The northern Victorian seat of Murray is one of a number of seats in rural New South Wales and Victoria which have drifted from the Nationals to the Liberals after long-serving sitting members retired, Sharman Stone having secured the seat once held by Jack McEwen in 1996.
Blue numbers indicate size of two-party majority for the Liberal Party. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.
Murray covers central northern Victoria including a 200 kilometre stretch of the river that bears its name, from Gunbower east through Echuca to Yarrawonga and Bundalong. From there it extends southwards into the Goulburn Valley region as far as Inglewood in the west and Nagambie and Euroa in the east. Its largest population centre by a considerable margin is Shepparton, home to about a third of its population, followed by Echuca, which accounts for about 10%. The electorate was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, but its boundaries resembled those of Echuca which existed from federation until its abolition in 1937, when its territory was divided between Bendigo in the west and Indi in the east. Its dimensions have not substantially changed at any time since 1949, apart from a slight reorientation westwards when the electorate of Wimmera was abolished in 1984.
The area in question was the domain of the Country Party from its formation in 1920 until 1996, when Sharman Stone won Murray for the Liberals upon the retirement of Nationals member Bruce Lloyd. John McEwen began his federal parliamentary career as the member for Echuca in 1934 before moving to Indi when it was abolished the following term, then transferred to Murray in 1949 and remained there until his retirement in 1971. McEwen served as leader of the Country Party after 1958 and, for three weeks following Harold Holt’s disappearance at the end of 1967, Prime Minister. McEwen was succeeded on his retirement in 1971 by Bruce Lloyd, who held the seat until 1996. In a sadly typical outcome for the Nationals, the seat fell to the Liberals when Lloyd retired in 1996, Sharman Stone outpolling the Nationals candidate 43.2% to 29.7% and prevailing by 3.7% after the distribution of preferences. The Liberals had intermittently fielded candidates against Lloyd throughout his career, but always finished third behind Labor.
Sharman Stone served as a parliamentary secretary from after the 1998 election until January 2006, when she was promoted to the junior ministry as Workforce Participation Minister. After the 2007 election defeat she assumed environment, heritage, the arts and indigenous affairs, the first named being shared with shadow cabinet member Greg Hunt, before being promoted to shadow cabinet in the immigration and citizenship portfolio when Malcolm Turnbull became leader in September 2008. However, she was demoted to the outer shadow ministry position of early childhood education and childcare when Turnbull was replaced by Tony Abbott in December 2009, having supported Turnbull during Abbott’s leadership challenge, and relegated to the back bench after the 2010 election. In February 2014, Stone accused Abbott of Joe Hockey of lying about union conditions for workers at the SPC Ardmona cannery in Shepparton after the government’s rejection of a bid for $25 million in assistance put the future of its 2700 jobs in doubt. When asked at the time if she intended to remain in the Liberal Party, Stone said only that it was to be seen how things pan out.
William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, is one of the most heavily trafficked forums for online discussion of Australian politics, and joined the Crikey stable in 2008.