Margin: Labor 9.2%
Location: Northern Melbourne Fringe, Victoria
In a nutshell: McEwen’s career as a knife-edge marginal seat has been brought to an end by a redistribution which has given Labor member Rob Mitchell’s margin a handy boost.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
TREVOR OWEN DANCE
The most electorally significant change to result from the redistribution in Victoria relates to the seat of McEwen, a traditionally marginal seat in Melbourne’s northern hinterland which has now been rendered fairly safe for Labor. This results from the transfusion of around 35,000 voters from rapidly growing Labor-voting suburbs around Sunbury, which are counterbalanced by the loss of outer urban areas further east (20,000 voters to Casey, 13,000 to Scullin and 4500 to Jagajaga), together with 10,000 to Indi and 7,000 to Bendigo in rural Victoria. The electorate maintains a stretch of the Hume Highway including Kilmore and Seymour, together with the urban fringe centres of Gisborne, Wallan and Whittlesea. Among the areas transferred to Indi are Kinglake and Marysville, which were devastated by February 2009 bushfires.
McEwen was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984 and held for Labor during its first two terms by Peter Cleeland, who was unseated in 1990 by Fran Bailey as part of a statewide swing that cost Labor nine seats. Cleeland recovered the seat with a 0.7% margin in 1993, but was again defeated by Bailey in 1996. It was one of a number of marginal seats which registered a below-par swing to Labor at the 1998 election, a circumstance that allowed the Howard government to win re-election from a minority of the national two-party vote.
Consecutive swings to Bailey in 2001 and 2004 combined with a 1.0% redistribution to put the seat outside the marginal zone, but such was the swing to Labor in 2007 that Bailey needed every bit of her 6.4% margin to hold on. At first blush the result was the closest at any federal election since Ian Viner’s 12-vote victory in the Perth seat of Stirling in 1974: Labor challenger Rob Mitchell won by seven votes on the first count, before a recount produced a 12-vote margin in favour of Bailey. Labor challenged the outcome in the Federal Court, but the determinations the court made regarding individual ballot papers actually increased Bailey’s margin to 27.
Bailey retired at the 2010 election, disappointing Liberals who hoped the esteem she gained during the bushfire crisis would stand her in good stead in a difficult seat. The party appeared to do well in preselecting Cameron Caine, a Kinglake police officer credited with saving several lives during the emergency, but he was swamped by a 5.3% swing. That made it second time lucky for Labor’s Rob Mitchell, who had won preselection with the support of the Bill Shorten-Stephen Conroy sub-faction of the Victorian Right. Mitchell had earlier won a seat in the state upper house province of Central Highlands at the 2002 election, before being frozen out by the upper house reform that took effect in 2006.
The Liberal candidate for the coming election was initially to be Ben Collier, managing director of Sunbury-based information technology consultancy Collier Pereira Services, but he withdrew in early 2013 citing unforeseen family circumstances. The party’s administrative committee unanimously chose as his successor Donna Petrovich, a member for Northern Victorian region in the state upper house and former mayor of Macedon Ranges. It was reported that ReachTEL had earlier conducted a poll of the electorate on behalf of an undisclosed client gauging name recognition for Collier and Petrovich.
A JWS Research automated phone poll of 550 respondents conducted in the second last week of the campaign produced a surprising result, showing Rob Mitchell trailing 54.7-45.3.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.