Margin: Labor 14.0%
Location: South-Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
Outgoing member: Simon Crean (Labor)
In a nutshell: Hotham has transformed over the decades from a Liberal to a Labor seat on the back of Springvale’s emergence as a Vietnamese enclave. Simon Crean is to bow out as its Labor member after 23 years, to be succeeded as the party’s candidate after an early campaign preselection false start by Clare O’Neil.
SAMUEL WARREN PORTER
To be vacated at the coming election by Simon Crean, Hotham has covered a shifting area of Melbourne’s south-western suburbs since its creation in 1969. Labor’s strength in the electorate is concentrated in its south-east around Springvale South and Clayton South, with areas nearer the city including Moorabbin, Cheltenham, Bentleigh East and Oakleigh South being more marginal. Springvale’s development as a focal point of the Vietnamese community helps explain its shift from being a Liberal held seat for the first 11 years after its creation in 1969, to a safe Labor seat today. The seat had previously been named Higinbotham, and was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949. Frank Timson held Higinbotham for the Liberals for the first 11 years of the seat’s existence on generally modest margins, and was succeeded upon his death in 1960 by Don Chipp. Chipp famously parted company with the Liberal Party to found the Australian Democrats in 1977, at which point he moved to the Senate. Labor picked up a 6.0% swing in the seat in the context of an otherwise poor result at the 1977 election, but it was not until 1980 that the seat permanently shifted to the Labor fold with the election of Lewis Kent. Kent was in turn succeeded at the 1990 election by Simon Crean.
Crean was immediately promoted to the front bench and held the remarkable distinction of remaining there for nearly the entirety of 23-year parliamentary career. After the 2001 election defeated he succeeded Kim Beazley as leader, but he resigned in November 2003 when it became apparent he had lost the party’s support, making him the first Labor leader to be replaced without contesting an election. Prior to the 2007 election he saw off a determined but ultimately anti-climactic preselection challenge from National Union of Workers state secretary Martin Pakula, winning 70% of the votes from local branch preselectors (Pakula is now a senior state front-bencher and member for the upper house region of Western Metropolitan). Crean’s tenure as a front-bencher finally came to an end in March 2013 when he called for a leadership spill in order to flush out Kevin Rudd, offering to serve as his deputy while criticising him for conducting a subterranean campaign against Julia Gillard. The challenge failed to eventuate as Rudd determined it would not succeed, and he was dismissed by Gillard for disloyalty. Crean stood for the deputy leadership when Rudd finally toppled Gillard in late June, but was defeated by Anthony Albanese by 61 votes to 38. He then became a number of senior party figures to announce he would not contest the election.
There followed a troubled process to anoint Crean’s successor which concluded early in the second week of the election campaign with the original nominee, Minter Ellison lawyer Geoff Lake, being dumped in favour of Clare O’Neil, a management consultant who had become Australia’s youngest ever female mayor with her election in Greater Dandenong in 2004. Lake, who shared Crean’s and O’Neil’s association with the National Union Workers, won the initial preselection ballot ahead of Rosemary Barker, a disability worker with the Office of the Public Advocate, after securing 252 votes in the local party ballot to Barker’s 177, and then won the vote of the central party’s public office selection committee by 41 votes to 22. This was one of a number of preselections of the time which found long-standing Right allies Stephen Conroy and Bill Shorten at odds with each other, with the former backing Lake and the latter backing Barker.
Tensions had first emerged when Conroy failed to support the Shorten-backed Kimberley Kitching in the preselection to replace Nicola Roxon in Gellibrand, and were considerably inflamed when Shorten decisively defected to the Kevin Rudd camp. The Socialist Left pleaded that the split had made adherence to the stability pact a practical impossibility, and abstained from the Hotham preselection vote. A further layer of complexity was added by the fact that Lake and Barker had respectively had success in courting support from the local Cambodian and Vietnamese communities, in the former case with help from state Clayton MP Hong Lim.
Lake’s run came to an ignominious end one week into the campaign with the reporting of an episode in 2002, at which time he was 22, in which he apologised to a wheelchair-bound fellow Monash councillor, Kathy Magee, for calling her a bitch and a slut. Another Monash councillor of the time, Tom Morrissey, had also sought an intervention order against Lake after accusing him of stalking. The reports were said to have emerged on the initiative of Right faction foes of the National Union of Workers grouping, although the preselection remained in the NUW fold with the national executive’s anointment of O’Neil.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.