Northcote: From safe Labor seat to Greens stronghold

Street art of Bill Shorten in reference to the Adani coal mine. Pictures by Sarah Emery

By  SARAH EMERY

Anchored between Merri and Darebin creeks is Northcote, an inner metropolitan seat first established in 1927 and held successively by Labor until the 2017 by-election.

Since 2002, the Greens have gained momentum in Northcote, adding pressure to Labor and pushing Liberal candidates further out of the contest.

The electorate includes the suburbs of Alphington, Fairfield, Thornbury, Northcote and part of Preston. Boundaries have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s, with only slight adjustments made to the northern border ahead of the 2014 election. The state electoral division of Northcote extends to Bell St and operates in the same area as the City of Darebin.

Mayor Kim Le Cerf said Darebin led a “progressive agenda”, which is why the community voted in more new councillors than old councillors.

“From the very start there was a clear message of renewal,” she said.

NORTHCOTE
Held by: Lidia Thorpe (Australian Greens)
Since: 2017
Swing at the 2017 election: +11.6 per cent
Key bomments: Northcote is famous for its city views and high concentration of "hipsters". The change in demographics has transformed this once Labor strong-hold to a Green electorate. Lidia Thorpe from the Greens convincingly beat the Labor candidate Clare Burns in the 2017 by-election.

“Population growth and climate change are two things that are colliding together and will have a massive impact on future generations,” she said.

Darebin City councillors have made it clear road and rail issues are the priorities for the November state election. They want five level crossings removed on the Mernda train line between Thornbury and Reservoir stations to reduce congestion.

The council also wants the state government to fund an effective roads package for  Reservoir, which is “essential to deliver promised improvements to the shopping centre and traffic flow”, a spokesperson said.

The view from Ruckers Hill.

Jika Jika Community Centre is a neighbourhood house in Northcote that provides local residents with activities, childcare, support networks, education opportunities and a place to meet new people. Spokesperson Nicole Battle said the community wanted more support and an even playing field for the community education providers.

“Extra funding to TAFE is great, but they’re not equipped to deal with vulnerable students, people who may be experiencing homelessness or domestic violence, for example,” she said. “TAFEs aren’t able to deal with those issues, but we are.”

Jika Jika staff member Gina Wittingslow mentioned the Walker St public housing estate as a problem that needs to be addressed. The state government plans to demolish the existing site and replace 87 units with 96 mostly one and two bedroom flats.

“We work on that estate and it’s pretty full on. There’s a woman who raised her kids there, and now she’ll have to downsize to a one bedroom,” she said. “I’m not for or against it, but it’s a big issue.”

Terra Madre a popular health food store and wellness clinic in Westgarth village, Northcote.

In recent years, voters have followed a similar trend to neighbouring inner city seats and slowly drifted towards the Greens. The final tallies of votes from the past four elections indicate a two-way battle between the Greens and Labor in Brunswick, Melbourne, Northcote and Richmond.

Labor has strong roots in Northcote and had won every election until last year, when a by-election was triggered by the death of Labor MP Fiona Richardson. Greens candidate Lidia Thorpe defeated Labor’s Clare Burns with an 11 per cent swing to the Greens.

Ms Thorpe is the first Indigenous woman elected as an MP to Victorian Parliament. “We said we’d make history, and we did,” she told supporters when she won.

Ms Thorpe campaigned for policies related to rental prices, public transport and overcrowding. In a Facebook post from October 17, 2017, she said: “If elected, I’ll fight passionately for our environment and lobby hard for the establishment of the Great Forest National Park, which will protect endangered wildlife and water supplies, create sustainable long-term jobs and build our local economy.”

Located about 5km from Melbourne, Northcote covers 21 square metres of residential areas, trendy shopping strips and leafy parks. Yarra Bend Park, the John Cain Memorial Park and the infamous Northcote shopping plaza are a few local trademarks.

The Gertrude Contemporary gallery on High St, Preston.

Northcote is a multicultural and ethnically diverse metropolitan seat. In 2016, it was recorded that 64,788 people lived in the district with 33 per cent born outside of Australia.

A high proportion of Northcote residents rent their homes (40 per cent), compared to the rest of the state (just 28.7 per cent). Northcote dwellers are also different to Victorians in their means of transport to work. On average, 7.7 per cent of people use their bike to commute, compared to 1.2 per cent of Victorians.

In recent years, residents have noticed new apartment buildings springing up and a younger demographic of renters moving in. Gentrification has transformed the main streets and neighbourhoods, attracting tertiary-educated young professionals.

On average, 42.8 per cent of residents have attained a Bachelor degree or higher. This is statistically high compared to state average of 24.3 per cent. The average weekly personal income is $824 compared to $644 of Victorians. Many have been “priced out” of living in the electorate because of the increase in rental and house prices.

High St in Northcote is indisputably one of the most popular destinations. Shop owner Kelly Vizzari said the demographics of Northcote residents was changing.

“There are more hipsters around,” she said. “And there are lots of young couples with kids.”

When Ms Vizzari lived in the area decades ago, she said High St, Northcote, was “a bit of a hole”. Now, her boutique store thrives off the younger clientele.

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