Margin: Liberal 0.7%
Location: Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: Labor has never quite been able to recover Aston since losing it in the party’s statewide debacle of 1990, despite close shaves in 2010 and at a by-election held in 2004.
BRADLEY WALTER WATT
The outer eastern Melbourne electorate of Aston was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984 and held by Labor in the early years of its existence, since which time it has steadily strengthened for the Liberals. It covers the Liberal-leaning suburbs of Wantirna in the north and Rowville in the south, along with naturally marginal territory in Wantirna’s eastern neigbours Bayswater and Ferntree Gully. The redistribution has effected an eastwards shift at the northern end by moving 16,000 voters in Liberal-leaning Vermont to Deakin and adding a similar number in marginal Boronia from La Trobe, reducing the Liberal margin from 1.8% to 0.7%.
Labor’s member for the first two terms was John Saunderson, who had gained the neighbouring seat of Deakin with the election of the Hawke government in 1983. Saunderson inherited a notional Labor margin of 7.0% which fell to 3.6% at the 1987 election, before copping the full force of Labor’s statewide battering at the 1990 election. It then became one of nine seats to fall to the Liberals, and one of three across the state to experience double-digit swings. The incoming Liberal member was Peter Nugent, a moderate noted for bucking his party’s line on indigenous issues. Nugent’s sudden death in April 2001 resulted in a by-election three months later which delivered the Howard government a morale-boosting win that predated the game-changing Tampa episode by a month, Labor managing a swing of only 3.7% swing against a 4.2% Liberal margin.
The member for the next two terms was Chris Pearce, a Knox councillor and managing director of an information technology company. Pearce picked up a 7.1% swing at the 2004 election, the biggest in the state in the context of a strong performance by the Liberals throughout suburban Melbourne. It was widely noted that this left the seat with a bigger Liberal margin than the famously blue-ribbon Kooyong, which was seen to typify the hold the Howard government had secured in middle-class outer suburbia. However, it equally joined many such seats in swinging heavily to Labor at the 2007 election, when an 8.1% swing reduced Pearce’s margin to 5.1%. Pearce meanwhile became closely associated with Peter Costello, and his announcement that he would bow out at the 2010 election came hard on the heels of Costello’s.
The hotly contested preselection to choose Pearce’s successor was won by Alan Tudge, a former staffer to Brendan Nelson and Alexander Downer, ahead of Neil Angus, a chartered accountant who would go on to win Forest Hill for the Liberals at the November 2010 state election. Labor was vaguely hopeful that Pearce’s retirement would help add Aston to a list of Victorian gains compensating for expected losses in New South Wales and Queensland, but the 3.3% swing fell short of the 5.1% margin.
Labor’s candidate for the second successive election is Rupert Evans, deputy secretary of the Left faction Community and Public Sector Union.
A JWS Research poll with a sample of approximately 600 appeared at the end of the second week of the campaign showing Alan Tudge with a commanding lead of 63.4-36.6 on two-party preferred, and a primary vote of 59% against 29% for Rupert Evans.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.