Seat of the week: Corangamite

Demographic change and statewide voting trends pushed Labor over the line in this formerly secure Liberal seat in 2007 and 2010, but it slipped from their grasp again in the defeat of 2013.

Corangamite has covered a shifting area around Colac 150 kilometres west of Melbourne since its creation at federation, in which time it has only been won by Labor in the election victories of 1910 and 1929, and through the period of the Rudd-Gillard government from 2007 to 2013. It currently encompasses the Geelong suburbs south-west of the Barwon River and Great Ocean Road as far as Apollo Bay, together with rural areas to the west and north. The character of the electorate has changed over time with the growth of Geelong’s suburbs, which now account for a little over a third of the electorate’s voters, and the “sea change” phenomenon, the ABC TV series of that name having been set in the electorate at Barwon Heads. This has drained about 10% from the Liberal primary vote in the Great Ocean Road towns since the early 1990s, with the Greens vote there burgeoning to 17% at the 2010 election. The electorate’s share of Geelong encompasses Liberal-leaning Highton along with marginal Belmont and Grovedale, an area distinguished by a younger demographic profile and a preponderance of mortgage payers.




Labor’s first member for the seat was future Prime Minister Jim Scullin, who would return to parliament following his defeat in 1913 as member for the inner Melbourne seat of Yarra in 1922. The seat would next fall to Labor when Scullin led the party to power in 1929. The Country Party won the seat with Labor’s defeat in 1931, but it in turn fell to the United Australia Party in 1934, and was held thereafter by it and its Liberal Party successor. The enlargement of parliament in 1984 cost the electorate its most conservative rural territory in the west, but it took another 23 years before Labor was able to realise its hopes of gaining the seat. Stewart McArthur held the seat for the Liberals from 1984 until his eventual defeat in 2007, when to the dismay of some in the Liberal Party he sought another term despite being 70 years old.

The member for the next two terms was Darren Cheeseman, elected at the age of 31 after a career with the Left faction Community and Public Sector Union. After winning a fiercely contested preselection over Peter McMullin, the Right-backed mayor of Geelong, Cheeseman went on to overwhelm McArthur’s 5.3% margin at the 2007 election with a 6.2% swing. Faced at the 2010 election by a fresh Liberal candidate in Sarah Henderson, a former state host of The 7.30 Report and daughter of former state MP Ann Henderson, Cheeseman was brought within 771 votes of defeat by a 0.4% swing that went slightly against the trend of a 1.0% statewide swing to Labor. Cheeseman went on to receive substantial publicity in February 2012 when he declared Labor would be “decimated” if Julia Gillard led it to the election, which set the ball rolling on Kevin Rudd’s unsuccessful leadership challenge a week later.

Sarah Henderson succeeded on her second attempt as Liberal candidate at the 2013 election, easily accounting for the tiny Labor margin with a swing of 4.2%. Her Labor opponent at the next election will be Libby Coker, a Surf Coast councillor and former mayor, who won a preselection contest that was also contested by Darren Cheeseman. Also in the field was Tony White, an economic development manager at Colac Otway Shire and former adviser to various ministers and premiers in the Bracks-Brumby government.

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.

9 comments on “Seat of the week: Corangamite”

  1. My Labor voting in laws are corangamite residents. They are very impressed with the performance of sarah henderson to date. Their view is that she is very active and can get things done. In their opinion this is a marked contrast with cheese man. They also believe that cheeseman would never had got up if stewart macarthur had gone earlierm he had clearly outlived his welcome.

  2. I’m impressed at Labor picking Libby Coker as their candidate. Both parties have inflicted a serious run of dropkicks on the locals at both state and federal levels for the last fifteen years, with Sarah Henderson probably the least hopeless even if her politics are terrible. From what I know, Coker has been good on local council, and is a bloody great improvement over any of the 2007 alternatives (god help anyone who had to pick between Stewart McArthur, Peter McMullin and Darren Cheeseman).

  3. Henderson has joined a mystifying and dim-witted campaign to persuade the new state Labor government to build the east-west toll road built through the inner north of Melbourne. Apparently, she thinks that because her boss Abbott capriciously breaks election promises, Daniel Andrews should have no compunction about doing the same.

    Quite apart from the fact that the business case confirmed that the road project is a dud, it’s hard to see how it should be any sort priority for her constituents.

    Henderson claims that the toll road will create a second river crossing into Melbourne from the west. Not only will it not cross any rivers, but she can’t count. There are already four river crossings from the west – Westgate Bridge, Shepherds Bridge, the Dynon Road Bridge and Lynchs Bridge (Smithfield Road).

    Henderson should concentrate on campaigning for things that will benefit her electorate, such as the duplication of the single track railway from Geelong to the new station at Waurn Ponds. The single track severely limits the services that can be run to that station, and it also thwarts the desire of people in Winchelsea and Colac for extra train services. But, of course, Abbott would veto that because it’s not a road project.

  4. 5

    The East-West Link is partly an ideological venture. It is about individualism (people driving their own cars) and capitalism (corporate borrowing and construction and tolls to pay for (some of) it).

    More road capacity for the Princes Freeway to get to inner-Melbourne is also an aim. The western section of the link would go under the Maribyrnong River.

  5. Corrangamitte is the only seat the Liberals gained last time that I think we will see them hold although Banks and Reid might also be held.

    At the last Victorian state election, the Liberals did well to win South Barwon and held Polwarth whilst the ALP held on in Ballerine.

    Sarah Henderson appears to be working the seat hard and is one of this government’s better performing backbenchers.

    This seat will be determine on mostly local issues, EW-Link doesn’t strike me as being relevant to this seat.

  6. I disagree – I think it’ll go along with the national tide. Abbott is not popular out that way, Coker is one of the strongest candidates either party have run in the region for a while, and as long as Labor continues to do well in the polls I think national factors + a good local candidate will get them over the line. If Labor falls back, though, Corangamite will be bloody close.

  7. Coker is a very impressive person, as is Henderson. In my view overall sentiment with the performance of the government will win or lose the seat.

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