Seat of the week: Gellibrand

A trip through an uninterestingly safe Labor seat in Melbourne’s inner west, where Tim Watts succeeded Nicola Roxon as member at the 2013 election.

Located directly to the west of the Melbourne city centre and the mouth of the Yarra River, the safe Labor seat of Gellibrand encompasses the Vietnamese community centres of Footscray and Sunshine in the north along with bayside territory in the south, including gentrified Williamstown at the city end and working-class Altona further to the west. It was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, prior to which Williamstown was accommodated by Melbourne Ports, Footscray by Maribyrnong, and Altona by Corio. Support for the Liberals is low throughout the electorate, and while the Greens enjoy strong support at the city end, their weakness around Sunshine and Altona has prevented them from being competitive.




The only time Labor has not held Maribyrnong was following the split of 1955, when inaugural member John Mullens became one of seven Labor MPs to line up with the ALP (Anti-Communist) and then lost their seats at the election. It was then held for Labor until 1972 by Hector McIvor, and subsequently by Ralph Willis, who would eventually serve as Treasurer from John Dawkins’ resignation in December 1993 until the defeat of the Keating government in March 1996. Willis was succeeded upon his retirement in 1998 by Nicola Roxon, who emerged through the Right faction as an organiser with the National Union of Workers and an industrial lawyer for Maurice Blackburn. After serving as Health Minister from the election of the Rudd government until December 2011 and as Attorney-General thereafter, Roxon resigned from cabinet in February 2013 and announced she would bow out of politics at the election.

The hotly contested preselection that followed was won by Tim Watts, a Telstra executive who had backing from Right faction powerbroker Senator Stephen Conroy, for whom he once worked as a staffer, along with further support from the Socialist Left under the terms of the “stability pact” that has dominated Victorian Labor’s factional politics in recent years. His opponents included Katie Hall, a former adviser to Roxon who ran with her backing, and Kimberley Kitching, a former Melbourne councillor who was then acting general manager of the Health Services Union No. 1 branch. Kitching had reportedly hoped to prevail with support from Turkish community leaders, but was thwarted when the “Suleyman clan” (referring to an influential family in western suburbs politics) defected to Watts as part of a deal which delivered support to Natalie Suleyman in her bid for a berth in state parliament.

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: Gellibrand”

  1. “Uninterestingly safe” sums it up.

    Even allowing for continued gentrification, it will take decades for Labor to be under any sort of threat here.

  2. As someone who participates in the discussions about the Altona Loop railway line, the common whinge we have is that both at state and federal level, this seat is not marginal enough to allow us to make much impact in lobbying for much changes.

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