Seat of the week: La Trobe

This week’s better-late-than-never installment of Seat of the Week brings us to La Trobe, one of two crucial gains for Labor in Victoria at the 2010 election which helped redressed losses in New South Wales and especially Queensland. The defeated Liberal member, Jason Wood, will attempt to recover the seat from Labor’s Laura Smyth at the next election after winning a preselection ballot earlier this week.

La Trobe has covered Melbourne’s eastern fringe since its creation 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 rapidly growing outer Melbourne areas separated by the Dandenong Ranges – Boronia and Ferntree Gully in the north, and the Berwick area in the south – and extends eastwards through Belgrave to Emerald, Cockatoo and Gembrook. Labor’s strength around Belgrave is countered by Liberal dominance around Berwick. The redistribution that will take effect at the next election has effected a swap of about 16,000 voters around Bayswater, who have been transferred to Aston, for a similar number in Narre Warren, who were previously in Holt. Another 3000 voters around Pakenham have been transferred to McMillan. Antony Green calculates that the changes have boosted Labor’s margin from 0.9% to 1.7%.

Along with other seats in Melbourne’s outer suburban “sandbelt”, La Trobe played a decisive role in the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, falling to Labor for the first time with a 10.2% swing. It swung almost as heavily the other way when the Liberals recovered it in 1975, but returned to the Labor fold in 1980 when Peter Milton defeated Liberal member Marshall Baillieu (part of the clan that includes the current Premier). An unfavourable redistribution in 1990 combined with the statewide anti-Labor tsunami at that year’s election to deliver a 1.4% 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% in 1993, 1.4% in 1996, 1.0% in 1998 and 3.7% in 2001.

With Charles’s retirement at the 2004 election, La Trobe emerged as a contest between Liberal candidate Jason Wood, 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 overcame the loss of Charles’s personal vote to pick up a 2.1% 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. It was noted at the time he had “been a member of Greenpeace for longer than he has been a member of the Liberal Party”, and he went on to embarrass his party ahead of the 2007 election by issuing a brochure that failed to sing from its song sheet on nuclear power.

Wood went into the 2007 election with a 5.8% margin, of which only 0.5% was left after a swing that was most conspicuous in the areas that had moved to the Liberals in 2004. He was promoted to parliamentary secretary for justice and public security when Malcolm Turnbull assumed the Liberal leadership in September 2008, despite the embarrassment he had recently suffered after stammering his way through a parliamentary speech on genetically modified organisms (which repeatedly came out as “orgasms”). The 1.4% swing that unseated him at the 2010 election was fairly typical for Victoria, which collectively swung to Labor by 1.0%. The successful Labor candidate was Laura Smyth, a lawyer for Holding Redlich whom VexNews linked to the “Andrew Giles/Alan Griffin sub-faction of the Socialist Left”.

VexNews reports that Jason Wood’s victory in this week’s preselection ballot was achieved with 61 votes in the first round out of 140, against 38 for Mark Verschuur, managing director of Fairmont Medical Products (and, apparently, a former ALP member); 17 for “IT uber-nerd” and “chick magnet” Martin Spratt; 14 for local councillor and former mayor Sue McMillan; and 12 for Michael Keane, an anaesthetist and former member of the Liberal Democratic Party.

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.

2,980 comments on “Seat of the week: La Trobe”

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  1. Astrobleme Posted Monday, June 11, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    My Say

    I can’t see Labor getting worse again… Once the Carbon Price is in people will see it’s not going to seriously affect them.

    Agree, love your stories about the mines

    We know of young men , come back home here an buy a home after just one year

  2. [william calls me walter mitty

    my mates in lab call me genghis khan

    who do u believe?]

    Can’t say, I don’t know the full situation. I am often inclined to side with Bilbo Baggins, but try me… what happened exactly?

  3. I had called it a night, but thought this interesting

    [Peter van Onselen @vanOnselenP 18m
    Most interesting aspect of Newspoll is Coalition primary down to 44%, almost as low as election 43.8% which of course didn’t get them a win.
    View details]

  4. gusface

    No matter what willam thinks. This week there will be moar. Is KJ going to address HRNicholls tomorrow? Slipoer and HSU matters on Friday before the courts again. ,too much interesting stuff to think about.

    Anyhow definitely calling it a night now

  5. [Can’t say, I don’t know the full situation. I am often inclined to side with Bilbo Baggins, but try me… what happened exactly?]
    Hi Bonita,

    Would you like to chat on Speed Dating Friday?

  6. Apple Blossom

    [william calls me walter mitty

    my mates in lab call me genghis khan

    who do u believe?

    Can’t say, I don’t know the full situation. I am often inclined to side with Bilbo Baggins, but try me… what happened exactly]

    Well at at least not Alfred E Neuman

  7. [Hi Bonita,

    Would you like to chat on Speed Dating Friday?]

    If you want, I can allocate some time from study to speed date with you.


    Now they are only losing 54/46.

    And their primary vote is going GANG BUSTERS it is up by -1 to 31%!

  9. Or was it Ghenzis Mitty? The Beatles sang a song about him once “ah ha Ghenzis Mitty, Ghenzis Mitty, here I come…”

  10. lisa o’carroll‏@lisaocarroll

    Osborne: I disagreed with James Murdoch who wanted to dismantle the BBC as did David Cameron #Leveson

  11. Victoria
    RO is beginning to use the line in Lyne when his attackers say there is a massive swing to LNP – yeah 1% in the primary vote since the election.
    Rather than the usual meme that people have stopped listeming to Labor I think these polls are still very soft.

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