Seat of the week: La Trobe

The outer eastern Melbourne seat of La Trobe generally leans slightly to the Liberals, but fell to Labor at their Victorian high-water mark of 2010.

Covering the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, La Trobe has been a pivotal marginal seat since Labor first won it with the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, and was among three seats gained for the Liberals in Victoria with the election of the Abbott government in 2013. The electorate was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949 to accommodate post-war suburbia developing at Melbourne’s eastern edge, which at that time included territory as far west as Nunawading and Rowville. It gained roughly its present dimensions with the next expansion of parliament in 1984, and presently encompasses two rapidly growing outer urban areas – Boronia and Ferntree Gully in the north, and Berwick in the south – along with the Dandenong Ranges centres of Emerald, Cockatoo and Gembrook.




La Trobe was held by the Liberals throughout the period of Coalition government from its creation in 1949 until 1972, the inaugural member being Menzies government External Affairs Minister Richard Casey, who had earlier served as Treasurer under Joseph Lyons from 1935 to 1939, and would later serve as Governor-General from 1965 to 1969. Labor won for the first time with the election of Tony Lamb on a 10.2% swing in 1972, but he in turn was swept away by an 8.9% swing in the landslide of 1975. The seat next changed hands at the elections of 1980 and 1990, a 5.6% swing on the latter occasion combining with the impact of a redistribution that cut Labor’s margin from 7.3% to 4.1%. Incoming Liberal member Bob Charles had a remarkably stable time of it over the next decade, his original winning margin of 1.4% progressing to 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 amid a generally poor result for Labor throughout Melbourne. Wood had won preselection with the backing of the Jeff Kennett-Ted Baillieu faction after cutting his teeth as candidate for Holt in 2001, and was noted at the time to have “been a member of Greenpeace for longer than he has been a member of the Liberal Party”. He went on to cause discomfort for his party during the 2007 campaign by issuing a brochure that failed to sing from the party song sheet on nuclear power.

Wood went into the 2007 election with a 5.8% margin, of which 0.5% remained 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 seat was then held for Labor for a term by Laura Smyth, a lawyer for Holding Redlich.

Jason Wood again won preselection to contest the seat for the Liberals in 2013, and duly accounted for the 1.7% margin with a swing of 5.7%. His Labor opponent at the next election will be Simon Curtis, a Beaconhills College teacher and former Casey councillor who won preselection ahead of the rather higher profile Damien Kingsbury, director of La Trobe University’s Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights.

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.

4 comments on “Seat of the week: La Trobe”

  1. In all the budget talk it is amazing there was not more discussion about the real measure that will have the most impact on jobs and services – a continuation of the savage cuts on funds to the States for health and education.

    These cuts are huge – over $80 billion across the projection period, and total a billion $ or more per year for the larger states. They are already costing many state jobs. Effectively, almost all the “progress” Hockey has made in reducing the deficit has been by transferring most of the pain to the states. He has done virtually nothing about tax reform, despite his promises in opposition and government.

  2. Have a good day all. I wonder who will try to sell the budget to “Tony’s Tradies” today? Funny how a private school educated Rhodes scholar right winger suddenly cares about them so much. Nope, no election coming.

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