Hawthorn – an ultra-marginal seat taken by Labor at the last election – has become a focus of the upcoming state election, with several minor parties and independents hoping to flip the seat.
It sits within the federal seat of Kooyong, which in May made the historic decision to elect teal Independent Dr Monique Ryan, defeating the treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Now Melissa Lowe hopes to pull off another surprise.
The 52-year-old works at Swinburne University as manager of student equity and is taking leave without pay. “I love my job. In fact, during this time, I was going to be acting director of student engagement, so I’ve given up quite a bit to step out into this,” she said.
Being announced as the teal independent candidate for Hawthorn was “a total surprise”, she said. “I never expected to be doing this.”
Lowe is campaigning on big issues such as the environment, economy and health, which could play well in a seat with the median age of 33. “Integrity, affordable housing, faster uptake of renewables and a stop to using and searching for fossil fuels,” are just some of the issues she outlined. But some bigger issues, such as broken promises amongst Parliament, are also on the agenda.
The former Labor Party member says Victoria needs more accountability. “There’s a lack of integrity within Australian politics. It has become a total joke,” Ms Lowe said.
This shared view of broken promises is also a concern for the residents of Hawthorn. Local resident Luke Privitera said he worried about liability. “In parliament there needs to be more emphasis on accountability in that if someone does something wrong or illegal, they don’t just get a slap on the wrist,” he said.
Privitera is also worried about the potential of a rise in extreme politics. “I am most concerned about some kind of right-wing party getting into power, like what is happening in the US and UK, pushing us backwards and women losing rights.”
Lowe wants to address issues such as climate change, the cost of living and providing quality education, but Hawthorn locals have some issues close to home they are concerned about.
“Extending the free tram zones, providing better public housing and free public transport” are all important issues that need to be addressed if Ms Lowe hopes to win the Kooyong seat this November election, Privitera said.
But the big-picture issues such as climate change and the environment are Lowe’s highest priority. “I’m so passionate about doing something about the environment. It’s a climate emergency,” she says.
Publicly announcing her support for the Climate Emergency Declaration, Lowe has a very thorough action plan that she hopes will win her support from environmentally conscious voters.
Ahead of the election, minor changes to the electorate boundaries come into effect. While the Kooyong electorate loses parts of Glen Iris, Burwood South and Ashwood, they will also gain voters from Camberwell, Surrey Hills and Box Hill. This is good news for Labor, with their 0.4 per cent margin from the 2018 election nudging up to an estimated 0.6 per cent.
Labor MP John Kennedy, who defeated Liberal John Pesutto at the last election, holds the seat on a knife’s edge. Kennedy claimed a narrow victory of 0.84 per cent in 2018, giving Hawthorn its first Labor win since 1955. Pesutto returns as the Liberal candidate in 2022.
The 74-year-old lives in a retirement village near Glenferrie Oval, and focuses his efforts towards investment for schools, sports clubs, public housing and public transport infrastructure.
Kennedy says climate change is an area where this government is delivering for Victorians, contradicting Lowe’s biggest policy of the need for stronger climate action.
Hawthorn is one of 14 marginal seats in Victoria.