Bentleigh: A key seat up for grabs in Melbourne’s sandbelt

The heart of the Bentleigh electorate. Picture: Sally Cooper

By  DARIA IMPIOMBATO

With less than 1 per cent the margin between Labor and Liberal, Bentleigh is one of the most marginal seats in the election.

Labor MP Nick Staikos currently holds the seat with the uncomfortably small buffer of 0.78 per cent.

Located in Melbourne’s southern metropolitan region, the residential electorate of Bentleigh has historically been a race to the last vote between Liberal and Labor in the Victorian state elections, and according to polls this year won’t be any different.

Bentleigh is a must win seat if the Opposition is to win back government. In 2014, Mr Staikos beat former Liberal MP Elizabeth Miller by the slimmest of margins.

Main points of his campaign are  concerns about Medicare cuts, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and pensioner entitlements.

This year, Mr Staikos will be facing Liberal politician Asher Judah, former Victorian deputy executive director of the Property Council of Australia.

The electoral district lies 12km southeast of the Melbourne CBD and includes the suburbs of Bentleigh, McKinnon, Moorabbin and, from 2014, Hampton East, as well as parts of Bentleigh East, Brighton East and Ormond, on an area of 21 sq  km.

The recent redistribution favours the Liberals, polls suggest.

BENTLEIGH
Held by:  Nick Staikos (ALP)
Since: 2014
Swing at the 2014 election: +1.7 per cent
Key comments: Bentleigh is a knife-edge seat usually held by the party in government. It's safe neighbourhoods and well-known public schools keep attracting many young families and the electorate's population is on the rise. It’s a must win to form government.

In his inaugural speech back in 2014, Mr Staikos stressed the importance of community issues such as  the education maintenance allowance, the expansion of local camps in Moorabbin, and public health issues such as social isolation and mental illness.

Since gaining power in 2014 the Labor Government has completed the removal of three level crossings at Centre Rd, North Rd and McKinnon Rd and has invested heavily in local schools.

In fact, in accordance with the Andrews Government’s core agenda, the administration focused on public spending on infrastructure, and in particular on public transport and education.

The level crossing removals affected local businesses, and rallies were organised in July 2016 by local business owners criticising the Government’s lack of support while infrastructure works were carried out.

Created in 1967, the seat of Bentleigh was originally held by the Liberals until 1979, when it was gained by Labor. It has changed party representation many times since, but has usually been held by the incumbent government. 

With the closing down of the car manufacturing industry, many workers were made redundant in the industrial areas of Moorabbin and East Bentleigh, and this created a switch to the service industry.

Now, only 5 per cent of the employed are labourers, while the vast majority are professionals, clerical and administrative workers and managers.

Bentleigh today represents an interesting mixture of cultures, where ageing pensioners live next to young families and where approximately 45 per cent of residents have parents born overseas.

The strong population growth in Bentleigh has caused infrastructure problems such as traffic and urban planning, as families move to the south-eastern suburbs attracted by new housing developments and well-known state schools.

The city of Glen Eira, which takes in most of the suburbs in the Bentleigh electorate, is also one of the safest areas in the Melbourne region, with a relatively low crime rate, low level of unemployment, a high percentage of high-income households and low levels of homelessness.

Some of the main features of the electorate include the St Kilda Football Club Ground, the Moorabbin College of TAFE and the Monash Medical Centre.

This article was co-published with The Junction and UniPollWatch. For more on the Victorian Election 2018, please go here.