Welcome to episode seven of Seat du jour, an opportunity for you to read about and (hopefully) discuss the individual contests that will determine the May 18 election. Earlier instalments covered Reid, Bass, Pearce, Lindsay, Gilmore, Dickson and La Trobe. Today is the turn of the eastern Melbourne seat of Chisholm, for which the Poll Bludger election guide entry can be found here.
Chisholm was the only seat in the country to go from Labor to Liberal in 2016, and is considered perhaps the single seat most likely to go back the other way this time, not counting the redistribution-affected seat of Dunkley. Among the weights in the Liberal saddlebag are the departure of the victor of 2016, Julia Banks, who, disaffected by the coup against Malcolm Turnbull, quit the party in November and announced in January she would run against Greg Hunt in Flinders. The two new major party candidates are, notably, both of the Chinese community, which over the past decade has grown dramatically in the middle suburban area covered by the electorate. The seat now boasts the nation’s second highest proportion of Chinese language speakers after Bennelong in Sydney, and is further distinguished by its concentration of persons in their thirties, reflecting the presence of Deakin University’s Burwood campus.
Chisholm has existed in name since the enlargement of parliament in 1949, but it was initially based in areas further west that now bolster the Liberals in Higgins and Kooyong. The seat became competitive after the 1969 redistribution, but Labor would not prevail until 1983. Early Howard government Health Minister Michael Wooldridge held teh seat for the Liberals precariously from 1987 to 1998, when he jumped ship for the safer seat of Casey. It was then won for Labor in his absence by Anna Burke, whose margin peaked at 7.4% in 2007 before wearing away to 1.6% in 2013. With Burke’s retirement in 2016, the seat was gained for the Liberals by Julia Banks, a lawyer for George Weston Foods, who accounted for the narrow margin with a 2.8% swing.
The new Liberal candidate is Gladys Liu, director of Blue Ribbon Consultancy and a conservative party activist whose energy is acknowledged even by her opponents. However, Liu has had a difficult campaign, having struggled to finesse media probing of her record as a campaigner on against same-sex marriage and gender fluidity. Labor’s candidate is Jennifer Yang, a former adviser to Bill Shorten and mayor of Manningham who ran second as a candidate in last year’s Melbourne lord mayoral election in May, finishing 3.0% behind winning candidate Sally Capp after preferences.
Media reports throughout the campaign have persistently indicated that both sides regard the seat as likely to go to Labor, although Scott Morrison made the effort to visit shortly after the election was called to launch Liu’s campaign. Pessimistic noises from the Liberals featured in reports on the state of play in The Australian and The Age in the first week of the campaign. In the weeks that followed, the Financial Review listed it as one of four near-hopeless cases that the Liberals hoped to balance with gains elsewhere, and the ABC’s Michael Rowland related that a senior Liberal minister had told him the seat had been written off.