Ahead of the Saturday 2 July election, Journal reporter CASEY NEILL is catching up with the key candidates for the three seats where Greater Dandenong residents will cast their votes.
Here’s what Bruce Labor candidate Julian Hill, Liberal candidate Helen Kroger and Greens Party hopeful Stefanie Bauer had to say.
Bruce voters could play a key role in choosing Australia’s next Federal Government.
The margin between the ALP and Coalition is just 1.8 per cent, so the seat would change hands if roughly one in 100 people changed their minds from the 2013 poll.
Making things even more interesting, Labor’s sitting member Alan Griffin is retiring and his Liberal opponent from the 2013 election Emanuele Cicchiello isn’t in the running.
Julian Hill was elected to Port Phillip Council at age 25 and became the city’s youngest mayor.
“I was there really to try and make a difference,” he said.
“I did two terms. I learnt a lot about leading diverse communities and also leading large organisations and how to actually get stuff done.
“I never saw it as a stepping stone.
“I’ve been out of politics for 13 years.”
He’s been raising his daughter, who is now 20, as a single parent and working as a senior public servant for both sides of politics. He also worked for Mr Griffin for five years.
“Alan told me he was retiring. He suggested I put my name forward,” he said.
“I’m 42 turning 43 this year – that’s not a bad balance of life and professional experience, but still some real energy and drive.
“I know the area well, I feel it’s my hood.”
Mr Hill said he’d extensively doorknocked the area.
“The issue I hear most is education and skills,” he said.
“Whether that’s working or middle class families who were born here, or first generation migrants with that real focus on wanting a better life for their kids.”
Jobs and the economy have been another big talking point.
“The trend is the concern, and that says that Dandenong consistently has unemployment that is close to double the metropolitan average,” he said.
“The youth unemployment statistics are scary.
“The best way to give a kid a future is to get them into employment.
“If you get them into employment, so much of the rest of it just works itself out.”
Mr Hill said other key topics residents raised included supporting manufacturing, “don’t stuff up Medicare”, looking after pensioners and rolling out the NBN.
His main opponent, Helen Kroger, was a senator for Victoria between 2007 and 2013.
“The Coalition lost a senate spot to Ricky Muir, so I was the Coalition senator that exited the space,” she said.
Mr Hill said the first time they met, “I went up and introduced myself and apologised for trying to wreck her comeback tour”.
“She looked a bit surprised but then laughed,” he said.
Ms Kroger said she grew up on the outskirts of Dandenong on a market garden.
“My background is a very grounded, regular background,” she said.
“I’m a product of a close family. We were taught the value of a dollar.”
Her brother was a Liberal Party member and suggested she join him in 1975.
“I think he actually paid my first membership fee,” she said.
“What I like about politics is if you don’t like something, you can get involved and try and change it.”
She’s raised a family, worked for philanthropic and community-focussed organisations, run a small business, worked in the human resource and education sectors, and established a foundation to further education standards.
Ms Kroger is interested in tackling ice addition and the violent behaviour the drug often causes.
“The police are terrific but their resources have not been increased in the past few years,” she said.
“It’s got to be a whole approach with the police, with the community, with the medical profession.”
Ms Kroger set up a campaign office in Robinson Street, Dandenong.
“Someone was arrested in my back yard. I see drug dealers out the front,” she said.
“It isn’t acceptable and my concern is people are putting it in the too-hard basket.”
She also highlighted “growth and jobs”, particularly tackling youth unemployment.
“It will circumvent a lot of the crime stuff, as well,” she said.
“The best thing you can do for anyone is to help them get a job.”
Ms Kroger said transport was a huge problem.
“It is absolutely vital that we invest in the Monash. The only time it isn’t a car park is 6am,” she said.
“The federal government have announced $75 million to be invested in identified local areas where there’s real congestion issues.
“I’ll be very strongly arguing for our slice of that.”
For the past three years, Stefanie Bauer has worked in Noble Park as a case manager in the aged and disability sector.
“Also, I was helping Lynette Keleher, who was the candidate at the last election,” she said.
“I’ve got to know the community well.”
She said it was important to ensure that public education was well-funded, and also has affordable housing and the risk of homelessness in her sights.
“Manufacturing being a key source of employment, so we’ll be making sure that continues by increasing renewable energy so they can assist with making parts for solar panels and wind turbines and things like that,” she said.
She said mental health was an issue for the area, particularly for new immigrants and refugees.
Following on, Ms Bauer said the Greens had a different policy regarding asylum seekers to the two majors, based on dignity and respect.
“We want to stop off-shore processing altogether,” she said.
“We understand that you need to process and make sure people are appropriate refugees, but that should be done here.”
Australia’s refugee intake will also increase if the Greens get their way.
“Often pay people smugglers as last resort,” she said.
“If we increase that refugee intake the need for people smuggling would be dramatically decreased.”
Ms Bauer hopes to win back the 2.8 per cent of the Bruce vote the Greens lost at the last election.
“I think across the board we’ll have more of a Green swing because of people being disenfranchised with the major parties,” she said.
“A lot of people were expecting more from Malcolm Turnbull.
“Climate change and gay marriage – people thought he’d be quite progressive and he’s not.”
Bruce includes Dandenong North, Noble Park North and parts of Dandenong, Noble Park and Springvale.