Seat du jour: Chisholm

Not much was left of Labor’s margin in this eastern Melbourne seat in 2013, and the party now faces a fight to retain the seat as Anna Burke bows out after 18 years as member.

Together with Bruce, Chisholm is one of two neighbouring seats in south-eastern Melbourne where Labor’s task in defending tight margins is complicated by the retirement of sitting members. Held since 1998 by Anna Burke, Chisholm covers a band of suburbs about 15 kilometres from central Melbourne, including Box Hill and Mont Albert in the north, Burwood and Mount Waverley in the centre, and Oakleigh and Clayton in the south. Labor is strongest south of the Monash Freeway, with the Mont Albert area leaning to the Liberals, and most of the remainder being naturally marginal.




Chisholm has existed in name since the enlargement of parliament in 1949, but was initially based further west, around Camberwell and Glen Iris further to the west. The entirety of this area now serves to bolster the Liberals in Higgins and Kooyong. The area now covered by Chisholm was divided between Deakin, La Trobe and (from 1955) Bruce during the period of post-war growth, until Chisholm drifted eastwards in stages between 1969 and 2013. This process made a Labor-leaning seat of what had long been a safe one for the Liberals, being held in turn by Wilfred Kent Hughes until 1970 and Tony Staley in 1980. The Liberal grip was then loosened by successive swings to Labor in 1977 and 1980. Labor’s candidate on both occasions, Helen Meyer, succeeded on the third attempt in 1983, when she unseated Staley’s one-term successor, Graham Harris.

The seat was recovered for the Liberals in 1987 by Michael Wooldridge, who went on to serve as Health Minister in the early years of the Howard government. Wooldridge maintained a precarious grip on the seat until 1998, when he jumped ship for the more secure seat of Casey. Anna Burke then gained the seat for Labor and retained it on narrow margins in 2001 and 2004, before a 4.7% swing in 2007 boosted her margin to 7.4%. This was followed by consecutive swings to the Liberals of 1.3% and 4.2%, the former being against the trend of a strong statewide result for Labor. Burke’s national profile received a considerable boost when she replaced Peter Slipper in the Speaker’s chair after he stood aside in April 2012, initially on an acting basis and then officially when Slipper resigned the following November.

A Labor preselection that followed Burke’s retirement announcement in December was won by Monash mayor Stefanie Perri, who was reported the beneficiary of a deal in which the National Union of Workers was readmitted to the dominant sub-faction of the Victorian Right, thereby placing it under the umbrella of its “stability pact” with the Socialist Left. Perri had faced competition from Manningham mayor Jennifer Yang, who ran in the seat of Mount Waverley at the November 2014 state election, and had offered to raise $500,000 of her own money for the party’s campaign if preselected. The Liberal candidate is Julia Banks, who works as a lawyer for George Weston Foods.

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.

8 comments on “Seat du jour: Chisholm”

  1. Yet another Melbourne seat where the concept of community of interest has been totally ignored by the redistribution commissioners. I often wonder whether they have actually been outside their office.

    Box Hill and Clayton have little community of interest. The AEC seems to have a thing for north-south seats when often the community of interest is east-west. Just as Dandenong is split into three, Oakleigh, another major centre is also split into three – Chisholm, Higgins and Hotham.

    The non preselected Labor candidate – Jennifer Yang – was the candidate for Mount Waverley in the last state election. She comes from Manningham which is a long way from either seat – she possibly should try on her home turf. Stephanie Perri obviously has the local runs on the board.

    This is a very interesting seat as the demographic turnover from very ‘white’ to very ‘multicultural’ particularly in Mount and Glen Waverley has been very rapid. This contest will be interesting to watch to see how this translates into votes.

  2. Another in the list of Melbourne marginals that the Liberals probably have a much better chance of winning under Turnbull than Abbott (or even Howard). Plus, it does seem to be one of those seats where sitting members can dig in for long periods. The retirement of Anna Burke will hurt Labor here.

    And yes, blackburnpseph, I agree that community of interest here is somewhat lacking. One issue is that the population is fairly stable in this part of Melbourne, so there’s never been a “need” to make big changes. From my experience making submissions, etc to redistributions, it’s pretty clear that they like to leave existing boundaries unchanged when they can.

  3. Mark – Do the AEC resurrect proposals previously rejected? In 2010 the AEC planned to transfer Chisholm west of Edgar rd into Kooyong..would they try do do that again?

  4. @4 Sure, that change is a very logical thing to do.

    A proposal isn’t always rejected because it’s “bad”. It might just be because it didn’t fit quota, caused flow-on effects elsewhere, or was just too much trouble. Often the AEC starts at the Yarra and Bay (Melbourne Ports, Kooyong, Higgins) so sometimes Chisholm’s boundaries get caught up in the decisions for those seats.

  5. Would the proposed sky train along the Cranbourne/Pakenham line affect Labor’s chances of retaining this seat (or neighbouring seats)???

  6. Maribyrnong

    Probably not. The issue is also diffused by the railway line being the boundary so you end up with small numbers of people in multiple seats. At a state election it might, but not federal. However, that might not stop a frenzy being whipped up by an enterprising Liberal candidate that does not have much to do.

  7. Have had the dubious pleasure of meeting the Liberal candidate at a corporate event.
    Seems like your typical born to rule Tory type.

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