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Get to know: James Merlino

Merlino was born and raised in Melbourne, and following secondary school he studied Arts (political science) at Melbourne University and graduated in 1995.

Prior to entering Parliament, he was the National Industrial Officer for the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Union (the “Shoppies” are the largest union in Australia, and represent retail workers). For those that do not know the origins of the Labor Party — it was born out of unions, a party he later joins.  

Entering politics and roles 

Merlino first entered politics as a Councillor for the Yarra Ranges Council, and later became Deputy Mayor. In 2002, Merlino entered Parliament as a Member of Victoria’s Legislative Assembly as the member for Monbulk – and gained the role of Minister for Sport, Recreation and Youth Affairs in 2006. During this term, he was also the Minister Assisting the Premier on Multicultural Affairs. Between then and 2016, Merlino held a variety of roles including: 

  • Minister for Police and Minister for Corrections.
  • Shadow Minister for Police and Shadow Minister for the TAC and Road Safety
  • Deputy Leader of the Opposition
  • Shadow Minister for Education.

Following the Labor Party’s state election win in 2014, Merlino became Deputy Premier and Minister for Education, and later Minister for Emergency Services in 2016. He was then sworn in as Minister for Mental Health in September 2020. He is now currently Acting Premier; we’ll explain why further down. 

Views and values 

Merlino is a member of Labor’s right faction and is a Catholic. He typically leans more conservative compared to his Labor counterparts (like Premier Daniel Andrews, who is part of the Labor Left) on social issues. He has previously vowed to oppose relaxing abortion laws, and opposed the introduction of voluntary assisted dying in Victoria in 2017.

Despite his social conservative leanings, he was an advocate for the Safe Schools LGBTIQ anti-bullying program in 2016 – a program that the Federal Government resisted. During this time, he also reversed his view on same-sex marriage, publicly declaring his support.  

Merlino is extremely passionate about his education portfolio. Prior to the pandemic, he was visiting around 250 schools a year – equivalent to one school visit every 1.5 days. 

Notably, Merlino is responsible for the implementation of the recommendations made in the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

So why is he in the news now? 

In March this year, current Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had a fall that left him with injuries to his vertebrae and ribs. Andrews has not yet returned to his role as Premier, and Merlino stepped up temporarily into the role. During this interim time, Merlino has had to make important decisions in the May State Budget. Now, Merlino has been faced with arguably his biggest challenge – the Victorian snap lockdown after a cluster of COVID-19 cases emerged, including in aged care settings. 

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