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).