Margin: Labor 4.9%
Region: Central Regional, Victoria
In a nutshell: After tipping back and forth through a history going back to federation, Ballarat has looked increasingly secure for Labor under its current member, Catherine King.
Candidates in ballot paper order
The electorate of Ballarat has existed since federation, aside from the technicality that the obsolete spelling of Ballaarat was used until 1977. The city itself currently sits at the western end of an electorate that extends east along the Western Freeway to Bacchus Marsh, and north-east along the Midland Highway to Daylesford. After changing hands with some regularity over the years, it has become reasonably safe for Labor on the watch on the present incumbent, Catherine King, who gained it from the Liberals in 2001.
Ballarat’s inaugural member was Alfred Deakin, who held the seat as a protectionist liberal through three spells as Prime Minister until his retirement in 1913. Labor then held the seat until 1931, outside of an interruption after the 1919 election when the Nationalist Party candidate prevailed by one solitary vote, only to lose at a by-election held after the defeated Labor member successfully challenged the result in court. It was next held by Labor from 1937 until the split of 1955, except for a term after Bob Menzies led the Liberals to power in 1949. Labor’s next win would have to wait until 1980, when John Mildren defeated Liberal member Jim Short, who later served as a Senator from 1985 to 1997. Mildren was in turn defeated by Liberal candidate Michael Ronaldson amid Labor’s statewide rout in 1990.
Ballarat was the only seat in the country to be gained by Labor at the 2001 election, when it was vacated by what proved to be a temporary retirement of Michael Ronaldson, later to return as a Senator in 2005. The Liberal cause was further harmed when the party’s initial choice of candidate, Olympic gold medal trap shooter Russell Mark, withdrew in contentious circumstances. Labor’s winning candidate was Catherine King, who had previously been a health administrator and senior manager at KPMG Consulting. After gaining the seat with a swing of 5.5%, King went on to consolidate her hold with successive swings of 5.9% in 2007 and 3.6% in 2010, before suffering a 6.8% correction in 2013.
A member of Labor’s Socialist Left faction, King attained shadow parliamentary secretary status after the 2004 election but was overlooked when the Rudd government came to power in 2007, perhaps paying the price for supporting Kim Beazley when Rudd successfully challenged him in December 2006. She recovered parliamentary secretary status when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister in June 2010, and was twice promoted in 2013 – first to the junior ministry in regional services, local communities and territories and road safety following the abortive move against Gillard in March 2013, and then to cabinet in regional Australia, local government and territories when Rudd recovered the prime ministership the following June. Since the 2013 election defeat she has served as Shadow Health Minister.
Ballarat will be contested for the Liberals by Sarah Wade, principal lawyer of Employers Legal, a small local employment and commercial law practice. Moorabool Shire deputy mayor Paul Tatchell will be the seat’s first Nationals candidate since 1987.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.