Margin: Liberal 3.9%
Region: Western Coastal, Victoria
In a nutshell: Demographic change and statewide voting trends pushed Labor over the line in Corangamite for the first time during the Rudd-Gillard period, but it slipped from their grasp again in the defeat of 2013.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Corangamite has covered a shifting area around Colac 150 kilometres west of Melbourne since its creation at federation, in which time it has only been won by Labor in the election victories of 1910 and 1929, and through the period of the Rudd-Gillard government from 2007 to 2013. It currently encompasses the Geelong suburbs south-west of the Barwon River, the Great Ocean Road as far as Apollo Bay, and rural areas to the west of the former and north of the latter. The character of the electorate has changed over time with the growth of Geelong’s suburbs, which now account for a little over a third of the electorate’s voters, and the “sea change” phenomenon, the ABC TV series of that name having been set in the electorate at Barwon Heads. This has drained about 10% from the Liberal primary vote in the Great Ocean Road towns since the early 1990s, where the Greens vote had burgeoned to 17% at the 2010 election. The electorate’s share of Geelong encompasses Liberal-leaning Highton along with marginal Belmont and Grovedale, an area distinguished by a younger demographic profile and a large number of mortgage payers.
Labor’s first member for the seat was future Prime Minister Jim Scullin, who would return to parliament following his defeat in 1913 as member for the inner Melbourne seat of Yarra in 1922. The seat would next fall to Labor when Scullin led the party to power in 1929. The Country Party won the seat with Labor’s defeat in 1931, but it in turn fell to the United Australia Party in 1934, and was held thereafter by it and its Liberal Party successor. The enlargement of parliament in 1984 cost the electorate its most conservative rural territory in the west, but it took another 23 years before Labor was able to realise its hopes of gaining the seat. Stewart McArthur held it for the Liberals from 1984 until his eventual defeat in 2007, when he sought another term despite being 70 years old, to the dismay of some in the Liberal Party.
The member for the next two terms was Darren Cheeseman, elected at the age of 31 after a career with the Left faction Community and Public Sector Union. After winning a fiercely contested preselection over Peter McMullin, the Right-backed mayor of Geelong, Cheeseman went on to overwhelm McArthur’s 5.3% margin at the 2007 election with a 6.2% swing. Faced at the 2010 election by a fresh Liberal candidate in Sarah Henderson, a former state host of The 7.30 Report and daughter of former state MP Ann Henderson, Cheeseman was brought within 771 votes of defeat by a 0.4% swing that went slightly against the trend of a 1.0% statewide swing to Labor. Cheeseman went on to receive substantial publicity in February 2012 when he declared Labor would be “decimated” if Julia Gillard led it to the election, which set the ball rolling on Kevin Rudd’s unsuccessful leadership challenge a week later.
After falling short as Liberal candidate on her first attempt in 2010, Sarah Henderson easily accounted for the tiny Labor margin with a 4.2% swing in 2013. Henderson reportedly backed Tony Abbott in the February leadership spill vote but moved to the Malcolm Turnbull camp in his September leadership challenge, although she refused to publicly divulge who she had supported. Her Labor opponent is Libby Coker, a Surf Coast councillor and former mayor, who won a preselection contest that was also contested by Darren Cheeseman. Also in the field was Tony White, an economic development manager at Colac Otway Shire and former adviser to various ministers and premiers in the Bracks-Brumby government.
A ReachTEL poll conducted for the Seven Network on May 26 from a sample of 770 found Sarah Henderson with a healthy lead of 48.2% to 27.1% on the primary vote and 54-46 on two-party preferred, with the Greens on 15.0%.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.