“Calwell has grown remarkably in the ensuing years and continues to write the history of contemporary multicultural Australia, a focus which has guided and informed my work over the years,” she said.

About a quarter of voters in the outer-Melbourne seat are Muslim, according to the 2021 census. Labor insiders fear a backlash among some Muslim and other, largely left-wing, voters sympathetic to the Palestinian cause in multicultural seats and inner-city progressive ones.

Labor suffered significant swings against it in working-class Melbourne and Sydney seats at the previous election, including a 10 per cent primary vote drop in Calwell, which is now held by a 12 per cent margin.

Prospective Labor candidate Basem Abdo.

Prospective Labor candidate Basem Abdo.

A fierce debate erupted in federal parliament last week when Labor and the Coalition berated the Greens for lending support to pro-Palestinian activists who have targeted federal MPs and vandalised electoral office.

Greens leader Adam Bandt accused the government of being complicit in the Israeli invasion of Gaza after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton blamed the Greens for encouraging the protests.

Labor senator Fatima Payman quit an internal party committee last week, in a further sign of the West Australian’s isolation within the government following her comments on Gaza. She had earlier stepped down from two parliamentary foreign affairs committees following a rebuke from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese after the first-term senator used the controversial phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.


Labor sources said Abdo, as well as being a broadly well-credentialed candidate, would be able to authoritatively counter what they described as false Greens claims that Labor has sided with Israel in its military response to the October 7 Hamas terror attacks.

Even before the war in Gaza created tension between Labor and an Arab diaspora that has long backed the party, senior party figures raised the alarm about a lack of culturally diverse candidates in seats with large migrant populations.

The Socialist Left faction in Victoria has not selected a culturally diverse MP since Vamvakinou entered parliament in 2001.

Before the Gaza conflict, Bandt said his focus was on winning the Labor seat of Macnamara to add to the Greens’ tally of four federal seats. But recently the party has shifted focus to Wills, which has a large Muslim population and is the heart of the left-wing pro-Palestine protest movement in Melbourne.

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