The Melbourne fringe seat of McEwen has long been one of Victoria’s most keenly contested marginal seats, but the addition of the Labor stronghold of Sunbury in the latest redistribution may have put an end to that.
The most electorally significant change to result from the redistribution in Victoria relates to the electorate 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 Maryville, which were devastated in the bushfires of February 2009.
McEwen was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984 and held for Labor in its first two terms by Peter Cleeland, who was unseated in 1990 by Fran Bailey as part of a statewide swing which cost Labor nine seats. Cleeland recovered the seat with a 0.7% margin in 1993, but was again defeated by Bailey in 1996. In 1998 it was one of a number of marginal seats which registered a below-par swing to Labor, 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 in 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, but a recount turned that to 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.
Fran 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. This made it second time lucky for Labor’s Rob Mitchell, who 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 electoral reforms that took effect in 2006.
The preselected Liberal candidate for the next election is Ben Collier, managing director of Sunbury-based information technology consultancy Collier Pereira Services.