Margin: Liberal 9.9%
Region: Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: Kelly O’Dwyer’s seat of Higgins has provided a home for two Liberal Prime Ministers and a Treasurer, but a success in the area at the 2014 election has the Greens talking up their long-term prospects.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Held by the Liberals since its creation in 1949, Higgins owes its blue-ribbon status to the affluence of Toorak and suburbs further to the east, including Glen Iris and Malvern. Prahran in the electorate’s west provides a base of support for Labor and the Greens, while Carnegie and Ashburton in the south-east are finely balanced. At the time of the electorate’s creation the Toorak end was accommodated by Fawkner, which prior to 1949 had boundaries resembling those of Higgins today. Higgins assumed its present character when Fawkner was abolished at the 1969 election.
The inaugural member for Higgins was Harold Holt, who had held Fawkner since 1935. Holt remained in the seat until his disappearance in December 1967, at which point it was used to parachute Senator John Gorton into the lower house to assume the prime ministership. Gorton stayed on for two elections after being deposed as Prime Minister in March 1971, before indulging in a quixotic bid to win one of the Australian Capital Territory’s newly acquired Senate seats as an independent in 1975. Roger Shipton subsequently held Higgins until 1990, achieving prominence only in 1988, when he stood firm against maverick businessman John Elliott’s designs on his seat. Shipton stared down Elliott only to lose preselection to Peter Costello, who was at no stage troubled in Higgins through his eleven frustrating years as Treasurer and Liberal deputy leader.
On the morning after the November 2007 election defeat, Costello made the surprise announcement that he would not seek the leadership. Speculation that he might later do so lingered until October 2009, when he announced his resignation from parliament. The Liberals had at this time just completed a preselection that was won by Kelly O’Dwyer, a National Australia Bank executive who had earlier spent four years as an adviser to Costello. O’Dwyer won the vote at the final round over Toorak businessman Andrew Abercrombie by a margin of 222 votes to 112, ahead of a field that also included Tim Wilson, who has now won endorsement in Goldstein, and John Roskam, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs.
Kelly O’Dwyer’s failure to win promotion under Tony Abbott’s leadership was widely criticised, and persisted after the September 2013 election victory despite Abbott having said in April 2011 that she was “knocking hard on the door of that Shadow Cabinet”. She finally attained the position of parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer in December 2014. O’Dwyer did not divulge her stance in the September 2015 leadership, but few if any doubted she voted for Turnbull. This was immediately followed by promotion to cabinet as Small Business Minister and Assistant Treasurer.
In the wake of their unexpected victory in the seat of Prahran at the Victorian state election of November 2014, the Greens have been talking up their prospects in Higgins, at least over the long term. Their candidate is Jason Ball, a government relations officer for a youth mental health research centre who led a campaign to have the Australian Football League endorse anti-homophobia messages.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.