Call of the board: inner Melbourne

A detailed look at the results of the 13 seats in and around central Melbourne from last year’s federal election.

Welcome to the latest instalment of Call of the Board, where we move on from New South Wales (see preivous entries on inner Sydney, outer Sydney, the northern coast and the remainder, together with the entry on the Northern Territory) to Victoria, specifically the 13 electorates that most readily suggest themselves to an entry on inner Melbourne.

This was particularly interesting to put together, as the area marks a convergence point for some of the election’s most interesting under-currents: the epochal turn away from the Liberals in the wealthy inner metropolitan areas that were once their foundation, contributing not only to teal independent wins in Kooyong and Goldstein, but also to Labor’s first ever win in Higgins; the Chinese community’s rebellion against the Liberals, evident through a swathe of eastern Melbourne, and the prime mover behind Labor’s gain of Chisholm; the broadening movement from Labor to the Greens in inner urban bohemia, which didn’t flip any seats here but came very close to doing so in Macnamara; and, in suburbs further afield, a swing against the tide that seemed to be the principal manifestation of Victoria’s particularly difficult experience of the pandemic, which was reflected at the state election without doing Labor serious harm on either occasion.

The analysis is broken into three parts, first looking at the “classic” two-party contests between Labor and the Liberals, then at the seats where teal independents or Greens featured in the occasion. The former are accommodated with the following map display, showing colour coding of two-party preferred vote shares and swings at booth level, which you can click on to view larger images. Maps further below offer similar representations of how things played out in Labor-versus-Greens and Liberal-versus-independent contests.

Chisholm (LABOR GAIN 6.4%; 6.9% swing to Labor): The not-quite-inner eastern suburbs seat of Chisholm was the Coalition’s only gain when Malcolm Turnbull led it at the 2016 election, followed by an upset second Liberal win when Gladys Liu succeeded disaffected outgoing member Julia Banks in 2019. This time, a 0.5% margin stood no chance in a seat boasting the second highest Chinese-speaking population in the country, joining first-placed Bennelong and third-placed Reid in falling to Labor with swings of between 6.9% and 8.4%. Liu shed 7.7% on the primary vote amid a swollen field of 12 candidates, with Carina Garland gaining 3.8% for Labor on the primary vote and further benefiting after preferences from a 1.9% increase for the Greens. If there is a pattern to be observed in the geographic distribution of the swing, it is that Labor generally recorded weak or even negative swings at the southern end, which was gained from Hotham in the redistribution.

Fraser (Labor 16.5%; 1.6% swing to Liberal): Beneath the story told by the two-party swing in Fraser was a significant shift to the left – the Greens were up 4.7% to 18.5% despite newly acquired competition from Victorian Socialists, who scored a solid 4.8%. The pattern of the swing is suggestive of the local results at the November state election, which reached double figures in favour of the Liberals in some booths corresponding with the state seat of St Albans (which swung 12.4% to the Liberals); was strong also for the Liberals in the central areas covered by Laverton (swing of 5.4%); and tended towards Labor in the gentrifying inner urban areas of Footscray (where the state swing was limited to 3.0%).

Gellibrand (Labor 11.5%; 1.5% swing to Liberal): Neighbouring Fraser geographically and, happily, alphabetically, the swing in Gellibrand followed the same pattern: favourable to Labor at the gentrified inner urban end around Williamstown in the east, but quickly turning to the Liberals further afield. However, there were no clear parallels in the state results here, and less in the way of a shift to the left, although the Greens held their own in the face of an unfavourable redistribution.

Higgins (LABOR GAIN 2.1%; 4.7% swing to Labor): While not unanticipated, Labor’s win in the seat of Harold Holt, John Gorton and Peter Costello was one of the remarkable stories of the election. Compounding an 8.8% drop in 2019, the Liberal primary vote fell by 5.8%, converting to a 4.7% swing after preferences — more than accounting for a Liberal margin that was reduced from 10.7% to 3.9% in 2019, and then to 2.6% with the redistribution. Fertile territory demographically for a teal independent, the result can be compared with the the Greens’ three wins in Brisbane as examples of what happens where one fails to emerge. Similarly to Higgins, the Liberal National Party vote fell over two elections from 49.9% to 37.7% in Brisbane, 41.0% to 30.7% in Griffith and 52.1% to 38.5% in Ryan. But whereas the Greens out-performed Labor on the primary vote swing in the three Brisbane seats, in Higgins Labor gained 2.4% while the Greens trod water. That left Labor’s Michelle Ananda-Rajah decisively clear of Greens candidate Sonya Semmens on the primary vote, by 28.5% to 22.6%, with an 89% flow of Semmens’ preferences helping Ananda-Rajah overcome Liberal incumbent Katie Allen’s 40.7%. The Liberals remain dominant around Toorak, but the Chapel Street area in the west now seems a reliable counterweight.

Hotham (Labor 14.3%; 3.1% swing to Labor): While the seat’s boundaries have varied substantially over the years, Hotham’s story has reflected Melbourne’s broader experience in shifting from Liberal to Labor dominance, having been held by the Liberals from its creation in 1969 until 1980 and by Labor ever since. The margin has reached a new high with the latest election result, mostly on account of a redistribution than boosted it from 5.9% to 11.2% by adding the area around Springvale and Noble Park in the south-east, capped by a 3.1% swing to Labor incumbent Clare O’Neil. The Liberal primary vote was sapped by 8.1% as the Liberal Democrats, United Australia and One Nation polled 15.4% between them, with Labor also seemingly losing support on their outer flank, with the Greens primary vote up 3.4% and Labor’s down 3.7%. A distinction can be observed between a swing that went in Labor’s favour at the western end of the electorate but to the Liberals in the area gained in the redistribution. While the impact of the redistribution may itself have been a factor, this reflects a wider demographic fault line in south-eastern Melbourne where the swing to Labor evaporated as incomes and the Chinese share of the population declined, the ethnic mix around Springvale and Noble Park tending more to Vietnamese and Indian than Chinese.

Isaacs (Labor 6.9%; 0.4% swing to Labor): Isaacs marks a point far enough away from Melbourne’s inner core that the dynamics fuelling the Liberal collapse there are no longer evident, their primary vote falling a modest 3.4% – lower in fact than the 4.9% drop for Labor’s Mark Dreyfus, who held his own on two-party preferred mostly due to a substantial improvement on preference flows from the Greens, whose primary vote was up 1.8% to 12.9%.

Macnamara (Labor 12.2%; 7.3% swing to Labor): Another result where the two-party summary belies the real story, which was a tight tussle between Labor incumbent Josh Burns and Greens candidate Steph Hodgins-May to survive the final exclusion and win the seat ahead of the Liberals at the final count. The Liberals had grown competitive in the seat then called Melbourne Ports in 2013 and 2016, but have ceased to be so after falling to 29.0% on the primary vote, down 4.6% in 2019 and 9.7% in 2022. This reduced them from first to third on the primary vote, with Labor holding steady at 31.8% despite a slightly unfavourable redistribution and the Greens gaining 5.5% to 29.7%. Preferences out of the modest vote share recorded by the United Australia Party, the Liberal Democrats and One Nation pushed the Liberals into the lead at the final exclusion with 33.7%, but the real issue here was that Labor maintained its lead over the Greens, by 33.5% to 32.8% – a margin of 594 votes. The Greens’ strongest performances were around Balaclava and Ripponlea to the east of St Kilda.

Maribyrnong (Labor 12.4%; 2.1% swing to Labor): Another complex result in a seat that encompasses inner-city territory at Kensington, Flemington and Ascot Vale in the south, which was gained in the redistribution from Melbourne, and deep suburbia around Tullamarine in the north. In a measure of Adam Bandt’s personal vote, double-digit shifts from the Greens to Labor were recorded in the former area, whereas the Greens vote increased immediately in the north. The primary vote shares were shaped by an increase in the number of candidates from four to nine, with Bill Shorten down 2.4% despite a 7.6% slump for the Liberals and only a modest increase for the Greens. Here as elsewhere, the tendency in two-party terms was for Labor swings at the city end and Liberal swings further afield.

Now to the teal independent seats, with the following map to show the spread of the two-candidate preferrred booth vote (Goldstein left, Kooyong right):

Goldstein (INDEPENDENT GAIN 2.9% versus Liberal): The 12.3% primary vote decline that condemned Tim Wilson to defeat at the hands of Zoe Daniel notably failed to translate on the Liberal-versus-Labor two-party preferred measure, on which the swing against Wilson was only 3.0%. The difference suggests tactical voting from Labor and Greens supporters can only go so far in accounting for Zoe Daniel’s win. Daniel polled 34.5% on the primary vote, much of which undoubtedly was sourced from a collapse in support for Labor (from 28.3% to 11.0%) and the Greens (14.0% to 7.8%). The only booths that stayed with the Liberals were those around Brighton and Beaumaris on the bayside and Caulfield South at the northern end.

Kooyong (INDEPENDENT GAIN 2.9% versus Liberal): Monique Ryan’s 40.3% share of the vote was the highest of the six teal newcomers, placing her only slightly behind the 42.7% recorded by Josh Frydenberg, whose 6.5% drop compared favourably with Tim Wilson’s. The 2019 result had been distinctive in that the emerging anti-Liberal sentiment consolidated behind high-profile Greens candidate Julian Burnside – this time the party slumped to fourth place, down from 21.2% to 6.3%, while Labor fell from 17.5% to 6.9%. A 2.2% swing in Liberal-versus-Labor terms reduced the margin on that measure to 4.2%, the lowest ever recorded in the seat, adding to a 6.1% swing that reduced it to 6.7% in 2019.

The following map shows two-party preferred vote shares and swings between Labor and the Greens in the seats where the Greens made the final count, which as noted above didn’t quite include Maribyrnong. Swing maps could be created for Cooper and Wills only, since Melbourne went from being a Greens-versus-Liberal contest at the final count in 2019 to a Greens-versus-Labor contest this time.

Cooper (Labor 8.7% versus Greens; 6.2% swing to Greens): Despite a solid swing to the Greens, Cooper clearly remains on safer ground for Labor with Ged Kearney than it was under David Feeney, who survived the Greens challenge in the seat then known as Batman by 1.0% in 2016. Kearney scored a 4.4% margin over the Greens in the absence of a Liberal candidate at the by-election following Feeney’s Section 44-related departure in 2018, which she handsomely increased to 14.6% in 2019 — more than enough for her to hold out against a 6.2% swing to the Greens this time. This Liberals are now firmly entrenched in third place, to which they first fell in 2010, dropping on this occasion by 3.2% to a new low of 16.4%. However, the Labor-versus-Liberal swing was a modest 0.7%, putting the Labor margin on that measure at 25.5%.

Melbourne (Greens 10.2% versus Labor): Adam Bandt is now knocking on the door of a primary vote majority in the seat he gained for the Greens in 2010, having now increased his share at five successive elections since he first contested the seat in 2007. After two elections at which Bandt’s dominance of the left-of-centre vote caused Labor to fall to third place, this time the right had so little to show for itself that it was the Liberals who ran third. Labor’s margin over the Liberals on the classic two-party preferred measure reached an all-time high of 27.9% following a swing of 10.1%. On the primary vote, the Liberals were down by 6.0% to 15.2%, while Labor was up 3.9% to 25.0% – higher than 2016 and 2019, but lower than at any other time since federation. As can been seen in the results map, Labor maintained a slight edge in the Richmond and Richmond West booths, perhaps reflecting the influence of the area’s Vietnamese community.

Wills (Labor 8.6% versus Greens; 0.1% swing to Greens): The result in Wills reflected the swing to the Greens in neighbouring Cooper to the extent that Labor was down 5.4% on the primary vote and the Greens were up 2.0%. However, this did not convert on two-party preferred because Labor received 68.3% of Liberal preferences this time – a fairly typical result when Liberal preferences are so directed by the how-to-vote card, but a substantial increase on the 51.5% from 2019. As Antony Green explains, the latter anomaly relates to the Liberals disendorsement of their candidate during the campaign: “There was either no HTV or the candidate produced his own version”. It may be inferred that the Labor margin would be cut very fine if in future the Liberals were to reverse their preference recommendation.

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.

15 comments on “Call of the board: inner Melbourne”

  1. A lot of known unknowns for next time, chief among them – will the “Teal” voters stick with the Teals (particularly with Dutton offering them nothing, or worse), is the swing against Labor in traditional ALP working class seats a temporary phenomenon born of COVID or something more enduring as the Libs hope to take advantage of, and are the Greens’ various high profile positions in the current Parliament going to aid them breaking down the Great Wall across Cooper and Wills, or actually see the Greens tide recede?

  2. I live in Fraser, and honestly, I can barely remember Daniel Mulino’s name. I had to look it up to make sure I wasn’t accidentally calling him the wrong first name! He’s got some fairly impressive intellectual bona fides but for all that, has almost no profile. This has definitely given the Greens and other left-wing parties lots of space to pipe up and get the attention of voters. After being sceptical of the Greens’ chances in the state seat of Footscray last Vic election, I’d say they’re a lock to seize it next time. The larger size of federal seats taking in less hipster suburbia to the west will keep Fraser safe enough though but to be honest, it would do Labor the world of good to have a bit of a fright in Fraser.

  3. The Cooper result can probably be interpreted as something of a reversion to the mean after a poor local Greens campaign in 2019.

  4. Lots to mull over there. It would appear to me that the ALP really will have a problem in the next election in Melbourne proper. Not from the Liberals but from the Greens.

    The libs have collapsed in Victoria, I suspect it will be the Greens who benefit from it. They are emerging as the real opposition in this state, which leaves me between a rock and a hard place as a Greens/labor voter.

    The uptick to the Libs in outer Melbourne was greatly exaggerated by people with a vested interest.

    We live in interesting times.

    Thank you William for your obvious hard work!

  5. It’s hard to see Labor losing Cooper or Wills next time, especially if there is a swing towards them nationally. There may well be swings towards the Greens here, in fact there almost certainly will be, but it won’t be enough.

  6. The main difficulty the Greens have in Vic is that the Greens party organisation in Vic is terrible and never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Ratnam is slightly more visible than her predecessors but only slightly, in a State naturally predisposed to be more favourable to the Greens than most. Their only contribution in the pandemic seemed to be whining.

    The Vic Greens also have a track record of not just picking bad candidates in winnable seats but doubling down and picking them again.

    All success they have rides off the coattails of the far more visible and effective (regardless of what I think of some of their positions) Federal Greens.

    If they get their act in order the Greens might overperform next time. I’m fairly sure they’re underperforming now. It’s noteworthy that at the 2022 Federal election, the Greens got 13.74% of first preferences in Vic in the lower house and 13.85% in the upper, while at the State election the Greens got 11.5% lower house and 10.32% upper house.

  7. Arky says:
    Tuesday, May 23, 2023 at 10:25 am
    ……If they get their act in order the Greens might overperform next time. I’m fairly sure they’re underperforming now. It’s noteworthy that at the 2022 Federal election, the Greens got 13.74% of first preferences in Vic in the lower house and 13.85% in the upper, while at the State election the Greens got 11.5% lower house and 10.32% upper house.
    I’d be surprised if there’s more than a handful of political tragics like us who have ever even considered the idea of differentiating State and Federal Green policies and organisations. (The Greens clearly don’t think so. Their 2 big federal campaigns were built around the Tasmanian Lake Pedder Dam and the Queensland Adani mine.)

    Two other options for the difference in their State and Federal vote are:
    – Teal candidates outcompeting/tactical voting by usually Green voters in Kooyong/Goldstein etc.
    – A quantifiable ceiling for the ‘Labor Liberal same same’ gambit, which is less effective when there is a Labor government delivering on its commitments.

  8. The swings to the Liberals in the outer seats (which have been included here as inner seats) was evident in the polling done during the lockdowns. The backlash tended to come from those in areas and was more male, more blue collar/tradie/causal employ/self employed. During the bizarre CFMEU targetted protests/riots of September 2021 in Melbourne, it was these people involved. They only a small subsection but they seemed to have jumped from Labor supporting to right-wing fringe Party.

    At the time, one of my Labor contacts was wetting the bed over the backlash that was evident in polling of these areas but I pointed out to them a move from 75% TPP to 60% was not going to affect them politically.

    Also the Liberals here are such a shambles that there is virtually no Liberal party in some of these areas and what there is dominated by the religious crazies.

  9. The outer suburbs should have a reversion to the mean next time around.

    There was a “Send Dan a message” campaign heavily targeting those areas despite it not even being a state election but with Covid lockdowns being well and truly in the rear view mirror by 2025 and Dan possibly not even being Premier anymore, that won’t be a factor.

    There is a gradual move to the right in blue collar areas that will probably continue, but I feel like both 2022 elections (federal and state) artificially accelerated that and the next elections in 2025 & 2026 should land somewhere in between the 2019 and 2022 results out there.

    As for Macnamara, Steph Hodgins-May is a fantastic candidate but I don’t know if she’ll have it in her to run for a 4th time after 3 losses (two of them nail-biting). The Liberal Party are a complete write-off in the seat now, but their performance will probably be decisive in the Greens’ chances.

    I think 2025 will be more favourable to the Greens than 2025 because I feel like the Greens typically do better when there is a Labor government than when there is the motivation of kicking out a Liberal government.

    But, with Dutton even more hated than Morrison and the Liberals currently in even more of a shambles in Victoria than last year, they could decline even further in Macnamara and finish third in the 3PP, which would help Labor hold on off the back of their preferences. As long as the Caulfield area is in the seat, the Greens really need Labor to finish third to have a chance to win.

    All that said, if a redistribution swaps the Caulfield area for the Chapel St corridor, then the Greens vote could be high enough (and the Liberal vote low enough) for a GRN v ALP count to be competitive.

  10. Hi There, new to this forum and interesting topic.

    Do people feel that the swing to the right from the blue collar voters also puts them into the hands of the religious right? Or are the two groups unrelated?

  11. @Greenvote – interesting question.

    Despite the Libs and the MSM carrying on about it, there was no State swing to the liberals at all in Victoria, between 2018 and 2022 – despite Covid. Interestingly there has now been a swing to the ALP in recent polling. Incredibly Dutton is even more unpopular in Victoria than Wotsisname!

    It is extraordinary how the defecting blue collar workers seem to jump from ALP to fringe looney right parties, straight over the heads of the (il)Liberal party. I’m in Sunbury, one of those seats the Murdochracy told us was in play. Our local member plummeted from 65% to 60% 2pp. It was never in doubt. The poor old liberal candidate was severely mislead by the media who told her she was in with a show!

    With Covid gradually fading from public view and the ALP getting on with governing I fully expect a swing back to the ALP next election – in this seat, at least. Hard to see them picking up more seats though as they have surely hit the high water mark. Surely!

    This is not a bible belt seat – it’s just good old working class. The deflectors went down a rabbit hole. Hopefully they come back to their senses by 2026.

    The Libs are cactus in Victoria!

    Welcome to the site.

    As for the MSM hysteria about the Voice – I put it in the same category as the 2022 Federal and State elections. The Naysayers are simply making the most noise. Eventually people’s common decency will come through. It is not a political question – it is an ethical one. Dutton has exposed himself on this. Queensland is and always will be the wild card. They really are Floridians.

  12. Thanks for that! I think the old idea that if the working class man got the payrise he would just join the economic conservatives is dead in the water. Either the conspiracy rabbit hole or the religious right. Jumping over the libs is right.

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