Seat du jour: La Trobe

La Trobe has covered Melbourne’s eastern fringe since it was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1949, drifting south-eastwards over time from its starting point of Dandenong and Croydon. It now consists of two outer Melbourne areas separated by the Dandenong Ranges – Boronia and Ferntree Gully in the north and Berwick in the south – and extends east through Belgrave to Emerald, Cockatoo and Gembrook. Labor’s strength around Belgrave is countered by ever-increasing Liberal dominance around Berwick, with little separating the two parties in Boronia and Ferntree Gully. Along with other seats in Melbourne’s outer suburban “sandbelt”, La Trobe played a decisive role in the 1972 election of the Whitlam government, falling to Labor for the first time with a 10.2 per cent swing. It swung almost as heavily the other way in 1975, but returned to the Labor fold in 1980 when Peter Milton defeated Liberal member Marshall Baillieu (presumably part of the clan that includes state party leader Ted). An unfavourable redistribution combined with Victoria’s anti-Labor tsunami of 1990 to deliver a 1.4 per cent victory to Liberal candidate Bob Charles. The seat had a remarkably stable time of it on Charles’s watch, staying with the Liberals by 2.4 per cent in 1993, 1.4 per cent in 1996, 1.0 per cent in 1998 and 3.7 per cent in 2001.

When Charles retired at the 2004 election, the seat emerged as a contest between Liberal candidate Jason Wood (right), a police officer who had worked in counter-terrorism and organised crime units, and Labor’s Susan Davies, who held the since-abolished state seat of Gippsland West as an independent from 1997 to 2002. The result was an easy win for Wood, who defied the loss of Charles’s personal vote to pick up a 2.1 per cent swing that was concentrated in the heavily mortgaged suburbs nearer the city. Wood had won preselection with the backing of the Kennett faction after cutting his teeth as candidate for Holt in 2001. Rival candidates included former state Monbulk state MP Steve McArthur, former Casey mayor Mick Morland and proverbial bad penny Ken Aldred, former member for Deakin and Bruce. At the time of Wood’s preselection it was noted he had “been a member of Greenpeace for longer than he has been a member of the Liberal Party”, and he has recently caused his party embarrassment by issuing a brochure that failed to sing from its song sheet on nuclear power.

Labor initially endorsed United Firefighters Union official Greg Pargeter, who defeated former state Ferntree Gully MP Anne Eckstein at a preselection vote in March. However, Pargeter was dumped in August as Labor grew increasingly confident that the seat could be winnable with the right candidate. That candidate was Rodney Cocks (left), who has served as a United Nations security adviser in East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Cocks assisted in the aftermath of the 2002 bombing in Bali, where he was holidaying, and when the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was bombed in 2003, killing UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Cocks’ efforts on the former occasion earned him the Conspicuous Service Medal, and he was named Victorian of the Year in 2005. A book about his experiences, Bali to Baghdad and Beyond, was published last year by Penguin. Pargeter meanwhile has not reacted kindly to his dumping, claiming to have been the victim of “a highly personal campaign of smear and denigration”. The Australian reported in August that “senior ALP figures” admitted Pargeter had been “subjected to vicious rumours about his personal conduct, including attacks from his right-wing Labor Unity faction”. He has recently been back in the news with threats of a well-timed defamation suit against four as-yet-unnamed figures in the ALP, said to include MPs and members of the national executive.

Newspoll, Galaxy and Roy Morgan have all included La Trobe among four Victorian electorates targeted for marginal seat polling. Morgan’s poll a week out from the election pointed to a collective swing of 4.8 per cent, closely echoed by Galaxy’s 4.5 per cent. However, Newspoll’s two polls had the swing at 7.3 per cent at the mid-point of the campaign and 8.3 per cent a fortnight later. Tim Colebatch of The Age detected good news for Labor in an enrolment boom in the electorate, which has been driven by its more Labor-leaning urban areas. Talk has emerged lately of Labor falling just short in all its target Victorian seats, which Dennis Shanahan and Matthew Franklin of The Australian report was the finding of Labor polling targeting 350 voters per electorate.

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.

35 comments on “Seat du jour: La Trobe”

  1. I’d rate Deakin and La Trobe the most likely flips. I know McMillan has a lower margin than La Trobe, but I honestly think it’s inflated due to Zahra’s 2004 personal vote.

  2. What percentage of the youth enrolment boom can be granted to Labor/the Greens? Aren’t the outer suburbs strongholds of right-wing youth-oriented megachurches, who can be counted to encourage their parishioners to enrol and vote (and possibly even help with the Coalition’s campaign)?

  3. I must say I was very unimpressed by Wood when I saw him on the 7.30 report that one time. He said something along the lines of “I’m happy to have a Minister or the PM come to my seat… as long as they bring money with them.” It just struck me as a very very arrogant thing to say.

    I think Victoria is likely to produce very minimal gains for the ALP. If the ALP can get this seat I certainly think that’s an added bonus.

  4. Sort of on-topic, and sort-of not:

    “The result was an easy win for the Wood …”
    Is that his nickname, “the Wood”? Not “the Woodster”, “Woody”, “1-Wood”, “Timbermeister”??

    And, will voters go for a candidate named Cocks? At least it’s not Cockburn …

  5. was La Trobe one of the electorates included in the Taverner’s poll (18/11) which showed significant swings away from the Libs? If there’s any credibility in that poll then La Trobe must be looking vulnerable for the rat pack.

  6. While staffing the Early Voting Centre (in Higgins) for the Democrats, had a full-on Liberal enthusing about his ALP candidate in La Trobe.

  7. I think the 2004 Lib vote was inflated due to te dislike of ALP candidate Susan Davies. A lot of people didn’t like her as after being defeated as an independant in the State election she turned up again as an ALP canididate.

  8. Paul Kavanagh, how is that possible? You mean he likes the candidate but won’t vote for him?

    Much interest in the Dems at the EVC?

  9. This voter was clearly a Liberal (taking the Liberal HTV card only). He entered the booth and returned asking us to idently the name of the ALP candidate in (far away) La Trobe. He was impressed with that particular candidate.

    The Dems are polling reasonably well – better than previous elections – although most Toorak types are not budging. This time voters at least know the Dems are contesting.

    There’s support for The Greens (but they’re not surging). No mention yet of Family First or any other Party over the seven polling days.

  10. William will we have a seat du jour feature on McEwen this week? I would dearly love to see Fran Freeloader go. I think LaTrobe will fall, along with Corangamite and Deakin as somewhat less likely. I think the ALP might fall tragically short in McEwen though.

    acb @ 3, on the issue of the Green vote amongst the 18-25s, I’m not sure how it plays out in the urban sprawl outer suburbs, (although I would suspect not too well) but I saw what I thought was a depressing national figure in the last ACN National poll, which have the Greens primary at 7%, bolstered by 10% in the 26-35 bracket and dragged down by a figure of 5% in the 18-25s. It seems that generation Y or whatever they’re called has picked up on the fact that they’ll have to deal with Climate Change, but not my generation. This could be attributed to Rudd’s attractive Kevin07 image being more popular with the kids than either Latham or Howard was, and hence taking some Green primary away to Labor, possibly more so in this demographic because there would be a higher proportion of people who don’t understand preferential voting.

    I think the Green primary will be pretty disappointing this election, because I really can’t see it being higher than 8%, and this will be the first time in a Federal Election that the Greens primary has started to plateau. Excuse the pun, but the climate really does suit the Greens, everything they’ve been rabbiting on about for the last 15 years is being proven right, and I think if that sentiment was reflected in the Green vote it should be more like 10-12%.

  11. Wood has been running a “local council” style campaign emphasising the money he has given as “lifelines” to various local groups, getting photographed with wombats and the like. And the highlight has been the “I don’t support nuclear power” green pamphlet he put out which completely contradicts Lib policy.

  12. Is it just me, or did most of the LP swing in 2004 come from Boronia – i.e., mortgage-belt territory? If so, then Wood could be in serious trouble this time round, as the reports suggest that mortgage-belters are breaking 57/43 for the ALP. This could be enough to eat away his 5.8%(?) margin. This should be a seat to watch on the night.

  13. Comment #3 above is well wide of the mark. That sort of thing does happen in the USA but La Trobe is a long way from middle America.

    I attend a “youth-oriented megachurch”. Well, medium sized church in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, and there is nothing right wing about it. There was no endorsement of any party (including Family First who were stared by a leader in the same denomination as us) or of any policy. There was a mention that the election is on, that people should pray for our elected leaders, and that the Australian Christian Lobby have a website which has the parties giving answers to some questions. And I would estimate that of the 400 people who were at church on Sunday maybe 5 would bother to check out that website.

    The idea that our youth leader would get up and tell the young adults in the youth group that they needed to go deliver flyers for the Liberal party this week is simply hilarious.

  14. Jason Wood is regarded as an OK guy, but no star. He played the green/environment card in 2004 and came across as genuine.

    LaTrobe is 3 areas – rural/small farms(Gembrook, etc but turning into hobby farms for retiring, fleeing melbourne folk), hills folk (Sassafrass, Belgrave – the horticulturalist brigade and assorted greenie drop-outs) and flatlanders (Narre Warren and Berwick – families that are mortgaged to the tits). Latham and interest rates scared the pants of the flatlanders along with the race/immigration stuff.

    The electorate is not wealthy and is feeling the pinch behind all that brick veneer. I have not heard any kind words about Howard and reckon he is toast here. 2004 election the hills had a small drift to labor in spite of LNP swing as the environmental issues played well in the hills. They will swing a little more labor/green this time, too. It will swing wild to labor in the flatlands – these are the tired commuting workers really pissed off by workchoices and the interest rates fiasco just adds to the negativity and anger at Howard.

    Reckon the greens will pick up a big swing here in senate votes.

    LaTrobe will be labor by about 9.30pm, November 24.

  15. Further to the above, SportingBet has Labor as odds-on favorite at 1.57 (Libs 2.20), which is narrowing – last I checked on the weekend the ALP was 1.60.

    Having another look at where the swing to the Liberals occurred at the last election there is a clear focus around the mortgage belt booths, strongly suggesting that interest rates was the main issue.

    I’d suggest that if you’re yet to put a couple of bucks on the election 1.57 for a Labor win in LaTrobe is still pretty good odds. I might tip another $50 in myself…

  16. I would be surprised if this one doesn’t end up in ALP hands on election night. Of course, it surprised me that this seat didn’t swing back to the ALP following Bob Charles’ retirement. Over ten years the seat has been narrowing back to Labor relatively consistently, even accounting for Bob’s extremely strong personal vote.

    LaTrobe is classic mortgage belt and no doubt the interest rates scare campaign contributed to the 2004 swing towards the Liberals. Over the last 15 years the seat’s demographic has changed quite a bit, with a consistent flood of new residents into McMansions in the Berwick/Narre Warren growth corridor. In recent years these booths have carried the seat for the Libs by a good margin. Interestingly, however, that vote is so concentrated around a couple of southern booths that random polling won’t necessarily pick up whether the swing is on amongst the aspirationals. The rest of the electorate is extremely stable, so Berwick/Narre Warren is where the seat will be won or lost.

    Other than interest rates, the fact that Labor’s candidate at last election, Susan Davies, was a high profile blow-in with no history in the electorate didn’t help either. Indeed, as a marginal, ‘winnable’ seat for many years the health of the local ALP branches has consistently been undermined by ongoing low-level factional warfare and head-office imposed candidates. This time around, with another ALP head office imposed candidate, both the Left (who lost the preselection battle) and the local Right (who backed Pargetter) are now more disillusioned than ever. None of this will help the ALPs chances.

    One interesting feature of the electorate is the relatively high Greens/Dems vote, which in the past has hit the mid to high teens. (Helped in part by the fact that Don Chip was a local prior to his death.)

  17. This will be a fascinating seat to watch on Saturday night. Geographically, it is a strangely diverse area. Boronia through Ferntree Gully and Upwey are old world 50s foothills suburbia with pockets of new development. Belgrave, Sassafras, Mt Dandenong, Sherbrooke, Selby are the true Dandenongs, lush verdant towns with nurseries, hippies, and bed and breakfasts – the locals are called ‘hills people’. The Puffing Billy route – Menzies Creek, Emerald, Gembrooke is an extension of the hills, though less verdant and more agricultural. The area through Narre Warren to Berwick is like a different planet, it has seen a dramatic rise in residential development in the last ten years. where gently rolling farmland has been turned into vast housing estates. Likewise in the flat landscape of Packenham and Beaconsfield old country towns have expanded rapidly into satellite suburbs.

    Geography resonates in this electorate. With the exception of small booths like Upper Beaconsfield, the higher the altitude the more solid the TPP vote for Labor, and conversely, the lower the altitude the stronger the Liberal vote. There is something in the mountain air.

    Since the campaign started Rudd has visited the electorate twice suggesting that it might be winnable. The first time he visited Boronia shopping centre. Boronia was one of the few seats that Labor lost in the last state election (Anne Eckstein) – it is an area that can swing but not wildly.
    His second visit was to Berwick yesterday where he was mobbed by students at the local secondary college. This was a well targetted visit – indeed, those newly developed mortgage-belt areas around Berwick, Narre Warren etc are the key to Labor winning this seat. A lot of these estates fall into the ‘aspirational’ category – big houses on small blocks and where interest rate rises are a scary proposition. The ‘economic credibilty’ campaign from both sides will play big in this area.

    I’m assumining that there will be an anti-Howard swing of 2 to 3% in a lot of the Victorian marginals, and my feeling is that this one will go down to the wire. Wood is a hard working local candidate. Cocks has not had sufficient time to establish a strong presence. Rudd would not have visited a place like Berwick unless party polling suggested they are in with a chance. If I was a betting man I would say Wood, just…

  18. I think La Trobe is a lot harder than some are making out. Although the mortgage belt in the southern end of the electorate may swing back a little from Libs it is this part of the electorate that the 7000+ new enrolments have moved into. Berwick and Beaconsfield are very different from their nearby Cranbourne, Narre, Packenham, Hampton Park and the like. Many residents aspire to move from these more core Labor constituencies into Berwick/Beaconsfield and it appears once they do they also change their vote. The blue-blood of Berwick is the only sticking point really as the green hills will move even further from the Libs and the working class northern part of the electorate has been heavily impacted by a very successful local campaign for Your Rights At Work – as distinct from the rest of the electorate.

  19. Was there a major redistribution in this seat before the 96 election? I am presuming so, otherwise the swinging pattern is very odd indeed. It doesn’t really make sense why there would be a 1% swing to the Coalition in 93 and a 1% swing back to Labor in 96, followed by only a 0.4% swing in 98. If there hasn’t been a significant redistribution, this seat has certainly defied state and national trends, and would appear to be a punter’s nightmare.

  20. This seat must be in trouble for the Libs.

    Today on 3AW both Neil Mitchell in the morning, and Derryn Hinch in the afternoon have attacked Labor candidate Rodney Cocks for inconsistencies in his campaign literature. They’re making a big meal of it, and disaffected constituents (ie Lib stooges) are ringing up to complain. You can pick them a mile off.

  21. The ALP should win La Trobe, Berwick & Narrie Warren at state level are safe ALP seats, if these areas swing and Boronia follows then I can’t see the Liberals holding, a Kevin Rudd lead ALP is a better fit for this area than Latham and with the focus being on Workchoices & rising Interest rates then La Trobe should fall, another thing which might play and that is Climate change for this area is called Bushfire ally and with talk of hotter summers the threat of Bushfires will increase.

  22. Jason has kept a low profile in the electorate as well. He has the most “engaging personality” and the thinking is that he is being heavily minded.

  23. Jason Wood reminds me of the “Crazy John” doll. Fair dinkum, the guy can barely string two words together. If he is the best the Tories can do to find a member for a safe seat, maybe I should join the Liberal Party. I reckon I’d be at least deputy PM within five years. Look, the ALP have made some terrible preselections in recent years, which have hurt their chances. Campaigning in the southern end of the electorate has tended to be poor too. This time, they have a great candidate and more effort and attention has been put into Berwick. I expect Labor to win this time.

  24. The Scoresby Tollway was a big issue for La Trobe in the last election – I think the Latham factor was also an decider.

    The campaign battle has been getting quite…desperate in the last two weeks. Attrition has been extremely high on both sides’ electioneering paraphenalia…(average lifespan of corflutes 48 hours).

    Commentariat has suggested that the 5.8% margin is not a true indication of Coalition support in the electorate. The interest rate question was a huge issue for the mortgage belt areas of Narre Warren and Berwick in 2004, and will be again this time.

    Wood has been playing up his ‘green’ credentials to garner the hills vote. Problem is, this will go the Labor/Greens/Democrats way – not his. What he should have been focussing on was the mortgage belt that got him over the line in 2004! Too late now…

  25. Gotta love the desperatation in the libs – smearing a decorated army officer two days prior to an election is gold. It also puts his record on public display in a major daily!
    Combined with bogus racist flyers in Jackie Kelly’s seat, and disarray is generous in describing the Liberals.

  26. Recieved this letter today in the mail (verbatum):

    A message from Therese Fox Bali Bombing Survivor

    Dear voter

    The Liberal Party is going around telling people that Rodney Cocks, your Labor Candidate, is a ‘pretender’ because of an administrative mistake in a letter that was sent to your home.

    They are dead wrong, and this is how I know.

    When a terrorist bomb ripped through the Bali nightclub where my friends and I were out dancing, it was Rodney Cocks that took me to safety and first treated the horrific injuries that saw me spend the next year in hospital. He is not a ‘pretender’.

    That night and for many days following, he worked in the hospitals and morgues with local and international authorities to bring some order to the chaos in Bali. At the time, Rodney was on leave from serving Australia as part of the peace-keeping force in East Timor.

    He has also served in war-torn Iraq with the United Nations to find and destroy landmines. He’s worked in Afganistan and Sri Lanka as a security advisor with the UN.

    I am not a political person, but when I saw and heard these lies about Rodney I had to do something — that’s why I am writing this letter. I wanted people to know the truth about Rodney.

    Rodney Cocks has shown time and time again that he is a brave and committed Australian who would be a fine member of Parliament. I know this first hand because Rodney saved my life. He is not a ‘ pretender’. He is a hero.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Therese Fox
    Bali Bombing Survivor


    That could certainly influence some last minute undecided voters.

  27. Well, we’ve got a 6.1% swing before postals. Recount today (Monday), 400 votes ahead…

    Those in the know reckon we might just get over the line, despite postals normally favouring the sitting member 60/40.

    Tired and emotional.

  28. Good luck Rodney,

    Unlike my turf in Aston , you can make a difference.

    LP WOOD, Jason 50.12% 35704 (-5.71%)
    ALP COCKS, Rodney 49.88% 35538 (5.71%)


  29. Citizens of Australia , listen up England calling ….I served with Rodney in East Timor, we were on R&R in in Bali and can give confirmed and validated evidence with regards to the actions of Rodney Cox .In those critical minutes after the murderous attacks on innocent victims of this world by terrorists, Rodney although relatively young at the time stepped up to the plate and made a significant difference to the lives of many. He made the crucial initial calls to the Australian Military and UN and activated immediate aid to Bali , in company with others we rescued many badly injured persons a number whom were critical some lived some sadly died . He co-rodinated a first aid post setup communication links and thereafter tirelessly toured the medical establishments in the aftermath reassuring and collating vital information for the many distressed friends and relatives of the injured, his continious efforts physically drained him but he gave up on no one , he went above and beyond the call of duty . This is the briefest of precis of what this man did amongst a multitude of humanitarian duties . He has the character and moral fibre, united with intelligence and dedication to represent the electorate with honesty and integrity. Ladies and Gentlemen you are investing in your future by voting for Rodney . I am non political, but I recognise a good solid person who will stand up and be counted will be able to depend on him . Therese great to hear of your full recovery ( I am the unknown big guy) I always thought you would never survive and believed you died , Rod Cox contacted me and told me you had survived and he had met up with you are a brave lady.

    Best of Luck Rodney

    Liverpool .UK

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