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. [Ownership will {could very well}:]

    That’s better. It is how land is used that matters, not who has title or even the equitable interest.

    No land which any non-citizen could acquire will be immune from Australian jurisdiction. If we allow people holding land to misuse its bounty, it’s not the owners alone who are at fault. It is our governance.

  2. smart meters

    One of these was installed at my home in about Feb.
    I have now received the second elec bill since that date and there is a discrepancy that I couldn’t believe until I realised that when they removed the old meter, my record of usage went back to zero. 😆
    Apparently I got 2 months free.
    Hope no one notices.
    The smart meters aren’t “turned on” yet AFAIK. Just normal service.

  3. Boer

    (1) Not in the conceivable future. In the inconceivable future, were this to affect Australia, we could go down several routes – as other countries in the same situation have done – to prevent food leaving the country.

    (2) And there’s no guarantee that Australian farmers wouldn’t do the same. (Look at Queensland’s recent record with land clearance).

    But we’re talking about the ownership of the land, not who farms it. It would be far more likely that the foreign owner would employ Australians to manage the farms, rather than farm them themselves.

    If you want to protect farmland from poor agricultural practices, this can be tackled in numerous other ways, other than restricting ownership.

    (3) I don’t see how. Elucidate.

    Given that farmers are notoriously good at not paying tax, I’m not sure that there’s a huge problem there anyway.

    (4) Again, that’s a possibility no matter what the nationality of the owner of the land.

  4. FB
    Ownership will:

    Having farmed for a living, I can tell you that the environmental controls are far more notional in practice than people would like to think.

    My favourite illustrative story is that sticks used to get stuck in the Dethridge wheels; on treeless plains. When the water bailiffs got stuck into the stick trick, fish started getting stuck in the Dethridge wheels. This received a bit of a setback when a water bailiff noticed that one of the fish that he pulled form a Dethridge wheel was still half-frozen. However, sticks and frozen carp are not nearly as cheatworthy as the habit of pumping ‘underground’ water that is linked directly to inflows from streams.

    And so on. And so forth.

  5. z

    Ownership will:

    (1) affect food distribution. This would be of concern to the billion or so people who go to bed hungry every night.

    z said, [not in the conceivable future.] Following the recent one-in-one-thousand year heat even, Russia, formerly a major exporter of grain, banned the export of grain. Ergo, this has already happened in real time.

    (2) affect the degree to which sensible stewardship principles are applied. There is no particular reason to believe that Chinese interests, which are trashing the chinese environment in a big way, would be any more environmentally sensitive in its farming practices in Australia.

    z said [And there’s no guarantee that Australian farmers wouldn’t do the same. (Look at Queensland’s recent record with land clearance).] Chinese food production is, compared with Australians, deadly. Literally.

    (3) affect the taxation treatments on food production.

    z said [I don’t see how. Elucidate.] Tax-dodging repatriation of profits is normal for international operators.

    (4) affect the amount of capital that might be invested in that land to improve productivity. What z said is true in relation to No 4, in principle. I would point out that there is a pattern of increased productivity (albeit short term) associated with additional capital investment in productivity allied to investment in land purchase. It is not only capital. It is quite frequently a greater willingness to apply agricultural IP.

  6. z


    right. So bad farmers are bad farmers. It has nothing to do with nationality.]

    In principle. In practice, China is trashing various environmental bases of productivity. Comprehensively. Examples:

    (1) ground water is being mined unproductively
    (2) prime agricultural soils are being built upon
    (3) controls on agricultural and food production chemicals are notiously lax
    (4) chinese surface fresh waters are notoriously extremely polluted.

    Etc, etc.

  7. Boer

    1. Yes, Russia was the example I have in mind.

    So the ownership of the land isn’t important. If a country wants to, it can put in restrictions – as Russia did – to ensure that food needed for its own people is kept there.

    I’m not sure we’re on the same page here. I’m arguing that ownership of the land has nothing to do with food security. The Russian example helps prove that.

    2. See what I’ve said. It’s highly unlikely that land owned by the Chinese – or other foreign nationals – would be farmed by them.

    Stewardship of the land and ownership are again, not necessarily linked.

    3. Given that they’ve invested money in the country that’s no different to any other multi national co orporation.

    A return on investment shouldn’t be begrudged, because many investments don’t make a return.

    Money invested in this country stays here, regardless of whether the owners turn a profit or not.

    4. Agreed. Particularly if the whole purpose – as alleged – is to produce food for your own country. You’re going to want to farm wisely to ensure that long term food production is maximised (which sort of covers 2 as well).

  8. bemused

    We were told that the “Smart” part of the smart meter wasn’t working yet. The rep had to come to our home to read it this time. I believe that once the system is fully in place, that will not be necessary.

  9. Have a look at the opening of that transcript:

    ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Well the New South Wales Labor Party has paid almost $350,000 in legal fees for embattled federal MP Craig Thomson. A large portion of the money was paid to Fairfax Media to settle defamation action launched by Mr Thompson in 2009. Labor Party officials have reportedly said that the contributions were made to prevent Mr Thompson from declaring bankruptcy, which would disqualify him from being an MP.

    Well, for more we’re joined now from Canberra by federal Trade Minister Craig Emerson.

    Good morning to you, Craig Emerson. I do want to have a chat about your recent trip to Asia in just a moment, but can I first get to those revelations that Craig Thomson and the New South Wales Labor Party paid around $350,000 in legal costs for him. Is that appropriate?

    Deceptive. The set-up is that it’s all about Thomson, and that Emerson is there to talk about it. But the first line to Emerson is a direct contradiction of that.

    That’s a standard ruse for dictating the course of an interview. But until the last year or so I only ever saw it on commercial networks.

  10. Nobody seemed to care when Vestey owned most of the NT, nobody winced when Tate and Lyle bought the sugar industry, Parmalat owned milk – who cares. The Europeans were one of us.

  11. Boer,

    further to your 63;

    a. We don’t have that great a track record ourselves.

    b. Farm management and farm ownership are different things. The pattern generally is for foreign owners to employ local managers.

    c. China trashes its environment because it struggles to feed its people. Reduce the stress on its agricultural land by moving food production elsewhere and the land has a chance to recover.

    d. They’ll be operating in Australia, under Australian laws. I’m sure their suspicious neighbours will be quick to report any breaches.

  12. Portrait of a politician, not only a no-nothing, but also a fundamentalist Christian.
    This is the Shaw who is in troible in Vic Parlt.
    [If he lacked a local profile when preselected, Shaw quickly set about making an impression. ”During the election campaign he knocked on the door here and said ‘I am Geoff Shaw and I am going to get rid of the communist Labor government’,” recalls Frankston resident Jim Brassil. ”I then engaged him in a conversation about the Communist Party, about which he knew nothing. It was just to frighten people. I engaged him in a conversation about the Liberal Party – he knew very little about the Liberal Party.”]
    Read more:

  13. THE case of the holidaying Transport and Main Roads director-general deepened yesterday when it was revealed Michael Caltabiano was travelling without his family on a privately funded trip inspecting quarries in Germany.

    The Courier-Mail revealed yesterday the former Liberal MP is on leave only two months after his appointment as head of one of the State Government’s biggest departments.

    A spokesman for Transport and Main Roads Minister Scott Emerson told The Courier-Mail Mr Caltabiano was on a family holiday, organised before his employment.


    So the new Head of the T&MR is off overseas looking after his private company interests, how very Liberal.

  14. lizzie @ 66


    We were told that the “Smart” part of the smart meter wasn’t working yet. The rep had to come to our home to read it this time. I believe that once the system is fully in place, that will not be necessary.

    So it is being manually read just like the old style meter.

    When activated, you meter will be ‘read’ every half hour and the reading sent through to the distributor. This is done via wireless to a concentrator and then via the Internet.

    What this means is that tariffs can be adjusted for each half hour interval according to demand.

    The next step is to make the consumer aware of what the tariff is or will be in any half hour interval so you can do smarter things like run your washing machine or dish washer when the tariff is lowest.

    For tech nerds this whole system is very interesting and exciting with a host of technical challenges. Yeah, I guess I am one of them.

  15. “We were told that the “Smart” part of the smart meter wasn’t working yet.”
    The meter will be working but the communications device just hasn’t been configured yet. Only about half the smart meters have their communications devices fully working yet for a number of different technical reasons. Once the whole system is up and running properly at the end of 2013 they’ll pretty much all be communicating and sending readings electronically. But for the time being only about half of them are communicating.

  16. Lyne Lady,

    One of them is Senator David Feeney, whose wife Liberty Sanger (a solicitor with Maurice Blackburn) openly admits her close friendship with Ms Jackson.

  17. [*great article* and *Shaun Carney* shouldn’t be used in the same sentence as far as I’m concerned.

    The day Labor take any advice from carney is the day they should pack up shop.

    The way Carney’s employer, Fairfax are traveling it may well be a penny dreadful stock or taken over by the time the next Federal election is held.

    It is also noteworthy that two businesses Fairfax sold, Seek the online job outfit and an online used car sale website are trading on the stockmarket each at 5 times plus the price of Fairfax.]

    dave all very interesting points but I take it you have no problem with an organisation which has a representation of 18% of the workforce (ie not society) controlling a 50% voting stake in one of our major parties? Please explain your logic because it does not stack up to me. infact this sort of voting arrangement is akin to how Rupert has rigged the voting at newscorp. It needs to change and change now.

  18. Peppy7 and bemused

    Once the whole system is up and running properly at the end of 2013 they’ll pretty much all be communicating and sending readings electronically.

    Does this mean there will be towers put up in suburban streets to wireless collect this information? If so, what would the density rate of the towers, on every street as would be required for Malcolm Turnbull’s wireless internet plan?

  19. @SpaceKidette @Dan_Gulberry @CraigEmersonMP AS PM once said: “Dont write crap”. Emmo was simply saying: “Dont ask crap”

  20. I cannot believe the Massola and Franklin reaction to Emmo. Duh if you want to talk policy rack off we are not interested.

    Then they wonder why people have stopped wiping their bums with the output of The Australian.

  21. BH
    I am considering where I should distribute some of my impending largesse. You could be on the list if you play your cards right.

    I didn’t even know I entered an email competition. With a prize of $300mill, I dunno how it slipped my mind.

  22. ” Does this mean there will be towers put up in suburban streets to wireless collect this information? If so, what would the density rate of the towers, on every street as would be required for Malcolm Turnbull’s wireless internet plan?”

    No Towers. Some antennas on existing poles and the occasional extra pole in remote areas but no towers. Don’t know much about Malcolm’s plan so difficult to comment on that.

  23. peppy7 @ 75
    I appreciated your comment.

    I am an interested observer from the outside. I also did a major assignment on them at university a few years ago.

  24. [ I am in clover from here-on. ]


    Many congrats! You lucky thing! Spend wisely.

    Yesterday, a smiling woman came to the front door armed with two bottles of red wine.

    I confirmed my name was XXX and the street address was correct. She said I had won third prize in the local footy club raffle. I said I hadn’t bought a ticket. She said: Did you go to the footy last Saturday?

    I said: No. I hate footballing.

    She said: Um. Well, thanks for being honest. Must be a mistake.


    This is OT (sorry William, indulgence)

    Any solar power gurus about? It’s freezing here. No insulation in the roof space. Only heat source is a wood-driven Coonara, which is expensive to run. Can’t afford air-conditioning and have objections about its use.

    Question is: Would it be possible to rig up a solar panel, charging a “deep cycle” battery, connected to an inverter in order to run a 240-volt, oil-filled column heater for a few hours overnight? Just to take the chill off the room.

    I’ve always fancied owning a power station.

  25. This is a good line from Hartcher.
    [Doomism is a course of diminishing returns in the face of economic success. The Coalition needs a plan to extend Australia’s prosperity, not just to pretend it’s not there.]

  26. Did Mark Bishop really say what he is reported to have said? What is the source?

    The AFR apparently. I wonder who will tell the Senator from WA to get off his arse and sell policy instead of polishing his arse on red leather.

  27. the spectator @ 77

    I agree with your point. Carney is not revealing anything new.

    It would not be as bad if the unions elected their delegations by a democratic process, but as far as I am aware, none do. They are generally appointed by the secretary and vote as a block that is not reflective of the diversity of views among their membership. That is at the heart of factional power.

  28. I can’t see how it’s news that three Senators who thought Rudd was the better candidate in February still think he’s the better candidate now.

    If it was the other way around, maybe.

  29. Scringler

    how come you can afford a solar panel but not insulation?

    I would think that insulation is the first step, before you look at anything else.

  30. MsAdventure @ 81

    Peppy7 and bemused

    Once the whole system is up and running properly at the end of 2013 they’ll pretty much all be communicating and sending readings electronically.

    Does this mean there will be towers put up in suburban streets to wireless collect this information? If so, what would the density rate of the towers, on every street as would be required for Malcolm Turnbull’s wireless internet plan?

    I believe there are a number of schemes in operation around the world but I believe the one in use in Australia is known as “zigbee” where the meters have a small antenna (like a mobile phone) and meters relay messages from other meters back to the concentrator where it then goes by cable.

    Pretty clever stuff.

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