reports.

Sarah Connolly may have her work cut out for her. But she’s confident she’s the right person for Tarneit, an electorate desperate for recognition and reprieve.

Aggravated crimes in the fast-growing region have been highly publicised and a police taskforce created to tackle youth gang-related crime in the area.

Connolly, a mother of Emily, 7, and five year-old Leo, plans to take that all on. “It’s a big job, and I think we’re facing big challenges,” Connolly says. “But with those challenges come enormous opportunity.”

She was preselected for the Labor-held seat after MP Telmo Languiller resigned last year over controversial expense claims, indicating he would not contest the election.

“I’m very much about running a positive campaign,” she says. “Tackling the big issues we’re facing, but finding the long-term solutions to ensure we live great lives out here.

“I haven’t come from the political arena, I haven’t been a staffer. I’ve come from a very different background with a very different set of skills but I intend to bring a very high standard to the electorate.”

Connolly graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor’s Degree in Law in 2004 and has since worked in the justice system and energy industry.

She and her family moved from Brisbane three years ago after her husband, Scott, was offered the job of assistant secretary at the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

In Melbourne, she started work at the Department of Justice within the infringement management and enforcement services group. Within seven months she chose to move back into the energy industry.

“In Queensland I was doing a lot of regulation, pricing, lobbying of governments, writing legislation, interpreting legislation. I decided to do something different- and get into customer engagement,” Connolly says.

She recently left that job to campaign full-time.

Connolly and her young family live in Altona North, on the outer southern fringe of the electorate.

“I decided to put my hand up to run because I’m raising my family in the west, and I want families to have a really strong voice,” says Connolly.

She believes her expertise in infrastructure planning will aid the growing electorate, as she has years of experience in the distribution and transmission sectors of the energy industry.

Connolly says that she has five main priorities for the area: education, public transport, roads, job growth and opportunities, and community safety.

“Schools and education, particularly for some of the migrant populations that are [in the electorate], are really important,” Connolly says. “Crime is also a really complex issue… I don’t want any family, including my own, to feel unsafe in their own home.”

The Tarneit electorate offers a unique challenge, as it is such a high-growth area with such a diverse range of people.

Nearly half the households in Tarneit are two-parent households, compared to the 32 per cent state average, with the most common ancestries being Indian, English, Australian and Filipino.

When asked about the expansion of the area, Connolly says, “it’s interesting because a large proportion of this electorate wasn’t here five years ago.”

“Population growth, I tell people, is a big stick and we need to use it to get what we need out here. And we need someone who knows how to use it to get things done.”

She acknowledges the high levels of diversity in the area. However, she sees it as more of an opportunity than something that will hinder her campaign.

“It is a very multicultural growth area out here,” the Labor candidate says. “It is one of the largest Indian and south Asian populations in the state.  It doesn’t matter where you’re born, where you came from, why you moved here, the colour of your skin, your culture or your religious background. We’re family people. We’re parents.

“I don’t want any child to feel ashamed of where they come from. I don’t want any child to feel ashamed to say I’m from Tarneit.”

Connolly says she believes there is no better time for someone to be a loud and proud advocate for the electorate, and that no one is more fit for the job than herself.

“It’s a pocket in time we need to get right,” she says.