Federal seat for Monash, upset for Danby

Kate Ashmor with Professor Roland Perry (left) and former deputy PM Tim Fischer.

A DECISION to name a federal electorate after Sir John Monash has been hailed by the Jewish community and supporters of a campaign to raise the profile of the Jewish hero, World War I general and acclaimed civil engineer.

The name change, part of a revamp of Victorian electorates by the Australian Electoral Commission, will also see redistributions, including a critical boundary change to Melbourne Ports, which will be renamed Macnamara after scientist Dame Annie Jean Macnamara, a pioneer in polio and cerebral palsy treatment.

Kate Ashmor, a Melbourne lawyer and chair of the Committee for Monash, was elated that McMillan, a Gippsland electorate, will be renamed Monash. The seat had previously been named for Angus McMillan, who reportedly massacred local Aborigines in the 1840s.

After five years of campaigning for a federal seat to be named Monash, Ashmor told The AJN she felt “joyful and humbled”. She paid tribute to former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, who chairs the Saluting Monash Council and has advocated raising Monash’s profile, Australian historian Professor Roland Perry, who authored the 2017 biography, Monash and Chauvel, and former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, for their help.

Ashmor felt an affinity for Monash because, like the general, she is first-generation Australian and her family came from a region of Europe near Monash’s ancestral home.

Welcoming the renaming, Fischer told The AJN, “It’s part of a jigsaw that will hopefully fall into place this year”, with prospects that Monash could be posthumously promoted to field marshal by the centenary of the 1918 armistice on November 11, or perhaps as early as Anzac Day, when the new Sir John Monash Centre will open in France on the site of the Villers-Bretonneux battlefield.

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told ABC-TV’s Insiders that Monash, whose military doctrines brought landmark Allied victories and whose postwar vision changed Australia in the 1920s, “faced discrimination at the time … he was overlooked for that promotion, but he was without doubt Australia’s greatest citizen soldier”.

Noting Monash’s great achievements and significant contributions to Victoria and Australia are well documented, Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Anton Block described the renaming of McMillan to Monash as “appropriate and perhaps well overdue”.

“The honouring of leaders of our nation should only be reserved for those leaders whose actions stand the test of time. General Sir John Monash is one such leader and we are proud that he was also a member of the Australian Jewish community,” said Block.

However, Melbourne Ports’ name change to Macnamara has caused concern for its MP Michael Danby, who has represented it for just on 20 years. He noted “Melbourne Ports”, the name given in 1901 to what was one of the original federation seats, “has significant historical value, and is geographically appropriate”.

“Dame Annie Jean Macnamara was a greatly admired medical scientist. Unfortunately she neither worked nor lived in Melbourne Ports and seems to have no known connection to the seat,” he noted. “I believe Melbourne Ports should retain its name.”

He said the boundary changes to the electorate “make little sense as they cross over the geographic boundary line of Dandenong Road. The outcome of this change would seem to be a 0.2 per cent gain for the Greens based on the last election results”.

Danby narrowly retained Melbourne Ports at the 2016 election, relying on postal votes, including Greens preferences, for his two-party-preferred margin of 2337 votes.