Roshena Campbell will make history for the Liberal Party, win or lose

Roshena Campbell, the Liberal Party’s candidate for the Aston byelection, is poised to make history next month.

On April 1, Campbell has the chance to become the first woman of Indian descent to represent the Liberal Party in federal parliament. But, should she lose the seat for the Liberals, it will be the first time the opposition has lost a seat to a government at a byelection in more than 100 years.

“I think this election is going to be really tough, I am going to have to fight for every single vote,” Campbell tells The Age.

The Liberal Party’s Aston candidate Roshena Campbell says voters want “a champion that is going to give them some hope”Credit:Eddie Jim

The byelection comes after former cabinet minister Alan Tudge resigned from parliament last month, leaving a vacancy in his suburban seat of Aston which takes in the suburbs of Rowville, Wantirna, Boronia, Ferntree Gully and Knoxfield.

The electorate has been held by the Liberal Party since 1990 but became marginal last May when Labor’s candidate Mary Doyle recorded a 7.3 per cent swing, slashing the Liberals' healthy margin to just 2.8 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.

The broader federal election result prompted some soul-searching for the Liberal Party as once safe seats the party had relied on were lost, primarily to professional female candidates standing as independents.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Mary Doyle, Labor’s candidate for Aston, at Bayswater Bowls Club.Credit:AAP

A review into the party’s election defeat found that that women aged 35-54 were the most likely group to shift away from the Liberal Party and concluded that the party under-performed in culturally and linguistically diverse communities, prompting calls for more candidates like Campbell to be preselected in safe seats.

“I don't think there's any doubt as a party that we have got to do more to win back the trust of women and multicultural communities,” Campbell told The Age.

“I think when it comes to professional women, some of them didn't see themselves in the party and maybe they felt we were not listening to them.”

As a barrister and daughter of Indian migrants who moved to Sydney from Calcutta in the 1970s, Campbell represents the very voter the Liberal Party has lost.

Campbell was raised in Sydney by her parents who moved to Australia in the 1970s from Calcutta

But she has tenuous links to the seat, having only represented businesses in Aston through her work as a lawyer. The 38-year-old Melbourne City councillor and mother-of-three lives 40 kilometres away in Brunswick in Melbourne’s inner north, prompting some Liberal MPs to question whether she will resonate with voters, spooked by Labor’s unsuccessful attempts to parachute Kristina Keneally into the seat of Fowler.

If elected, Campbell said she will move her family — husband James, a journalist at News Corp, and three children aged 9, 7 and 2 — to the electorate, insisting those she has door-knocked want a “champion that is going to give them some hope”.

“I am a mum with three kids, I work full time and a lot of the battles they’re facing, they're battles that I have faced or my friends have faced," she said.

“They need to know that we're in their corner. I don't underestimate the hard work that needs to be done there and the first thing is the listening.”

An only child, Campbell grew up in Sydney where her parents had met at a party in the 1970s. Her father, an architect, had studied in Australia and set up his own business, but was hit by the recession in the early 1990s which devastated the construction sector.

The financial strain prompted her parents to start their own food business run from their home, providing high-end chicken products to retailers like David Jones.

“I think I had a sense of the pride they had working hard to get ahead and how it was, but also how hard it was as a small business owner to stand on your own two feet,” she said.

After graduating from elite private girls’ school Pymble Ladies’ College, Campbell moved to Melbourne to study arts/law at Monash University, where she first joined the Liberal Party. After graduating she went on to work for leading Australian law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth before becoming a barrister. In 2020 she was elected as a Melbourne city councillor and has written columns for The Age.

Having seen the impact of tough economic times, Campbell insists Australia cannot afford a recession. She is building her campaign around cost-of-living issues, highlighting the difficulties faced by working parents due to the high cost of power bills, groceries and interest rate rises and calling for the Albanese government to rein in spending to put downward pressure on inflation.

Roshena Campbell believes next-month’s Aston byelection will be “really tough”.Credit:Joe Armao

Labor’s decision to double the tax rate applied to earnings from superannuation balances above $3 million has also given the Liberals a policy platform, the party keen to stoke fears that the government could go further, aided by Treasurer Jim Chalmers initial refusal to rule out changes to capital gains tax concessions.

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