Since its creation at federation, Corangamite has covered a shifting area around Colac 150 kilometres west of Melbourne. The electorate was entirely rural until 1955, when it crept into Geelong’s outer suburbs of South Barwon and Belmont. Labor’s only wins have been in 1910, when future Prime Minister Jim Scullin became member for a term (he would return as member for the inner Melbourne seat of Yarra in 1922), and at the 1929 election when Scullin’s short-lived government came to power. The Country Party held the seat for one term from 1931, after which it was held by the United Australia Party and then the Liberal Party. The enlargement of parliament in 1984 cost Corangamite its most conservative rural territory in the west, but Labor has not since been able to realise its vague hopes of winning the seat.
The electorate in its current form includes the Geelong suburbs south-west of the Barwon River, the Bellarine Peninsula and Great Ocean Road coast as far west as Apollo Bay, and rural areas to the west and north. The Geelong area contains a little over a third of the electorate’s voters, and is distinguished from the remainder by its younger demographic profile and mortgage sensitivity. The coast is a sea change area in more ways than one, encompassing the coastal town of Barwon Heads where the ABC TV series of that name was shot. Torquay and the Bellarine Peninsula are demographically of a piece with outer Geelong, but the fast-growing towns of Lorne, Anglesea and Apollo Bay to the west have large numbers of older voters and fewer houses being purchased. As shown on the above map of two-party booth results from 2004, the Geelong suburbs and Great Ocean Road towns respectively lean towards the Liberals and Labor, while the rural areas and Colac are mostly solidly conservative. The map below shows the swings at each booth in 2004, which were fairly modest throughout the electorate.
The member for Corangamite since 1984 has been Stewart McArthur (right), whose family has a long history in the Victorian Liberal Party (relatives include Ted Baillieu, the state Opposition Leader). McArthur is linked with the state party faction associated with former Premier Jeff Kennett, placing him in the opposing camp from Peter Costello. After serving as state president of the Liberal Party and with various farmers’ organisations, McArthur came to the seat at a by-election caused by the resignation of Tony Street, who had been Foreign Minister in the Fraser government. McArthur’s highest office since has been a parliamentary secretary position held prior to the 1993 election. Now 70, his determination to remain member has been met with increasing resistance, resulting in preselection challenges at each of the past three elections. His rival this time was Rod Nockles, former chief-of-staff to Alexander Downer and John Howard during their tenures as Opposition Leader, whom he reportedly defeated 36 votes to 24. Wife Bev McArthur is also a player in the party, having unsuccessfully sought Senate preselection for this election. She made headlines early in the year as one of the guilty parties behind conspiracy theorist Ken Aldred’s preselection win in Holt, which was promptly overturned by wiser heads in the party administration.
Labor’s candidate is 31-year-old Darren Cheeseman (left), an official with the Left faction Community and Public Sector Union who ran in the local seat of Polwarth at the state election last November. Cheeseman won a hotly contested preselection over Peter McMullin, the Right-backed mayor of Geelong and candidate from 2004, and Christine Couzens, vice-president of Geelong Trades Hall. The Geelong Advertiser reports that Cheeseman won 37 votes from eligible local branch members against 34 for McMullin and 22 for Couzens, which turned into a 58-42 win for Cheeseman after Couzens’ exclusion. The lead remained intact after the party’s Right-dominated public office preselection committee contributed its 50 per cent share of the vote. The result surprised many observers in view of the Right’s recent ascendancy in Geelong-area preselections, the most notable example being Richard Marles’ win over incumbent Gavan O’Connor in Corio. Labor sources have expressed concern that O’Connor’s campaign to retain Corio as an independent might produce spillover effects into Corangamite, given that both electorates are served by media based in Geelong.
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