Seat du jour: Melbourne

After achieving a rare lower house win for the Greens in 2010, Adam Bandt did very well to retain his seat in 2013 in the face of a Liberal decision to direct preferences to Labor.

The electorate of Melbourne hasnorth been the showpiece of the Greens’ electoral revolution over the last decade, owing to Adam Bandt’s successive victories in 2010 and 2013. Bandt’s win in 2010 was the second achieved by the party in a House of Representatives seat, after a by-election victory in the New South Wales seat of Cunningham in 2002, and the first at a general election. He remained the only Greens member in the House after his re-election in 2013, when a 7.0% increase in the primary vote cancelled out the effect of the Liberals’ decision to direct preferences against him. Prior to the election of Bandt, Melbourne was held by Labor without interruption since 1904, its members including Arthur Calwell from 1940 to 1972, Hawke government Immigration Minister Gerry Hand from 1983 to 1993, and Rudd government Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner from 1993 to 2010.




Melbourne extends from the central business district to Carlton North in the north and Richmond in the east, and is distinguished demographically by the second lowest median age in the country (first being the strongly indigenous Northern Territory seat of Lingiari), substantial student populations associated with the University of Melbourne and RMIT University campuses, and the nation’s highest “no religion” response in the 2011 census. Other demographic features include substantial Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean populations. The Greens are strongest in Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond, excluding some local-level concentrations of migrant populations that remain strong for Labor. They are weakest in and around the central business district and at Ascot Vale at the seat’s north-western edge, which are respectively strong for Liberal and Labor.

The Greens’ first breakthrough in Melbourne came in 2001, when displeasure at Labor’s acquiescence in the Howard government’s asylum seeker policies helped fuel an increase in the primary vote from 6.2% to 15.8%. The party was further boosted by the collapse in support for the Australian Democrats, which aided a further increase to 19.0% in 2004. Adam Bandt first contested the seat in 2007, and broke new ground by recording 22.8% of the primary vote and overtaking the Liberal candidate during the preference count, ultimately falling 4.7% short of unseating Lindsay Tanner after preferences. Bandt’s big opportunity came in 2010, when Tanner dropped a bombshell just hours after the coup against Kevin Rudd by announcing he would not contest the next election, a decision he insisted was unrelated to events earlier in the day. The Labor vote subsequently fell 11.4% while the Greens were up 13.4%, panning out to a comfortable 6.0% margin for Bandt at the final count.

Prior to his entering parliament, Adam Bandt was an industrial and public interest lawyer whose career had brought him to a partnership at Slater and Gordon. He achieved an instant national profile upon his election as a member of the cross-bench in a hung parliament, which the events of Labor’s second term only served to enhance. Nonetheless, Bandt’s re-election prospects looked to be under a cloud following the Victorian state election in November 2010, at which the Liberals made a politically productive decision to direct preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens. Few were surprised when the Liberals announced they would repeat the tactic during the 2013 federal campaign, which caused the flow of Liberal preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor to fall from 80.0% in 2010 to just 33.7%. However, this was negated by a further 11.5% slump in Labor’s primary vote, and the swing against Bandt after preferences amounted to only 0.6%.

Labor’s candidate at the coming election is Sophie Ismail, a Victorian Education Department lawyer and member of the Socialist Left faction.

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.

2 comments on “Seat du jour: Melbourne”

  1. Apart from Docklands, Labor’s only wins here seem to be the old Housing Commission areas: Ascot Vale, North Melbourne, Flemington, and North Richmond.

    Ascot Vale will probably be removed at the next redistribution, which will make it even harder for Labor to win back in the future.

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