|Green and red numbers respectively indicate size of two-party Nationals and Labor polling booth majorities. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.|
The electorate of Gippsland has covered the far east of Victoria since federation, and has been in National/Country Party hands since the party was founded in 1922. It currently extends as far westwards as the Latrobe Valley towns of Morwell and Traralgon, other major centres being Sale, Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance. The Nationals’ hold appeared to be in serious jeopardy for the first time when the redistribution ahead of the 2004 election added Morwell and Traralgon, which had long been accommodated by the electorate’s western neighbour McMillan. However, Labor’s traditional strength in this area has been waning over the past two decades with the decline of its electricity industry, and a realignment among workers with a stake in coal mining resulting from climate change politics. Howard government minister Peter McGauran, who had held the since since 1983, increased his margin by 5.1% at the 2004 election, and the swing against him in 2007 was only 1.8%.
McGauran was the first member of the Howard government to leave parliament after the 2007 election defeat, resulting in a by-election held on 28 June 2008. This produced a three-way contest involving both the Nationals and Liberals as well as Labor, which at the time provided a spur to talk of a coalition merger. After a campaign dominated by the Rudd government’s alcopops tax and local concern over the prospect of an emissions trading scheme, the Nationals easily retained the seat, outpolling the Liberals 39.6% to 20.7% and gaining a 6.1% swing on two-party preferred a surprisingly poor result for Labor given the strength of the Rudd government’s polling at the time. Labor’s primary vote fell 8.1%, and was down particularly heavily at the Latrobe Valley end of the electorate.
Gippsland has since been held for the Nationals by Darren Chester, who had previously been the chief-of-staff to state party leader Peter Ryan. Chester had earlier run unsuccessfully against Craig Ingram, then the independent member for the state seat of Gippsland East, at the 2002 state election, and sought Senate preselection at the 2004 federal election against Peter McGauran’s incumbent brother Julian, who went on to defect to the Liberal Party in January 2006. After his strong win at the by-election, Chester’s margin was little changed at the 2010 election, and he picked up a further 4.4% swing in 2013. Chester was promoted to shadow parliamentary secretary for roads and regional transport after the 2010 election, and became parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister when the Abbott government came to power in 2013.