Mortgage-heavy Aston hit hard by rising rates and cost of living ahead of byelection
By Lachlan Abbott
Andrea Norwood and Josh Palmer pick up food relief and supplies in Bayswater.Credit:Joe Armao
Andrea Norwood and Josh Palmer are similar to many couples living in the outer-eastern Melbourne electorate of Aston: they care for a child, have a mortgage and often drive.
At a food relief hub in Bayswater, the Boronia locals said candidates in the upcoming federal byelection – including Liberal contender Roshena Campbell and Labor’s Mary Doyle – should address a key issue: the rising cost of living.
“We can still manage everything, but with all the interest rate increases since the first one ages ago, it’s like a thousand or more dollars a month, or so,” Palmer said.
“We don’t go out as much … I have to do extra shifts at work,” Norwood, a registered nurse, said.
Rising interest rates and high inflation are leading to a surge in demand for food services across Australia – including in mortgage-heavy Aston.
Labor launched its campaign for the byelection – triggered by the resignation of former Liberal education minister Alan Tudge – while it was ahead in national polls, but the seat is traditionally safe Liberal territory.
Forty-one per cent of the seat’s households have a mortgage compared to 35 per cent across Australia, according to the last census, leaving Aston voters particularly exposed when the RBA lifted the cash rate to an 11-year high on Tuesday. (Although some lower-income outer suburbs in Melbourne’s north, west and south-east are showing greater rates of mortgage delinquencies)
Martina Eaton, manager at the Temple Society Australia’s Champion food relief centre in Bayswater, said demand had more than doubled over the past year and the centre (which is only open five hours a week) supported 270 adults last month.
“We’re seeing people we’ve never ever seen before … a lot more are homeowners,” Eaton said. “Even people who might be working full-time.”
One elderly couple at the centre on Wednesday, who wished to remain anonymous, said they would have to sell their family home in Knoxfield once their fixed rate mortgage period ends in June. Their repayments are expected to triple.
“To have practically nothing after 55 years of working is quite hard to take,” the 65-year-old woman said. “It’s back to what we were having in our childhood, basically.”
Stephen Barrington, chief executive at Foothills Community Care, said the social service delivered 1000 meals and received about 45 new referrals each week. That is up from a low of about 15 weekly referrals in early 2022.
“We get people coming here all the time that have never had to ask for help before. The whole cost-of-living increases have really tipped a lot of people over the edge,” he said.
Stephen Barrington, chief executive of Foothills Community Care, and Martina Eaton, Community Care Manager for the Temple Society Australia, report ever-increasing cost of living pressures ahead of the Aston byelection.Credit:Joe Armao
Foodbank Australia reports it is now providing food relief to more than 1 million people across the nation every month, up from 815,000 in 2020.
Barrington, whose organisation also services the broader Yarra Ranges and Dandenongs, added that scarce rental properties were also a chronic issue in the hills on Aston’s fringe.
“We’re seeing an increase now, which we haven’t seen for a couple of years, of people actually living in the forests here,” he said.
Fuel prices were another key cost-of-living consideration for Aston voters. Sixty-three per cent of households in the City of Knox (which broadly covers the Aston electorate) have two or more cars, compared to 53 per cent across Australia, according to census figures.
James Dinsdale, Ferntree Gully resident and Foothills Community Care diner.Credit:Joe Armao
Road infrastructure is also a political battleground after upgrades to the electorate’s Dorset, Wellington and Napoleon roads were promised by the previous Coalition government but scrapped by Labor last year. Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said the previous government didn’t fully fund the projects, while Liberal candidate Campbell has pledged to fight for the upgrades.
James Dinsdale, a long-time Ferntree Gully resident and pensioner, said fuel costs were his biggest increasing expense.
But health was the most important issue to him – although other residents often complained about clogged roadways.
“I’m not actually that worried about the roads being done. I wish they were, but looking after people is my priority,” he said.
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