After a long career as a marginal seat, the West Gippsland electorate of McMillan has bucked the statewide trend of recent decades by moving decisively to the Liberals.
McMillan extends through West Gippsland from Pakenham in Melbourne’s eastern outskirts to the western reaches of the Latrobe Valley, and along the coast from Wonthaggi through Wilsons Promontory to Welshpool. It covered broadly similar territory on its creation in 1949, the area having previously been covered by Gippsland and to a smaller extent by Flinders. The redistribution following the expansion of parliament in 1984 caused it to lose its coastal territory while extending further eastwards along the Princes Highway to Traralgon, which was eventually reversed by the redistribution of 2004. The transfer of Traralgon and neighbouring Latrobe Valley towns to Gippsland on the latter occasion substantially weakened Labor, and the seat has been held by the Liberals ever since.
Conservative strength in the rural areas kept McMillan in Liberal hands from 1949 until 1980, barring a National/Country Party interruption from 1972 to 1975 when it was won and then lost by Arthur Hewson. However, post-war growth in the Latrobe Valley strengthened Labor over time, leading to a close result in 1974, a relatively mild anti-Labor swing in 1975, and finally a win for Labor candidate Barry Cunningham in 1980. Cunningham was swept out a decade later with the statewide backlash that cost Labor nine Victorian seats at the 1990 election, but he recovered the seat by a 0.4% margin in 1993. This was not enough to save him from even the relatively modest swing Labor suffered in Victoria at the 1996 election, when Russell Broadbent gained the seat for the Liberals with a swing of 2.5%.
Broadbent first came to parliament in 1990 as member for Corinella, a seat to the immediate west of McMillan which existed from 1990 to 1996. He was defeated at the 1993 election by Labor’s Alan Griffin, who moved to his present home of Bruce with the abolition of Corinella. Broadbent returned as member for McMillan three years later, before again experiencing the sharp end of life in a marginal seat with his defeat 25-year-old Labor candidate Christian Zahra in 1998. Zahra added 2.3% to his margin against the trend of the 2001 election, before emerging a big loser when his electorate traded Morwell and Traralgon for conservative farming and coastal areas around Leongatha and Wonthaggi. Zahra was left needing a 2.9% to retain his seat in 2004, but a 2.1% swing the other way saw it change hands for the fifth time in six elections.
Thus began a remarkable third stint in parliament for Broadbent, who went on to perform very strongly in limiting the swings against him to 0.2% in 2007 and 0.4% in 2010, before securing his hold with a swing of 7.6% in 2013. He has been assisted by a trend against Labor in the Latrobe Valley and surrounding areas, which has been equally evident at state level. Broadbent has failed to win promotion, but has generated headlines on a number of occasions with his liberal positions on asylum seekers.