Upper house part one: Northern Metropolitan

Welcome to the first in an eight-part series covering the five-member upper house regions in the newly reformed Victorian Legislative Council (background detail available here). And what better place to start than with the part of Victoria that was lucky enough to have the Poll Bludger living in it from 1997 to 2005: the Northern Metropolitan region. Except in its outer reaches, this region covers some of the safest Labor territory in the state: from the city at its southern extremity, it passes through a thin band of north-eastern suburbs extending beyond the city limits, to Whittlesea in the north and along the Yarra Valley to Watsons Creek in the east.

The replacement of single-member elections with proportional representation in this electorally one-sided area has meant a squeeze for Labor and a new opportunity for the Liberals. The region covers all of the old province of Jika Jika and half of Melbourne and Melbourne North, each of which was a Labor stronghold. The only two Liberals representing any part of this region in either house are Bill Forwood and Graeme Stoney – and only one quarter of their old provinces coincide with the new region. Even so, Labor has found room in Northern Metropolitan for one newcomer along with the two members for Jika Jika. All other members from the area have being accommodated elsewhere – with safe seats in the case of Gavin Jennings, Candy Broad and Marsha Thomson, and highly unsafe ones for Glennys Romanes, Lidia Argondizzo and Robert Mitchell. By contrast, the Liberals are guaranteed to have at least one member in what had formerly been a dead zone. Even more significantly, the region looks sure to provide a safe seat for the Greens, who have never previously had a Victorian MP at either state or federal level. Barring an unforeseen electoral convulsion, all evidence indicates the result will be three seats for Labor and one each for the Liberals and Greens.

Of Labor’s three seats, the first and third have gone to the Right and the second to the Left. At the top of the pile is Theo Theophanous, factional chieftain and member for Jika Jika since 1988. Originally associated with the Socialist Left, Theophanous shifted his numbers to Labor Unity via a tumultuous Left split in 1996 that initially put him in the front seat of a new group called the Labor Renewal Alliance. Colleagues in this group included his brother Andrew, the former federal MP who was jailed in 2002 for immigration fraud, and the other Right faction nominee for Northern Metropolitan (more on whom shortly). Along the way, Theophanous found time to serve as Consumer Affairs and Small Business Minister in the Kirner government, Leader of the Opposition in the upper house throughout the Kennett government, and Energy Industries and Resources Minister in the second term of the Bracks government.

The Left’s candidate is Jenny Mikakos, an old rival of Theophanous going back to the memorable Batman preselection ahead of the 1996 federal election. Then a Northcote councillor and taxation lawyer, Mikakos had won support from the hard left Pledge faction to replace the retiring Brian Howe, and was also backed by Labor Unity as part of a complicated deal that froze out the candidate of the Socialist Left – Theo Theophanous. The complicated factional manoeuvres were ultimately trumped when the national executive intervened to install ACTU president Martin Ferguson. The Unity-Pledge alliance ultimately bore fruit for Mikakos at the 1999 state election, when she defeated incumbent Pat Power for the Jika Jika preselection. Mikakos has since rejoined the Socialist Left, and was promoted to a parliamentary secretary position following the 2002 election. She created a stir in May when she compared the mass exile of Pontic Greeks by Turkey during and after World War I to the Jewish holocaust, angering the Turkish and Jewish communities.

Third on the ticket is Nazih Elasmar, a figurehead of the Lebanese Christian community who in January received the Order of Australia for "service to the Lebanese community of Victoria through cultural, charitable and welfare organisations". Elasmar is also a former mayor of Darebin, a position he held at the time the council was sacked by the Kennett government in 1998. He has worked for many years as an electorate officer to Theo Theophanous, and followed him along the path through the Labor Renewal Alliance to Labor Unity. A report on Channel Nine’s Sunday program in 1998 accused Elasmar of stacking branches for the Right in Northcote ahead of Mary Delahunty’s preselection in 1997.

Topping the Liberal ticket is ASIC manager Matthew Guy, who ran for the lower house seat of Yan Yean in 2002. He is probably best known as the subejct of then Police Minister Andre Haermeyer’s attack on him under parliamentary privilege before the 2002 election, in which he was labelled a "liar and a thief". Guy was accused of telling the media "political opponents" had vandalised his car without making any such claim in his police complaint, and of having been picked up by police for stealing election signs. When parliament next sat 12 days later, Haermeyer was compelled to make a personal explanation in which he accepted only that Guy had not been charged over the signs incident. The Liberals complained to the Ombudsman who eventually found there had been unauthorised access to Guy’s police files three days before Haermeyer made his claims, and that the person responsible was the husband of Attorney-General Rob Hulls’ personal assistant – although the Ombudsman accepted the latter’s insistence he had not contacted Haermeyer’s office about the matter.

The Greens preselection inevitably attracted considerable interest from party activists, candidates including Gemma Pinnell (who ran for the lower house seat of Richmond in 2002, and the federal lower house seat of Melbourne in 2004), Yarra councillor Jenny Farrar and former Yarra mayor Greg Barber. Barber and Pinnell were reckoned by all to be the front-runners, and the former prevailed by what was described in the press as "a couple of handfuls of voters". As well as his council credentials (he was the first member of the Greens ever to become a mayor in Australia), Barber has a Masters in Business Administration and works as a "corporate campaigner" for the Wilderness Society.

NB: This entry will be spiced up with tables and statistics at a later time, but this will do for the moment.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

20 comments on “Upper house part one: Northern Metropolitan”

  1. Mmm, certainly one of the least exciting upper house contests. Nice rundown though.

    You seem to have the wrong Green in bold text.

  2. Agree this is one of two seats where the Greens have their best chance of securing representation. It was also the seat where the VEC double counted votes in their published results. We can only hope that the VEC will get their act together this time (It could be worth doing a rundown on the pluses and minus of the new counting system as this will be the first Statewide computer aided count. There are issues that will arise during the counting/scrutiny of the ballot). If we look again at the 2004 senate or even go back in time in the state vote it is possible for the Liberal Party to pickup 2 seats a 3-1-1 is not a guarantee. There are strong movements in the outlying areas of the seat were conservative local councils are in place.

  3. ALP 3 Liberal 2

    Yes the Greens will poll strongly in the four southern seats of Northcote, Brunswick, Melbourne, Richmond, but once you cross Bell St the Seat becomes very safe ALP, some of those northern seats have margins of over 20%.

    The question on if the Greens can win a seat and they have a good candidate is how well the Liberals poll within Melbourne and some other the more middle class parts of Brunswick, Richmond and Pascoe Vale.

  4. It’s early days but what mbwofoz says is a possibility. we will know the likely outcome of this when above-the-line preferences are determined.If the Greens fall below quota and so do the ALP fall below three on primaries then a fold up will determine who gets the last seat. I think this situtation will be the case in other seats less likely in this seat. This is the seat where the greens have best chance. 3-1-1 or could go 2-2-1. 2002 results can not apply as a comparison it was the Greens and ALP best vote pendulum is swinging ion a different direction. The main card tyhat has not been applied but will be closer to teh election is the “With the Liberals holding a absolute power in the Federal Government (House of reps and Senate) then a Labor State Government is the best form of a chack and balance. Whether this can assist the Greens is yet to be seen. All predictions are subject to review when the registered above-the-line is known. This seat was a strong Democrat seat in part in the past. Democrat vote will not flow to the greens.

  5. Its true that Northern is the Greens best seat, I think this election is really a battle between the Liberals, Greens and Family First, while the ALP will settle in for a nice night.

  6. Family First has a big effect on the Greens. In the past the Greens would have received preferences from all sides, now the conservative preferences are being filtered through Family First ie they’ve lost half their preference flow. There is much publicity about ALP preferences to the Greens but little focus on conservative.

    I don’t think Family First will win any seats, but think they’ll get enough support to set themselves up for their federal senate campaign.

    (wandering off topic..)
    Family First have been fairly successful in poisoning the conservatives against the Greens. The Greens were behind the ALP on the Lib preferencing in SA and the Nats and Country Alliance are both putting them last. This may be vital in seats where they play a kingmaker role between the Greens and the ALP.

  7. Family First have no chance, but the Libs do have a chance of a second seat, especially if their new leader Andrew Jaspan keeps finding scandals for them. Perhaps Bludger should tell us who the No 2 Lib candidate is.

  8. No the Greens will almost certainly win a seat in Nothern Metro. as they won a just over a quota last time (in old upper house vote in the 11 lower house that make up N.M.) and if they don`t get a quota could pick up preferences from some of the of the microparties and independents and would pick up the Labor surplus ahead of the Libs.

  9. On paper the Greens should win a seat in northern melb, but the last federal election shows that whats on paper doesn’t always happen, I still think the Libs will obtain a second seat.

  10. The minor party vote tends to be lower in Federal Elections (eg Greens in Tas). Especially with the Right in power federally the Greens are lower.

  11. Until the finalization of preferences any speculation on the results of this seat is only conjecture. Yes on paper the greens should win one spot in this electorate on primaries, BUT it is not a given. They could just as easily fall just below quota and remain the wasted quota. 95% chance they win one seat. Any upset can occur, we have three weeks before polling day. I fail to see why the closing date for upper-house and lower-house HTV is staggered and not on the same day. Having said that the lower-house is not the same as the upper-house. It is possible for any group (even non candidates) to register HTV cards. In theory multiple HTV cards showing various combinations of preferences could be registered but only one handed out on the day. Now that would keep them guessing.

  12. Somebody asked who the second Liberal candidate was. It is Dino De Marchi, Vietnam Veteran, Lawyer, and Chairman of the Sir Edward Dunlop Medical Research Foundation.

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