Seat du jour: Melbourne Ports

Michael Danby has had a fairly secure hold on his southern inner-city seat through a career going back to 1993, but the Greens could pose a challenge to Labor over the long term.

Melbourne Ports covers bayside inner Melbourne from the mouth of the Yarra through Port Melbourne and Albert Park to St Kilda, further jutting inland in the south to take in Elsternwick. Labor’s lengthy tenure belies the electorate’s complexity, with wealthy Liberal-voting elements making their presence felt near the city and around South Yarra and Caulfield at the eastern end, and the Greens looming as a threat to Labor over the long term. The Greens are particularly strong in and around St Kilda, and will have drawn encouragement from their victory in the partially corresponding seat of Prahran at the 2014 state election. The electorate has the nation’s highest proportion of Jewish residents, at 12.8% of the total according to the 2011 census, and ranks at or near the top for numbers of Poles, Russians and Hungarians. It also has the second lowest proportion of Christians after its northern neighbour, Melbourne.




The electorate has existed in name since federation, and been held by Labor without interruption until 1906. It extended west beyond the mouth of the Yarra River to encompass Williamstown and surrounding suburbs until the Gellibrand electorate was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, and only in 1969 did its bayside frontage extend far enough to the south-east to take in all of St Kilda and Elwood. Despite a demographic transformation since that time that has made the electorate the tenth wealthiest in the country, Labor’s two-party vote has remained fairly stable. The seat has had only five members during its long period of Labor control: James Matthews until 1931; Ted Holloway, a Curtin-Chifley government minister who moved to Melbourne Ports after unseating Prime Minister Stanley Bruce in Flinders two years earlier, until 1951; Frank Crean, Whitlam government Treasurer and father of Simon, until 1977; Clyde Holding, who came to the seat after a long and unproductive spell as state Opposition Leader, until 1998; and thereafter by the incumbent, Michael Danby.

Michael Danby is a member of the Right sub-faction associated with Stephen Conroy and Bill Shorten, and his pre-parliamentary career included stints as editor of the Australia-Israel Review, staffer to Hawke government minister Barry Cohen, and industrial officer for the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. His most senior ranking has been as parliamentary secretary in the arts portfolio, both in government from March 2013 and opposition after September 2013, but he has frequently been in the news as a supportive voice for Israel.

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.

26 comments on “Seat du jour: Melbourne Ports”

  1. > The electorate has existed in name since federation, and been held by Labor without interruption until 1906.

    I think you mean “since 1906”.

  2. I’d expect Labor to hold this, and with a swing towards them, their primary vote may stagnate and may go up by 1 percent. The greens should have a good election here, and probably go up by about 4-5 percent. Over time this seat will become a Green – Lib contest.

  3. Don’t really see The Greens posing a serious challenge here anytime soon. Apart from the St Kilda – Elwood enclave, their primary vote wasn’t anywhere near Labor’s at the last federal (nor state) election.

    Of course, if the northern parts of this electorate continue to grow, that’s all that might be left of it (together with the high-risers).

  4. @Joe

    5% from Labor to Greens could change the order of elimination and win the seat. Greens are fully capable of achieving swings like that when they target their resources. It’s also very easy to deploy Melbourne Greens into, and I think now that Melbourne is secured for Bandt they will be sending their volunteers out to target adjacent seats like this one.

    I reckon this could be one of their major targets in next couple of campaigns, possibly even this one.

    The main threat is Danby’s inclination to preference the Liberals ahead of the Greens, if the Greens get ahead Labor could choose to give the seat to the Libs out of frothing spite.

  5. Danby is a classic horse for the course in this seat. Methinks that he may have developed a very large personal vote in the jewish community that may otherwise vote for the libs or may be up for grabs when he chooses to retire. This large jewish vote may also be the block to the Greens winning this seat – Greens support for Palestine would not endear them to a large voting block in this seat – it may also be possible that in the event of a close election where the ALP came third that a large part of the Labor vote may leak to the Libs. The other unknown is electoral boundaries – it is not outside the realm of possibility that Melbourne Ports may grow northwards over the river into Docklands – that may be a game changer if Labor leaning areas were lost to neighbouring seats.

  6. The Greens have a way to go yet….their vote is very strong around St Kilda but tends to drop off as you move north or east. Plus the inner city demographic here is very different to the seat of Melbourne. This is the sort of seat that the Liberals could probably win under someone like Turnbull if they were doing well.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if this did end up as a Prahran-like “three way marginal”, where it’s Liberals vs Whichever Left Party Finishes Second.

  7. @PhoenixGreen – you’re basing that off an election with a relatively low ALP primary vote in Vic. I’d expect there to be a swing from Lib to ALP this election. Further, as pointed out above, in a large part of the electorate there aren’t many ALP voters who could end up supporting The Greens.

    @Mark – this will depend on future demographic changes. If they aren’t friendly to the Libs (vs Labor), I don’t see them being competitive here either. ALP margin is not huge, but substantial.

  8. In 2013, this seat was one of those where Labor preferenced the Liberals above the Greens. This meant that even if the Greens had passed Labor, Labor preferences would have elected the Liberal candidate. It will be interesting to see if Danby adopts the same tactic this time.

  9. @Joe

    Yes, the demographics mean this seat is clearly not a typical Melbourne / Newtown style Greens stronghold, but I think it is entirely winnable by the Greens in a Prahran / Higgins leapfrog way. They don’t need many ALP or LNP voters to switch to Green, only just enough to put them ahead of Danby on primaries.

    As far as last election being a low point for Labor, it was for the Greens too – and polls seem to show a great deal of Labor’s 2PP gain since the last election is due to Greens vote growth. Also, the Greens leadership is based in Victoria for the first time and they have a lot of local resources freed up from the Melbourne contest that weren’t in play before. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I do think it is completely achievable if the Greens wanted to try for it, there’s much less of a gap to close than in other Green target seats like Wills. They probably see even softer targets in Batman and Higgins though, so Ports might have to wait another term or two.

  10. The Greens have put up a very good candidate for this electorate, far better than the candidate for Higgins, although the Prahran team has moved to Higgins.

    The Greens are saying that Danby is an awful member of Parliament for progressive voters.

    Jewish voters in the electorate are confident in backing Danby

  11. I think with the strong Liberal vote here, the Labor-Greens preferencing will keep it Labor. Unless the Liberal vote collapses into third place for whatever reason.

  12. I think that this seat could very easily move Green. I have almost fisnished analysing the last Council election in my neck of the woods and the swing to the Greens was significant when compared with the last Federeal election. Now I know the two are not strictly comparable, but it is clear that in my electorate the Greens are poised to become the second party. The trend is clear – in middle class areas, the Greens are picking up at the expense of Labor UNLESS there is a very good labor candidate (which actually means a very green labor candidate).

    Melbourne Ports seems to have just such a demographic although there is the additional Jewish voting factor that may swing things.

  13. @blackburnpseph I would suspect with population growth, considering their still is Fisherman’s Bend to be developed yet, that in fact Caulfield will be taken out of Melbourne Ports.
    The idea of moving Melbourne Ports north was proposed at the last Victorian Federal Redistribution, although that was eventually rejected, mostly due to the fact that in Melbourne their is a huge demographic change once you cross the river, Similarly to Sydney harbour.

    Everyone else, I would contest the notion that Danby has huge following in the Jewish community. The bulk of the “Secular” Jews live in Caulfield, of which heavily favour the Liberals, the smaller Orthodox Community based in East St. Kilda wouldn’t make much of a difference, and probably don’t vote on a religious exemption considering elections are held on Saturdays.

  14. Liam Whelan – early voting is a thing. And most of Caulfield is ~50/50, and about 40% of it is not Jewish so unless you have better data, you can’t really say that its Jewish population is Liberal-voting.

  15. While I understand some that some orthodox Jews might avoid voting on the day of Sabbath, I don’t think there’s any reason to stop them from using postal voting or pre-voting.

  16. In Melbourne Ports with a high Jewish population, especially around Caulfield and St Kilda East, Michael Danby increasingly attracts a substantial Jewish vote that crosses party lines. That is clear when House of Reps votes in booths in these areas are compared with Senate and state votes. Jewish voters in these areas generally favour the Coalition in the Senate and the equivalent State seats. But Michael Danby’s strong support for the US alliance, stand against terrorism, support for constituent causes, Jewish education, Israel and a two state solution help make him the favourite among Jewish voters. Conversely, even though many Jewish voters favour environmental causes, this does not translate into voting for the Greens political party that varies from neutral to anathema on Israel. Many Jews are sceptical of the Greens. Lee Rhiannon, who heads the NSW Greens political party Senate ticket, is a strong proponent of BDS. She appears to still maintain the faith of the now fortunately defunct Stalinist Socialist Party of Australia, of which she was a long-standing activist into her mid-30s. Even if there were what Michael Kroger in 2013 labelled a ‘dirty deal’ between the Liberal Party and the Greens— ‘an insidious and poisonous influence on Australian politics’, Kroger asserted. As Kroger correctly pointed out, many Jewish voters who pinched their noses and vote Greens on environmental issues, would vote for Danby second anyway. Aligning with the far left Greens against Danby would alienate many Jewish Coalition voters in the seat who might well switch over to Danby. Danby’s anti far left politics goes down well with the high numbers of Russians,Hungarians & poles referred to in the Bowe portrait of the seat. Moreover, a Blue-Greens alliance in other seats would strongly contrast with Kroger’s earlier principled and practical position, as well as Helen Kroger, John Howard and Ted Bailie (to name but a few), would leave a very bad taste of hypocrisy in the mouths of Jewish voters and many others.
    It’s worth noting that the number of Jews in Melbourne Ports is in fact quite a bit higher than the 12.8% from the 2011 Census referred to in the Seat du Jour. This is for reasons related to nature of the Census question on religion. For historical reasons, some Jews are reluctant to disclose their religion and background while many belong ethnically but don’t define themselves through religion. This is clear from the large number in the electorate who in the 2011 census declared themselves to have ’no religion’.

  17. BW @ 9 says “In 2013, this seat was one of those where Labor preferenced the Liberals above the Greens” – which means their HTV recommended prefs to Libs. Will, how obedient were the Labor voters to their party? I presume you have the figures in easy reach.

    I think we should all stop talking about parties ‘directing’ or ‘swapping’ preferences or ‘preferencing’ another party, in recognition that all they do is make recommendations – even in the Senate from now on. I know a lot of voters do what their party tells them, but increasingly, I believe (subject to Williams’s confirmation or disproof), they’re making up their own minds.

  18. Re Danby…
    It wouldn’t be going to far to describe Danby as a virulent zionist …that being the central idea of all his political activities…a friend of mine describes him as” aka “the member for Tel Aviv…and his hatred of the Greens arises from their very just and sensible policies re the oppressed Palestinians….none of which Impress a rabid Zionist like Dandy who supports the occupation of Palestine..”””
    . ,which a well know Jewish former politician Uri Avery recently described as “zio-fascism”…so yes he would rather see the Libs capture Melb Ports rather than a Green if that situation arose…always Israel First

  19. The Libs a few times in the past have put a lot of effort and resources into this seat and failed against Danby. They may be biding their time, waiting for his retirement, and hope that it is a Liberal upswing year.

    Agree with Liam@14 that a move north is more likely than not – and who knows what the electoral demographics of a future Fishermans Bend will be?

    If boundaries move significantly elsewhere, the ALP may decide at some stage to move Mark Dreyfus into the seat – who would also be a horse for the course.

  20. Thanks for the insights Douglas Kirsner @ 17. In 2013 the Liberals preselected Kevin Ekendahl, who was also Jewish. How did you feel this played out?

  21. Hi Jack Randa @18 – yes you are right, the Labor Party recommended a vote for the Liberals above the Greens in their HTV cards. Point taken. I don’t know the figures. As the Greens did not pass the Labor Party, Labor preferences were not distributed. Probably more voters make up their own minds nowadays, but from my observation (which is only in some seats) voters for the major parties still follow the ticket well over half the time.

  22. Liberal candidate Owen Guest already has a “Malcolm and Me” sign overlooking the West Gate Freeway that’s nearly large enough to land a plane on……

    A name change might be in order for this seat at the next redistribution. Port Melbourne isn’t Melbourne’s actual port anymore, and with gentrification/redevelopment very little of the active port area is within the seat’s boundaries.

  23. Yes, Kevin Ekendahl has a Jewish background, and David Southwark, who contested the seat for the Liberals in 2004 is Jewish. However, the question for Jewish voters is, ‘Who is the best overall representative?’ Voters from that section of the community recognise that Michael Danby is and has been a very effective and experienced representative, particularly on wider issues of foreign policy as well as education.

  24. As discussed above, today Michael Danby announced that Labor will again be directing preferences to the Liberal Party ahead of the Greens in Melbourne Ports. (They did this in other seats in 2013, including in Adelaide.) I guess that says a lot about where Labor is at present.

  25. Danby hates the Greens because of their policies on Israel…and their support for the suffering Palestinian s ///.as simple as that..

    .all is determined by what’s good for Israel….some now call Israeli policies Ziofascism …by someJewish writers in Israel infact

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