Electorate: La Trobe
Margin: Labor 1.7%
Location: Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: La Trobe was one of two crucial gains for Labor in Victoria which helped redress gains elsewhere at the 2010 election. The coming election looms as a rematch between Labor member Laura Smyth and the Liberal she unseated, Jason Wood.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
JASON GRANT KENNEDY
La Trobe has covered Melbourne’s eastern fringe since its creation with the enlargement of parliament in 1949, drifting south-eastwards over time from its starting point of Dandenong and Croydon. It now consists of two rapidly growing outer Melbourne areas separated by the Dandenong Ranges Boronia and Ferntree Gully in the north, and the Berwick area in the south and extends eastwards through Belgrave to Emerald, Cockatoo and Gembrook. Labor’s strength around Belgrave is countered by Liberal dominance around Berwick. The redistribution to take effect at the election has transferred about 16,000 voters around Bayswater to Aston, and added a similar number in Narre Warren from Holt. A further 3000 around Pakenham have been transferred to McMillan. Antony Green calculates that the changes have boosted Labor’s margin from 0.9% to 1.7%.
Along with other seats in Melbourne’s outer suburban “sandbelt”, La Trobe played a decisive role in the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, falling to Labor for the first time with a 10.2% swing. It swung almost as heavily the other way when the Liberals recovered it in 1975, but returned to the Labor fold in 1980 with Peter Milton’s defeat of Liberal member Marshall Baillieu (part of the clan that includes the former Premier). It next changed hands at the 1990 election on the back of an unfavourable redistribution for Labor and the statewide electoral tsunami that cost it nine of the state’s seats. Incoming Liberal member Bob Charles had a remarkably stable time of it over the next decade, his original winning margin of 1.4% progressing to 2.4% in 1993, 1.4% in 1996, 1.0% in 1998 and 3.7% in 2001.
With Charles’s retirement at the 2004 election, La Trobe emerged as a contest between Liberal candidate Jason Wood, a police officer who had worked in counter-terrorism and organised crime units, and Labor’s Susan Davies, who held the since-abolished state seat of Gippsland West as an independent from 1997 to 2002. The result was an easy win for Wood, who overcame the loss of Charles’s personal vote to pick up a 2.1% swing that was concentrated in the heavily mortgaged suburbs nearer the city. Wood had won preselection with the backing of the Kennett faction after cutting his teeth as candidate for Holt in 2001. It was noted at the time he had “been a member of Greenpeace for longer than he has been a member of the Liberal Party”, and he went on to embarrass his leader ahead of the 2007 election by issuing a brochure that failed to sing from the party song sheet on nuclear power.
Wood went into the 2007 election with a 5.8% margin, of which only 0.5% was left after a swing that was most conspicuous in the areas that had moved to the Liberals in 2004. He was promoted to parliamentary secretary for justice and public security when Malcolm Turnbull assumed the Liberal leadership in September 2008, despite the embarrassment he had recently suffered after stammering his way through a parliamentary speech on genetically modified organisms (which repeatedly came out as “orgasms”). The 1.4% swing that unseated him at the 2010 election was fairly typical for Victoria, which collectively swung to Labor by 1.0%. The successful Labor candidate was Laura Smyth, a lawyer for Holding Redlich whom VexNews linked to the “Andrew Giles/Alan Griffin sub-faction of the Socialist Left”.
Jason Wood again won preselection to contest the seat for the Liberals at a preselection vote held in June 2012. VexNews reported that Wood secured 61 preselection votes in the first round out of 140, against 38 for Mark Verschuur, managing director of Fairmont Medical Products (and, apparently, a former ALP member); 17 for self-styled “IT uber-nerd” and “chick magnet” Martin Spratt; 14 for local councillor and former mayor Sue McMillan; and 12 for Michael Keane, an anaesthetist and former member of the Liberal Democratic Party.
A Galaxy automated phone poll of about 575 respondents on August 20 had the Liberals leading 51-49. A week later, a Newspoll survey of 800 respondents in La Trobe, Deakin and Corangamite showed the Liberals leading 53-47 across the three seats, suggesting a 4% swing which if uniform would have cost Labor each one.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.