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. [Attacking Rudd over his handling of the GFC makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It was a perfect text book example of what should be done during an economic crisis.]

    Labor denied the economic legacy of Hawker/Keating for a long time until Rudd began to resurect it, now Labor is having to do the same with Rudd. Don’t mention his legacy.

  2. Tony Jones was disgraceful tonight. Interesting that not many questions from the audience were about Slipper/Thompson or any of the other media talking points. People don’t really care about that stuff.

  3. Laughs for Abbott non appearance.

    Telling, that. The idea that he’s shy of scrutiny is starting to filter through.

  4. [Mr Squiggle
    Posted Monday, June 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink
    I object on the grounds of racism.
    since when have we Australians ever identified a person as a “latino”?

    I don’t know her name, and I was able to identify her accent as latino….its part of growing up in a multi-cultural society, isn’t that part of the point of cultural diversity?]
    I don’t know, Mr Squiggle.
    You seem to have done that.
    All by yourself.

    And convinced bemused of it.

    Think you’ve been watching too much American TV, don’t you?

  5. Hildebrand makes a Twitter appearance.
    [Joe Hildebrand ‏@Joe_Hildebrand
    Tony Abbott can’t be on Q&A. He’s appearing on Jerry Springer.]

  6. Thanks puff needec to tell these young liberals they have no idea

    I would love to ban him rummell from medicare for a month, and no free medici e

    Bet he woukd come screaming let me in let me in,

    Same with all the othe hypocrites that vote liberall
    What have they ever done for any one
    Except vietnam the barrell and iraq

  7. 2774

    Marvellous extemporising!

    No bearing what so ever on anything I mentioned.

    Suggest that you do not want Paul.

    You seem to have little notion that your moniker is inappropriate.

  8. Tony Jones doesn’t know that carbon price compensation is being effected by tripling the tax free threshold. Unbelievable.

  9. [Swan knew almost zero about anything at that time.]

    Can you provide proof of that or should your claim be added to the very large pile of bullshit you have left here in the last 18 months?

  10. Well I think Gillard did reasonably well, but she was still too simplistic with her answers to some questions (explaining things in more detail isn’t a bad thing, it makes people realise that the issues you deal with are complex and there are no easy answers!)

    Her same-sex marriage response was a non-answer.

    She could’ve explained more about tax reform, including the fact the government cut income taxes in 2008,9,10.

    But it was still OK, but I don’t people care anymore, they don’t trust her.

  11. gus
    It is taking hold.
    [MisdaMagoo ‏@MisdaMagoo
    RUNAWAY TONY running from parliament, running from press conferences & running from #Qanda. Pathetic. Unelectable coward.]

  12. Just a comment about jobs in the mining industry (I work for a hydrogeology consultancy, mostly for mining companies).

    Every mining operation I have been involved with attempts to employ local aboriginal people – it’s generally part of the native title agreement with the locals.

    Skilled employment is, boiler makers, truck drivers, surveyors, cooks, cleaners. People with skills to do a task.

    Most people on minesites are Australian, but the proprtion of overseas people is very large. Also lots of women truck drivers.

    My guess is that most people who complain that miners don’t employ enough locals or Australians don’t work in the mining industry. The requirements are strict and there are difficult conditions and most people would be unprepared to do the work.

  13. Schnappi

    I want Abbott there precisely because those slogans do not work on those forums. Abbott might even get the brain freeze.

  14. [he has policies for you to love and enjoy in 15 months.]

    What are they? How would we know?

    Are we all going to get fluoro jackets?

    When do I get mine?

  15. More
    [Bec ‏@Brocklesnitch
    Hi @TonyAbbottMHR now that a lady has gone on #qanda & proven it’s not too scary, will you be fronting up?]
    The journos should ask Abbott at every presser why he won’t go on.

  16. The best part of the PM’s performance was that she never once resorted to the standard “ät least we are better than the opposition” type answers. Defended her party policies without mentioning Mr Abbott, I could not have resisted that. WP PM.

  17. As someone who has a lot of trouble keeping conversations with morons (ie not specialists in my field of law) at a level they can keep up with, what Julia does to keep things simple is a lot harder than sprouting hours of drivel.

    But the media attack her whatever she does.

  18. Oh yeah, and nothing wrong with using 457 visas to get enough workers, about 1/3 of my company is on them as we can’t get enough hydrogeologists from Australia.
    There is a huge advantage employing Australians for jobs in Australia, so even though I am not a fan of Gina Rheinhardt, her use of 457 visas isn’t about saving money, it’s about getting people with skills.

  19. Not a good day for Murdoch – Brown saying he lied to Levenson.

    Not a good day for Abbott – completely ignored by the PMoA on QandA.

  20. [Tony Jones was disgraceful tonight.]

    dooby – you can say that again. I have never seen him wear a more Mr Grumpy Pants face. He was absolutely obnoxious.

    You can see why the PM is given kudos for her negotiating skills. No show of impatience or rudeness back to Jones but just got out all that she wanted to say. Great skills.

  21. rummel

    Just wait. Rest of the week is Tories and allies in the dock. Will Cameron forgetful enough to leave a daughter at a pub, forget crucial details and come undone on the stand. Will there be a Labour UK government next week?

  22. [Gordon Brown]

    Having watched both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown they both came over much better than I expected, brilliant in fact them both.

    What the Hawke / Keating, Blair / Brown, Howard / Costello thing shows is that liberals need to get some people who are capable into parliament.

  23. [Well I think Gillard did reasonably well, but she was still too simplistic with her answers to some questions (explaining things in more detail isn’t a bad thing, it makes people realise that the issues you deal with are complex and there are no easy answers!)]

    She has to be simplistic. She’s trying to have you and your mob understand, which is why she speaks slowly. Get it?

  24. bemused
    [Squiggle was merely identifying the woman. Latino is not a pejorative term as far as I am aware.]
    Oh, I don’t think Latino is a perjorative term.
    I think it denotes race though.
    And how many Latinos do we have in Australia, bemused?

    [You just seem to want to go around picking fights over nothing.]
    Not at all. You seem to want to latch on to anything, even a race we don’t have here.
    You, like, Mr Quiggle, watch too much commercial TV, the USA variety.

    I don’t like employment based on race.
    Do you?

  25. [Not a good day for Abbott – completely ignored by the PMoA on QandA.]

    lol. yes its only taken her a year to follow the advice of Team Labor Bludgers

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