Following earlier instalments on Dickson and Gilmore, episode three of Seat du Jour brings us to the seat of La Trobe on Melbourne’s eastern fringes, where Liberal member Jason Wood has a 3.2% margin to defend in his party’s most troubling state. Before we dive in, take note of the rich array of information on the seat available at the Poll Bludger election guide.
La Trobe was created with the enlargement of parliament at the 1949 election, which also began the Coalition’s 23-year period of uninterrupted rule. The seat has since changed hands once per change of government, but it hasn’t always got the timing right. It did its bit for Gough Whitlam’s win in 1972 and Malcolm Fraser’s in 1975, but has since fallen to Labor one term ahead of schedule in 1980, and to the Liberals two terms ahead in 1990; to Labor one term behind schedule in 2010, when it was the only seat in the country to shift from Liberal to Labor; and back to the Liberals on cue in 2013.
With the exception of the interruption of 2010 to 2013, when it was held for Labor by Laura Smyth, La Trobe has been held for the Liberals since 2004 by Jason Wood. Wood is a former police officer who worked in units dealing with counter-terrorism and organised crime. Wood was noted at the time of his entry into politics as having “been a member of Greenpeace for longer than he has been a member of the Liberal Party”, but his moderate credentials have not been much in evidence lately. He was an enthusiastic advocate for Peter Dutton through the party’s leadership crisis last August, and has taken to Facebook during the campaign to denounce “African youth gangs” and “foreign-born thugs”.
Wood had his 4.0% margin cut to 1.5% in 2016, but the latest redistribution has, on paper at least, done him a good turn by adding Pakenham to the electorate, and removing suburbia around Boronia and Ferntree Gully some distance to the north. However, Pakenham has developed rapidly in recent years, which is likely to be a favourable development for Labor. Labor’s candidate for the second successive election is Simon Curtis, a Beaconhills College teacher and former Casey councillor.
No polling has emerged from La Trobe during the campaign, but reports have consistently suggested the Liberals are half fearful and half hopeful. At the start of the campaign, Michael Koziol of The Age reported the seat was among two maybes out of the three to five losses anticipated by Liberal strategists. It appeared little had changed a fortnight on, with separate reports in the Financial Review reporting the Liberals “believe they may be able to hold”, and rating as one of nine seats the party believes it must defend after making six designated (two held by independents) and suffering four conceded losses.