Margin: Labor 7.3%
Region: Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: Clare O’Neil succeeded former Opposition Leader Simon Crean as member for the safe Labor seat of Hotham in south-eastern Melbourne at the 2013 election.
Candidates in ballot paper order
HELEN ANN JEGES
Held for Labor since the 2013 election by Clare O’Neill, Hotham has covered a shifting area of Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs since its creation in 1969, and presently encompasses suburbs on the southern side of the Nepean Highway from Bentleigh East and Oakleigh South to Cheltenham and Dingley Village. Labor’s strength is concentrated in its south-east around Springvale South and Clayton South, with areas nearer the city being more marginal. Springvale’s development as Vietnamese enclave helps explain its shift from being Liberal-held for its first eleven years of existence to safe for Labor today.
Hotham was largely the successor to abolished Higinbotham, which extended to the coast at Sandringham, Black Rock and Beaumaris, and was in Liberal hands from its creation in 1949. Don Chipp held Higinbotham from 1960 and transferred to Hotham in 1969, famously parting with the Liberal Party in 1977 to found the Australian Democrats, at which point he moved to the Senate. Labor picked up a 6.0% swing in the seat amidst its otherwise poor result at the 1977 election, but it was not until 1980 that the watershed moment arrived for Labor with the election of Lewis Kent. Kent vacated the seat in 1990 after redistribution left him unable to defend his preselection, owing to the weakening of his Left faction on the electorate’s new boundaries. He instead settled for the tougher prospect of Corinella on Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe, which he was unable to carry amid Labor’s poor performance across Victoria at the 1990 election.
The Right’s hold on the seat was then inaugurated by Simon Crean, who served as member until his retirement at the 2013 election. Crean held the remarkable distinction of serving on the front bench for all but the final months of his 23-year parliamentary career, which peaked with a tenure as Opposition Leader from the wake of the 2001 election defeat until a loss of party support forced his resignation in November 2003. He saw off a determined but ultimately anti-climactic preselection challenge ahead of the 2007 election from Martin Pakula, then the state secretary of the National Union of Workers and now the Victorian Attorney-General. His tenure as a front-bencher finally came to an end in March 2013 when he called for a leadership spill to flush out Kevin Rudd, offering to serve as his deputy while criticising him for conducting a subterranean campaign against Julia Gillard. The challenge failed to eventuate when Rudd determined it would not succeed, and Gillard dismissed him for disloyalty. Crean unsuccessfully stood for the deputy leadership when Rudd finally toppled Gillard in late June, and then became one of a number of senior party figures to announce he would not seek another term.
Labor’s initial nominee to succeed Crean was Geoff Lake, a Minter Ellison who emerged the winner in a preselection process that pitted long-standing Right allies Stephen Conroy and Bill Shorten against each other, with the former backing Lake and the latter favouring disability worker Rosemary Barker. However, Lake’s run came to an ignominious end early in the election campaign when it emerged he had called a wheelchair-bound colleague a “bitch” and a “slut” while serving on Monash Council in 2002, at which time he was 22. The reports were said to have emerged on the initiative of Right faction foes of the National Union of Workers grouping, although the preselection remained in the NUW fold when the national executive replaced him with Clare O’Neil, a management consultant who had become Australia’s youngest ever female mayor with her election in Greater Dandenong in 2004.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.