Mary Doyle was just 25 when she discovered a lump in her right breast.
“It felt like a little wooden bead under the skin,” Labor’s candidate for the Aston federal byelection told The Age. “I didn’t panic, but I thought it was odd and I should get it sorted.”
Labor’s Aston candidate Mary Doyle campaigning in Boronia ahead of next month’s byelection. Credit:Simon Schluter
It was 1995 and, after a tough upbringing, Doyle’s life was starting to fall into place. Back in Australia, after her first overseas trip, she had recently become engaged to the “love of her life” and had just released a CD with her band.
Within weeks, her life “imploded” when a biopsy and scans confirmed she had cancer. She still remembers the look on the nurse’s face just before she was diagnosed.
“My whole world just crashed,” she said this week from a cafe in Boronia, in Melbourne’s outer east.
With two operations hurriedly scheduled for the next week, Doyle craved one last night free from her diagnosis. So, together with her fiancé and some friends, she went to see a band in Collingwood.
Mary with niece Judith, sister Kate and mum Mary Doyle Snr during cancer treatment in 1995.
Doyle, who was working in the TAB call centre at the time, was already a union member. She later worked for various unions including the ACTU as a marketing officer and at the National Tertiary Education Union. Raised in a working-class family, the love her older siblings shared for the Labor movement had rubbed off on her at a young age. But her experience of navigating the healthcare system and relying on Medicare made her acutely aware of how decisions in Canberra affect people’s lives.
“I was a casual worker, I was able to go and see a bulk-billing GP,” Doyle said. “If I was in the United States as a casual call centre worker, I might not have gone to the doctor and I might be dead.”
More than 27 years on, Doyle is still emotional when recalling her cancer battle, which she was lucky to survive.
Born in Echuca in 1970, Doyle was the youngest of nine children and was raised in public housing. She moved to Bendigo for secondary school and later followed her sisters to Melbourne’s outer east, finding work at Coles.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles and Labor’s candidate for Aston Mary Doyle.Credit:Joe Armao
After her cancer battle, she married her fiancé with whom she had two children, Clancy and Lily. The couple divorced in 2016, leaving her to raise the children as a single mum.
Then, during the COVID-19 lockdowns, tragedy struck her family when the sudden death of her niece – also a single mum – led to Doyle taking in her great-niece to live with her family.
“It’s been a couple of sad years,” she said.
While the cumulative impact of these challenges has taken a toll, Doyle said it had given her the real-world experience that she thought was lacking in Canberra.
“I think we need more ordinary people in parliament,” she said.
“I was a single mum for 10 years, having to balance the budget and pay the mortgage by myself. That’s what I had to deal with and a lot of people in the electorate are having to deal with that.
“I think I understand the pressures ordinary people face.”
In two weeks, Doyle will face another fight when she tries to claw back the once-safe Liberal seat of Aston for the Labor Party. The last time the federal government won a seat from the opposition in a byelection was in 1920.
Aston, which takes in the mortgage-belt suburbs of Wantirna, Bayswater, Boronia, Ferntree Gully, Rowville and Lysterfield, was created on the expansion of the parliament in 1984 and has been in Liberal hands since 1990.
Shifting demographics have seen the two overlapping state electorate – Bayswater and Monbulk – held by Labor. Then, at the 2022 federal election, Doyle secured a 7.3 per cent swing to Labor, bringing the two-party preferred margin to just 2.8 per cent.
Still, Doyle goes into the byelection as the underdog with her campaign further hampered by national issues such as rising interest rates and higher power prices.
The Albanese government’s decision to axe funding for key road projects in the area, as well its recently announced superannuation changes, have also handed the Liberals some meaty policy areas to campaign on ahead of polling day.
The Coalition is telling voters that Labor’s superannuation policy – which cuts tax concessions for people with more than $3 million in their retirement funds – is a warning sign that Labor will impose more tax changes.
But Doyle, who lives in the neighbouring electorate, said the policy shift wasn’t a huge issue for voters in her area.
Still, she knows that a Labor victory on April 1 remains difficult.
“I know it’s going to be a huge mountain to climb, but I have never shied away from climbing a mountain.”
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