Margin: Labor 0.6%
Location: Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: This eastern Melbourne seat has long been highly marginal, but only very rarely has Labor made it over the line. The gentlest of swings will return it to the Liberal fold this time around.
YASMIN DE ZILWA
Deakin is centred on the eastern Melbourne suburbs of Blackburn and Nunawading, extending eastwards along the Maroondah Highway to Ringwood and Croydon. At the time of its creation in 1937, it extended far beyond the city limits to Seymour and Mansfield, before gaining its wholly urban orientation in 1969 and assuming roughly its current dimensions when it lost Box Hill in 1977. A trend of increasing Liberal support as the electorate extends eastwards is better explained by diminishing ethnic diversity than income: in its totality, the electorate is demographically unexceptional on all measures. The redistribution has cut the Labor margin from 2.4% to 0.6% by transferring 18,000 voters in the electorate’s south-western corner, at Blackburn South, Burwood East and Forest Hill, to Chisholm; adding 8000 voters immediately to the east of the aforementioned area, around Vermont South, from Aston; and adding another 10,000 voters around Croydon in the north-east, mostly from Casey but partly from Menzies.
For a seat that has been marginal for most of its history, Deakin has brought Labor remarkably little joy. The party’s only win prior to 2007 was when the Hawke government came to power in 1983, it being lost again when Hawke went to the polls early in December 1984. The seat presented a picture of electoral stability from 1984 to 2001, when Liberal margins ranged only from 0.7% to 2.5% – although the redistribution before the 1990 election, which turned a 1.5% Liberal margin into a notional Labor margin of 1.9%, negated the impact of a 4.3% Liberal swing. That redistribution caused sitting member Julian Beale to successfully challenge controversial Liberal Ken Aldred for preselection in his safer seat of Bruce, with Aldred reluctantly accepting the consolation prize of Deakin and then retaining it on the back of a sweeping statewide swing. Aldred was in turn unseated for preselection in 1996 by Phillip Barresi, who held the seat throughout the Howard years.
Barresi emerged from the 2004 election with a margin of 5.0%, the biggest the Liberals had known in the seat since 1977. The substantial swing required of Labor at the 2007 election was duly achieved with 1.4% to spare by Mike Symon, whose background as an official with the Left faction Electrical Trades Union had made him a target of Coalition barbs amid controversies surrounding union colleagues Dean Mighell and Kevin Harkins. Symon had won a preselection vote by just three votes over local general practitioner Peter Lynch, the candidate from 2004, who reportedly won the 50% local vote component before being rebuffed by the state party’s tightly factionalised Public Office Selection Committee. Andrew Crook of Crikey reported that Symon had backing from the Bill Shorten-Stephen Conroy Right as a quid pro quo for Left support for Peter McMullin’s unsuccessful bid for preselection in Corangamite. Symon was re-elected in 2010 after gaining a 1.0% swing in the face of Phillip Barresi’s attempt to recover his old seat, which was perfectly in line with the statewide result. Symon was rated by one source as undecided as Kevin Rudd’s challenge to Julia Gillard’s leadership unfolded in February 2012, but he soon fell in behind Gillard and remained there when Rudd finally toppled her in June 2013.
The Liberal candidate at the next election will be Michael Sukkar, a 30-year-old tax specialist with Ashurt, the law firm previously known as Blake Dawson. Sukkar emerged a surprise preselection winner over John Pesutto, a lawyer and Victorian government adviser said to be closely associated with former Premier Ted Baillieu. VexNews reported that also-ran candidates Phillip Fusco, Terry Barnes and Andrew Munroe were eliminated in that order, at which point Pesutto was in first place, state government staffer Michelle Frazer second, and Sukkar and former Melbourne candidate Simon Olsen tied for third. After winning a run-off against Olsen, Sukkar crucially managed to sneak ahead of Frazer, who unlike Sukkar would not have prevailed against Pesutto in the final round due to a view among Sukkar’s backers that she “wasn’t up to it”.
A ReachTEL automated phone poll of 619 respondents conducted during the second week of the campaign had Michael Sukkar leading Mike Symon 53-47 on two-party preferred. Primary votes after distribution of the undecided were 47% for Sukkar, 34% for Symon and 13% for the Greens. From August 27-29, Newspoll conducted a survey of 800 respondents in Deakin, La Trobe and Corangamite, which showed a 4% swing to the Liberals across the three seats.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.