By Luke Mennuni and Jac Mason.
Here at UniPollWatch we used to think that Deputy Opposition Leader James Merlino enjoyed a high profile in state politics and local government. That was until we conducted a survey in which we asked 206 people in the Melbourne CBD whether they recognised some of the leading players in the state parliament.
Hopefully the Labor candidate for Monbulk doesn’t suffer low self esteem because, quite frankly, he was barely recognised.
Only six percent of voters knew who he was,despite the fact that he’s likely to be the deputy premier after the election.
One respondent thought he was Geoff Shaw, the maverick independent MP from Frankston.
Of course Merlino is better known in his own electorate but the problem is that his electorate isn’t what it once was. He now has to win over new voters, following the significant boundary changes imposed on the electorate by last year’s redistribution. These changes have given the Liberal Party a notional lead of 1.1 per cent in Monbulk.
But colleagues are confident he will pull through with a statewide swing to Labor predicted in polling and a much stronger profile in the local community after 12 years as MP.
Matt Posetti, the Labor candidate for the adjacent seat of Ferntree Gully, says Merlino’s ‘back is against the wall’. However, commitments to the education and health sectors, including a promise to reopen the local Swinburne Lilydale campus and $20 million funding to the Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully, have put him in good stead to win the seat he won in Labor’s landslide in 2002.
Merlino told UniPollWatch he favoured more preventative measures to combat a growing drug problem in the area and resources for police. He said Victoria’s ‘ambulance crisis’ was a top priority and Labor’s plans for a new intensive care unit at Angliss Hospital ‘will mean the best emergency care is right here on our doorstep’.
Married with three children, the Shadow Minister for Education is the child of Italian migrants. Now in his early 40s, he has spent most of his life in the Monbulk area and been actively involved in the local community, with roles at the Yarra Ranges Council and a number of local sporting clubs and RSLs.
Merlino was elected to Yarra Ranges Council in 1997 and became its Deputy Mayor before standing for the state seat. He is a former Minister for Sport, Recreation and Youth Affairs, Minister Assisting the Premier on Multicultural Affairs and took over as Minister for Police and Corrections before the 2010 election.