Seat of the week: Deakin

The eastern Melbourne seat of Deakin has been on a knife edge for over three decades, and was among the three seats gained by the Liberals in Victoria at the 2013 election.

One of three Victorian seats gained by the Liberals from Labor at the 2013 election, Deakin is centred on the eastern Melbourne suburbs of Blackburn and Nunawading, from which it extends eastwards along the Maroondah Highway to Ringwood and Croydon. When created in 1937 it extended far beyond the city limits to Seymour and Mansfield, before gaining its wholly urban orientation in 1969 and assuming roughly its current dimensions when it lost Box Hill in 1977. The electorate in its totality is demographically unexceptional on all measures, although ethnic diversity tends to diminish towards the eastern end of the electorate, which is reflected in lower support for Labor.




For a seat that has been marginal for most of its history, Deakin has brought Labor remarkably little joy. The party’s only win prior to 2007 was with the election of the Hawke government in March 1983, and it returned to the Liberal fold when Hawke went to the polls early in December 1984. The seat presented a picture of electoral stability from 1984 to 2001, when Liberal margins ranged only from 0.7% to 2.5%. The biggest swing in this period was a 4.3% shift to the Liberals amid Labor’s statewide rout of 1990, but this served only to cancel out the effects of a redistribution that turned a 1.5% Liberal margin into a notional Labor margin of 1.9%. That redistribution caused sitting member Julian Beale to successfully challenge controversial party colleague Ken Aldred for preselection in the safer seat of Bruce, causing Aldred to reluctantly accept the consolation prize of Deakin. After retaining the seat for the Liberals in 1990 and 1993, Aldred was unseated for preselection in 1996 by Phillip Barresi, whose tenure as member precisely coincided with the Howard years.

Like many marginal Liberal seats, Deakin crucially failed to swing significantly when the Coalition retained office from a minority of the two-party vote in 1998, and a 3.4% swing amid a poor result for Labor in Victoria at the 2004 election boosted the margin to its highest level since 1977. Labor was nonetheless able to overcome the 5.0% margin at the 2007 election, when Mike Symon gained the seat with a swing of 6.4%. Symon had previously been an official with the Left faction Electrical Trades Union, which had made him a target of Coalition barbs during the campaign amid controversies surrounding union colleagues Dean Mighell and Kevin Harkins. Phillip Barresi attempted to regain the seat for the Liberals in 2010, but a generally strong result for Labor in Victoria was reflected in a 1.0% swing to Symon.

Symon’s margin was cut from 2.4% to 0.6% at the redistribution before the 2013 election, mainly due to the electorate’s absorption of Liberal-voting territory around Vermont South, and he was then toppled by a Liberal swing of 3.8%. The seat has since been held for the Liberals by Michael Sukkar, formerly a tax specialist with law firm Ashurt (previously known as Blake Dawson). Sukkar had emerged a surprise preselection winner over John Pesutto, a lawyer and Victorian government adviser who has since found a safe berth in state parliament as the member for Hawthorn. Labor’s preselected candidate for the next election is Tony Clark, manager of Vision Australia and unsuccessful state election candidate for Ringwood. Mike Symon again sought preselection and narrowly defeated Clark in the local party ballot, but this was overwhelmed by support for Clark in the 50% of the vote determined by the state party’s Public Office Selection Committee. It was reported in Crikey that the Left abstained from the POSC vote, as it wished to let “the Right factions fight out between themselves”.


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.

6 comments on “Seat of the week: Deakin”

  1. Mike and Tony have been saying it’s the first proper pre-selection competition for the seat in a long time, which included candidate debates.

    Also interesting that the eastern edge of the electorate is so marginal in a bad election for the ALP, but the area is so heavily leaning in the Liberals favour for the state election in an election in which the ALP won. I rather doubt it’s all to do with East-West Link.

  2. That the Liberal vote increases further north around Warranwood and Ringwood North is unsurprising, however. Considerably wealthier area than the more (and somewhat formerly) industrial Bayswater and Croydon

  3. Having been working in this and adjoining electorates for more than ten years, it is interesting that Deakin has gone with the government all seven elections since 1996 (and each sitting MP has graciously taken over the lease of the same electoral office in Mitcham!)

    Also amusing is to think of Phil Barresi campaigning heavily on the “Scoresby Freeway No Tolls” line, and being backed by then-Federal Treasurer Peter Costello saying that they would only contribute to the project if it were toll-free. Very ironic in the context that the Feds at the time were helping pay for toll roads in NSW, and that the Fed Libs now are up in arms wanting to fund a toll road, the same road which Tony Abbott said that the Victorian election would be a referendum on! And thus by his logic, was rejected by the people of Victoria.

    Anyway Michael Sukkar is still banging on about the East-West link as are his Federal Liberal neighbours, but always conspicuously absent are any Victorian State Libs!

    The Victorian Liberal Party leadership should just come out now and say whether or not they are still committed to building their East-West link at one million dollars per metre.

    I suspect that Sukkar et al will bang this drum in the lead up to the 2016 Federal election, but unless they can get their State counterparts on board it will all sound a bit hollow. It would be hard for a re-elected Federal Coalition to campaign for their Cemetery Tunnel if even the Victorian State Liberals weren’t backing it.

  4. Oooh… My seat! A shame to hear Tony Clark got pre-selection over Mike Symon as ALP candidate for the next federal election, as I didn’t think he was that great as a candidate in last year’s Victorian state election for the seat of Ringwood (which I also live in).

    Would be great though if the Liberals did lose the seat in the federal election, but I’m not counting on it happening given the area. Although as Rocket Rocket pointed out it’s interesting to note that Deakin has gone with the government every election since 1996.

  5. I don’t know much about Tony Clark but Mike Symons wasn’t that great a local MP. He was fairly active in his first term but almost invisible after 2010. It was pretty obvious that Labor had decided that he was the wrong side of the sandbagging. It was also pretty obvious that Mike wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Not sure what to think about Michael Sukkar – I have not encountered him around the traps.

  6. Thanks for your insights blackburnpseph. I hadn’t met Mike Symon while he was the local member for Deakin, but as far as I could tell he was doing an ok job.

    ALP deciding to cut Deakin adrift after 2010 is not surprising. Perhaps it should be expected that the ALP will put up uninspiring candidates for Deakin, given the trouble the party has had retaining the seat.

    It does annoy me though that the ALP doesn’t invest more in winning seats like Deakin, as this is where elections are won and lost, not the inner-city, where they appear to be fighting a losing battle of demography against The Greens.

    Michael Sukkar, well I haven’t encountered him around the traps either. However I did write a lengthy email to him after the details for last year’s budget were released about how it would impact the most vulnerable in the community. Surprisingly he did reply, but basically denied last year’s federal budget was unfair and that old chestnut of having to balance the budget (at all costs or at least at the cost of those reliant on accessing social services…).

    Most recently his office has been sending out flyers in the electorate promising that they will continue to fight for the East/West Link to be built. Good luck with that one!

    Looking forward to putting the hard word to both Michael and Tony during the campaign for the next federal election.

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