Community Safety

Liberals eye Macnamara

July 4, 2024

Thursday 04 July 2024
Peter Kohn
Australian Jewish News

In fostering close relations with the Jewish community, Benson Saulo has hit the ground running in Macnamara, the federal seat with the largest Jewish population in Victoria.

The Liberal candidate, who has family ties to four Victorian Indigenous nations, was at Beth Weizmann Community Centre last week, presenting an Indigenous flag to fly alongside Australia’s and Israel’s.

Growing up in Tamworth, NSW and a Melburnian since 2009, Saulo, who lives in Windsor, is a managing partner at First Australians Capital, designing capital solutions for Indigenous businesses.

Interviewing Saulo, tributes to Jews who have helped First Australians flow from him. For example, there’s Ron Castan, whose Mabo advocacy established land rights. There’s Mark Leibler, “a wonderful mentor” and devotee of reconciliation. There’s a shared bond going back to Indigenous leader William Cooper’s condemnation of Kristallnacht.

A churchgoer, Saulo visited Israel in 2023 with his father, a minister of religion. When he experienced Jewish nationhood, it resonated. Like Israelis, “I know when I’m standing on my land.”

Saulo appears the optimal Liberal candidate in Melbourne’s progressive inner southeast. He voted ‘yes’ in the Voice referendum, for which Peter Dutton committed his party to a ‘no’ vote, but pans the government’s naivete in taking the Voice to a referendum.

But aiming to become “the first Indigenous MP in Bunurong country”, some might say Saulo’s is a tough gig. No Liberal has represented Macnamara and the former Melbourne Ports since it began in 1901.

The conventional wisdom has been that Labor’s Josh Burns will either narrowly hold on or the seat will be snared by the Greens.

In the 2019 and 2022 elections, Labor preferenced the Liberals below the Greens in Macnamara.

But Saulo is buoyed by polling from Victorian Senator James Paterson’s office showing 54 per cent of Macnamara voters are less likely to support a party preferencing the Greens – 68 per cent in Caulfield.

Paterson expressed alarm at the prospect of the state’s largest Jewish electorate being represented by the Greens, given their emphatic anti-Israel positions.

The Greens are losing ground but Saulo said Labor “is quite vulnerable” because it “has largely deserted the Jewish community”. On antisemitism, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is “an ineffective leader”.

Saulo wants to add his name to the gallery of Liberal MPs supportive of Israel.

He described Burns, who is Jewish and an avowed Israel defender, as “an important voice within Labor” but “a lone voice … I just don’t believe that [the ALP] have the interests of the Jewish community at heart.”

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