Seat du jour: McMillan

McMillan extends from Pakenham in Melbourne’s outer east through West Gippsland to the outer reaches of the Latrobe Valley, and along the coast from Wonthaggi through Wilsons Promontory to Welshpool (my 2004 booth vote and swing results can be viewed at Crikey). Despite Labor’s strength in the Latrobe Valley coal mining towns of Moe and Morwell, rural areas kept McMillan in Coalition hands from its creation in 1949 until 1980. Arthur Hewson held the seat for the National/Country Party from 1972 to 1975, but it returned to its customary Liberal ownership with his defeat in 1975. A long-term drift towards Labor is evident in results from this period, leading to a close result in 1972, a relatively mild anti-Labor swing in 1975, and finally a 6.2 per cent swing that delivered the seat to Labor’s Barry Cunningham in 1980. Cunningham was swept out by the statewide backlash that cost Labor nine Victorian seats in 1990, but recovered it by a slender 0.4 per cent margin in 1993. This was not enough to save him even from the relatively modest shift in Victoria at the 1996 election, at which Liberal candidate Russell Broadbent picked up a 2.5 per cent swing.

A former self-employed draper and Pakenham Shire president, Broadbent (right) had earlier held McMillan’s western neighbour Corinella for one term from 1990 until the 1993 election, when he was defeated by Labor’s Alan Griffin. When Corinella was abolished in 1996, Griffin moved to his current seat of Bruce and Broadbent successfully tried his hand in McMillan. Broadbent again experienced the sharp end of life in a marginal seat in 1998, when he was defeated by 25-year-old Labor candidate Christian Zahra with a 2.7 per cent swing. Zahra added 2.3 per cent to his margin against the trend of the 2001 election, before emerging a big loser from the 2004 redistribution. This moved Labor-voting Morwell and Traralgon from McMillan to Gippsland, while adding conservative farming and coastal areas south through Leongatha to Wonthaggi and Wilson’s Promontory.

Zahra was left needing a 2.9 per cent swing to retain his seat, but the pendulum instead swung the other way. While parts of the electorate recorded a shift to Labor, including a 5.9 per cent swing in Wonthaggi, the Liberals performed strongly in Labor’s Latrobe Valley strongholds, picking up swings of 3.6 per cent and 3.9 per cent in Moe and Newborough. There was also a 4.4 per cent swing to the Liberals in mortgage-sensitive Pakenham. With an overall swing of 2.1 per cent, McMillan changed hands for the fifth time in six elections and Broadbent began his third stint as a member of parliament. He has distinguished himself during his current term by crossing the floor (along with Kooyong MP Petro Georgiou and Pearce MP Judi Moylan) to vote against measures to send all asylum seekers arriving by boat offshore for processing.

Labor’s candidate for the coming election is Christine Maxfield (left), whose husband Ian Maxfield held the corresponding state seat of Narracan from 1999 to 2006. He lost the seat at the state election last November amid an unheralded backlash against Labor in Gippsland, which in Narracan converted into a 9.5 per cent Liberal swing. Both Maxfields came to politics via the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. Some in the Labor camp have expressed concern that Christine Maxfield is not the most formidable of their marginal seat candidates, and believe she will struggle to carry over Christian Zahra’s personal vote. Greater confidence has been expressed about Victorian seats with larger margins, namely Corangamite (5.3 per cent) and La Trobe (5.8 per cent).

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.

30 comments on “Seat du jour: McMillan”

  1. If Labor gain any one of McMillan, Corangamite or La Trobe I suggest they will win government. If the swing in Victoria is anywhere near that predicted by Newspoll and the leaked Crosby Textor documents (both deconstructed by Possum et al.) then the ALP will sweep all three comfortably. ‘Tis the nature of landslides.
    Team Ruddster’s candidates are well buffered by the resolve of scrabbler mortgagees who have been seriously messed about by SerfChoices and who are switched off to all things Johnny. The mood is such that even the mother of all fear campaigns from Ratty’s pack will be widely viewed as craven desperation.

    Comes a time when even the rubes wise up to three card Monty.

  2. A historical curiosity in this seat is the town of Wonthaggi – once a coal mining stronghold of the Communist Party. How times have changed! Ironic then that the Labor candidate comes from that last stronghold of the NCC, the SDA. I wonder if this makes her actually more right wing than Broadbent?

  3. With the indicators pointing to a labor govt federally Iwant to find out how simple it is to have the GST raised by 20 or 40 percent?
    What triggered my thinking was a comment that the NSW govt has had discussions with Kevin Rudd about rearranging for increased ways to get money from fed to state governments! Nick Minchin said that there had been a big increase and there was no more to give – so where would they generate the new tax money?

  4. Living in the electorate and in the same area as Christine Maxfield she has kept a very low profile to date – no signs on the road, no photos/articles in the paper or adverts in the paper. Just today we got the first leaflet in the mail! I understand she was the only nominee for preselection.

    The 1972 to 75 local member was Arthur Hewson (not Henry). His greatest claim to fame probably was that he was elected on 16.6% first preference votes!

  5. That appears to be one of Labor’s biggest impediments to attaining government. While a fair number of their marginal seat candidates are “star” candidates in every sense of the word, a lot of them are fizzlers, and really should have been replaced.

  6. His name was Henry Arthur Hewson. I remember him being refered to as Henry when he was an MP. Habby do you have firsthand knowledge that he was known as Arthur?

  7. I’m of the view that there are five realistic pick-up opportunities for Labor in Victoria, and McMillan is number five. So I concur with William’s last sentence but go one step further, and rank McMillan below McEwen (6.4%).

    Reason being, I tend to agree that Christian Zahra’s personal appeal dampened the anti-ALP swing in 2004. And the 2006 result in Narracan makes you wonder if this a still a Labor friendly region.

    On the other hand, Victoria seems set to swing to Labor as much as anywhere. Has any there ever been an MHR who served three non-consecutive single terms?

  8. This seat could go either way. The big swing in Narracan in the state election was probably due to the Bracks Government’s plan to send Gippsland water to Melbourne. That issue is still active.

    Clearly, Ian Maxfield wasn’t a very popular member, and the Maxfield name isn’t a vote-winner. Broadbent seems to have a good local profile.

    On the other hand, I think WorkChoices will help Labor in areas like Moe.

    The key to this seat is probably the outer mortgage belt, which keeps growing eastwards from Pakenham. I don’t think the names of the candidates will matter here, as many of the residents are new. The vote will depend on whether theyb trust Labor on interest rates.

    But I have to agree that if Labor wins McMillan, it will be well on the way to government anayway.

  9. The swing against Labor in the La Trobe Valley at the 2006 State election worries me a bit. It may well be that blue-ribbon inner-city Lib seats like Kooyong and Goldstein could fall before McMillan.

  10. Adam – As I have discovered he was Henry Arthur Hewson, however he was always known as Arthur. The Hewsons are a well know farming family in the district (his son has a dairy farm along the road from us). He had a stint in the Victorian parliament as well as a shire councillor for a fair while including mayor from memory.

  11. The parts of the Latrobe Valley (Traralgon and Morwell) that were moved out of McMillan in the redistribution swung by 3-4% more in 2004 than those which stayed in, which is as good an indicator as any of Christian Zahra’s personal vote (in the Valley at least). For this reason I’m thinking of McMillan as more an 8% seat than a 5% one.

  12. Victoria is an interesting state. It is likely to weight in with the highest 2pp for the ALP in the mainland.

    As there are no marginal seats in the must win/must hold basket it has been overlooked by both major parties.

    Consiquently as the pork is being thrown around Victorian are getting increasingly agrieved about the corrupt nature of Govt spending and the fact they are not getting any.

    I’d agree with David Walsh that the ALP is in a good position to win a bag of seats in Victoria. Deakin, Corrangamite and La Trobe are likey. McMillian Gippsland and Dunkley could fall if the tide rises high enough.

    I can’t ever see Higgens or Kooyong changing hands. The 4WD cars will have dust on them before that happens.

  13. I wonder if any poll has been taken in this electorate? The odds for this electorate in Portlandbet are Coalition $1.68 and Labor $2.00 with all others at $101 – giving Labor about a 45% chance of winning the seat off the Liberals. In the queue of Victorian seats most likely to fall to Labor I think McMillan is lining up behind Deakin and La Trobe but ahead of Corangamite

  14. Albert F says “I’d agree with David Walsh that the ALP is in a good position to win a bag of seats in Victoria. Deakin, Corrangamite and La Trobe are likey. McMillian Gippsland and Dunkley could fall if the tide rises high enough.

    I can’t ever see Higgens or Kooyong changing hands. The 4WD cars will have dust on them before that happens.”

    Why is Mcewen never mentioned when it comes to Victoria? I am not from there so I have no idea whether it is a realistic chance or not, but in past elections it has always been a swinging marginal seat. Is there any reason why it has moved down the pecking order?

  15. McEwen has been discussed on this blog before.

    It’s a seat with a strange mixture of demographics. There are plenty of hippies and greenies in parts of the seat, as well as plenty of ute-driving gun owners. Though the seat is meant to be rural, Melbourne’s north-eastern mortgage belt has expanded quickly over the past few years.

    The sitting member, Fran Bailey, isn’t good for much, so unless there are some die-hards in the rural booths who like her, I’m not sure she’d get much of a personal vote.

    I think this is a seat that could be ripe for the picking in the event of the almost inevitable swing to Labor. Interest rate rises hit hard in McEwen, and Rudd doesn’t scare the horses too much. The biggest factor is probably Workchoices, which will have many a bogan and erstwhile Coalition voter seriously wondering if the Liberals really do care about “Howards’ Battlers’.

  16. I’ve always wondered why McEwen is so marginal. It’s not as if there’s a big provincial city or mining town where Labor would have an obvious strength. It’s pretty much a rural seat with a small amount semi-urban fringe. Where’s the Labor vote come from? Is it the green vote around the mountains?

  17. McEwen gets a large ALP/Green vote from Hurstbridge, St Andrew and other semi-rural suburbs. Fran Bailey has kept it partly because many who would otherwise vote ALP admire the amount of work she has done in Canberra and in McEwen. I have seen no evidence of her working hard locally, but have been told by ALP branch members that this is the case.
    Wether they are to be believed is another matter.

  18. Marcus, my booth result maps at Crikey should give you an idea. As you can see, Labor is overwhelmingly strong in Moe and Newborough (note that the size of the figures reflects the number of votes cast, so we’re talking 2000+ votes at these booths compared with as little as 300 in the small towns) even after a substantial swing to the Liberals in 2004, while the rest of the electorate is as you describe.

  19. A small guage as to the marginal status of Mc Ewen can be guaged from it’s state parallels. An example would be the state seat of Seymour which is central to this seat which has now been Labour held for 3 terms and with considerable comfort. I am fairly certain that Labour holds the bulk of the state seats covering this area. Whilst this does not pre-suppose an identical Federal vote, it does indicate that this electorate is very fluid.

    Re McMillan, Broadbent’s family had a long established business in Pakenham and I suspect that this area is one of his strongholds. With regards to Labour in the Latrobe Valley, it would appear that they can be their own worst enemies due to their own disunity and infighting. I’m not going into the relative merits (or lack therof) of Maxfield and Jenkins (the defeated members in Narracan and Morwell); but campaigning against yr own candidate and helping deliver the seat to yr opponent escapes me as a positive outcome.

    Both seats may well be in play. If anything McEwen may be more likely.

  20. The following state seats are wholly or partly in McMillan. Can’t give you an exact idea, but they are in roughly descending order, Narracan being the only one contained entirely in McMillan.

    NARRACAN. Fell to the Liberals last year with a 9.5 per cent swing.

    MORWELL. Fell to the Nationals with a 7.0 per cent swing.

    GEMBROOK. Narrowly retained by Labor after Liberal swing of 0.9 per cent.

    GIPPSLAND SOUTH. Safe Nationals seat, party leader Peter Ryan increased margin from 10.8 per cent to 15.8 per cent.

    BASS. Narrowly won by the Liberals in 2002 in a contest complicated by independent member Susan Davies, swung 4.9 per cent to the Liberals in 2006.

  21. McMillan, I would split this seat into three

    1) Pakenham, has a large number of young families who have seen five interest rate rises, I would image will hurt the Liberals as will the increased cost of Child care, Petrol and workchoices.
    2) Lt Trobe Valley, I would image the Unions will swamp this area with anti workchoice information, potental problem for the ALP, will the coal workers accept the ALP’s Greenhouse policy.
    3) The remainder, the issues in South Gippsland is wind power and the new issue of the desalination plant.

    As other have written I can see the ALP winning Goldstein or a Kooyong and yet see the Liberals holding McMillan, but if the stories of a big swing in an area like Lt Trobe is on then I don’t see it stopping at Cardinia reservoir.

  22. I’ve thought for some time that McEwen is much more likely to change hands than McMillan. Zahra kept the 2004 margin lower than it might have been; the Latrobe Valley towns are less Labor strongholds than they once were, with declining employment in the (formerly) highly-unionised power industry; the 2006 State election indicated various grievances against State Labor (poorest results in the State were the two lost seats Morwell and Narracan).
    McEwen still skirts the metropolitan area, but development is tending to spill over into the electorate (e.g. between Bundoora and Whittlesea). Fran Bailey has had a reputation as a formidable local campaigner, but I suspect that her promotion to the Ministry won’t help that, and in Tourism she has been less than brilliantly successful, so it’s unlikely to have aided her cause.

  23. I do not think you can look at Mcmillan in isolation from Gippsland
    both seats are marginal because they straddle the la trobe valley
    there are many issues. has the damage to Labor from the state election been fixed? I understand Mr Maxfield was a good local MP … so is the name a factor for or against? some of the ex Gippsland areas added to Mcmillan are very anti- labor and have been so for generations. Was the forrest policy announced by Mark Latham in 2004 an issue in one or both seats? what will the impacts of “work choices ” be will Labor be able to get good votes in the La Trobe Valley. Is there really a large swing to
    Labor in Victoria? sorry this seems almost like an essay.
    On balance I would be pleasantly suprised if labor one either or both seats
    but who knows

  24. McMillan will not fall to Labor. There is a big backlash against the state govt re water and the coal industry does not want greenie ideology impacting on it. The rural sector is totally afraid of even a whiff of any union domination and the south coast towns, as well as Moe, are now full of sea change upper-middle class voters. The Liberals enjoyed a run of extremely good candidates particularly in 1987, when a swing of 5% away from Labor occured. That particular candidate, tipped by many in the Liberal Party to be a front bencher, decided not to stand again and so it was up to John Riggall who had to try and sell John Hewson’s GST policy, but couldn’t do so. Christian Zahra won because of the GST backlash, not because of his personal appeal. The GST backlash was effective untill Broadbent came on the scene. Russell Broadbent is very well known as an effective local member. His opponent is unappealing. I suspect Broadbent will increase his majority.

  25. Christine Maxfield offers a fresh approach for McMillan. A renowned tireless volunteer and worker on many local community activities for the past twenty years including kindergarten, school, sporting and church groups. She has been an advocate for those needing representation both in her capacity in paid and unpaid roles. She is an action woman, give her a job and count it as done; potential to be an effective local member.

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