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Federal Election 2016

May 11, 2014

Seats of the week: Kooyong and Higgins

A double dose of the Liberal Party's inner eastern Melbourne heartland, encompassing the seats held by Josh Frydenberg and Kelly O'Dwyer.

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Kooyong

Blue and red numbers respectively indicate booths with two-party majorities for Liberal and Labor. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Presently covering Melbourne’s affluent inner east from Kew and Hawthorn eastwards to Balwyn North and Camberwell, Kooyong has been held by the prevailing conservative forces of the day without interruption since its creation at federation, including by Robert Menzies throughout his 31-year career in federal parliament. The seat has had only seven members in its long history, of whom the first two were William Knox and Robert Best, the latter succeeding the former in 1910. Best was defeated as Nationalist candidate at the 1922 election by conservative independent John Latham, who ran in opposition to the prime ministership of Billy Hughes. With that end accomplished by an election that left the anti-Hughes Country Party holding the balance of power, Latham in time joined the Nationalists and served as Attorney-General in Stanley Bruce’s government from 1925 until its defeat in 1929. Bruce’s loss of his seat of Flinders at that election saw Latham emerge as Opposition Leader, but the defeat of the Labor government two years later was effected when Joseph Lyons led Labor defectors into a merger with conservative forces as the United Australia Party, with Latham agreeing to serve as Lyons’s deputy. Latham served as Attorney-General and External Affairs Minister in the Lyons government from 1931 until his retirement at the 1934 election, and a year later was appointed Chief Justice of the High Court.

Latham’s successor as both member for Kooyong and Attorney-General was Robert Menzies, who had been a state parliamentarian since 1928 and Deputy Premier since 1932. Menzies ascended to the prime minister after Joseph Lyons’ death in April 1939, serving for two years as the nation’s wartime leader before resigning in August 1941 after losing the support of his cabinet colleagues. Following Labor’s landslide win at the 1943 election, Menzies returned to the leadership of the United Australia Party which had been held in the interim by Billy Hughes, and brought fragmented conservative forces together a year later under the new banner of the Liberal Party. Two elections later he led the party to a resounding victory, commencing an epic 16-year tenure as prime minister from December 1949 until his retirement in January 1966.

Menzies was succeeded in Kooyong at an April 1966 by-election by Andrew Peacock, who went on to serve as a senior minister in Malcolm Fraser’s government from 1975 until April 1981, when he unsuccessfully challenged Fraser for the leadership. He briefly returned to the ministry from November 1982 until the election defeat the following March, after which he defeated John Howard in the ballot for the party leadership. Despite leading the party to an honourable defeat at the December 1984 election, he was obliged to surrender the leadership the following September after a bungled attempt to force Howard out as deputy. A party room coup returned him to the leadership in May 1989, but he failed to win the March 1990 election despite securing for the Coalition a narrow majority of the two-party preferred vote. He then relinquished the leadership to John Hewson, and served in the shadow ministry until his retirement from politics in November 1994.

The seat’s next member for Petro Georgiou, who as member for so prestigious a seat was generally assumed to have a career as a heavy-hitter ahead of him. However, he instead emerged as a permanent back-bencher and a thorn in the side of the Howard government, particularly in relation to his liberal views on asylum seekers. Georgiou retired at the 2010 election and was succeeded by Josh Frydenberg, a banker and former adviser to Alexander Downer and John Howard who had earlier challenged Georgiou for preselection in 2007. Frydenberg won the 2010 preselection with the backing of the Michael Kroger faction, while rivals associated with the then state Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu initially backed John Roskam, the director of the Institute of Public Affairs. However, Roskam declined to run and instead threw his weight behind industrial relations lawyer John Pesutto, whom Frydenberg defeated in the final round by 283 votes to 239. Frydenberg was promoted to parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister after the September 2013 election victory.

Higgins

Blue and red numbers respectively indicate booths with two-party majorities for Liberal and Labor. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Held by the Liberals since its creation in 1949, Higgins owes its blue-ribbon status to the affluence of Toorak and suburbs further to the east, including Glen Iris and Malvern. Prahran in the electorate’s west provides a strong basis of support for Labor and the Greens, while Carnegie and Ashburton in the south-east are naturally marginal. At the time of the electorate’s creation the Toorak end was accommodated by Fawkner, which prior to 1949 had boundaries resembling those of Higgins today. Higgins assumed its present character when Fawkner was abolished at the 1969 election. The seat’s inaugural member was Harold Holt, who had previously been member for Fawkner since 1935. Holt remained in the seat until his disappearance in December 1967, at which point it was used to parachute Senator John Gorton into the the lower house to enable him to assume the prime ministership. Gorton stayed on for two elections after being deposed as Prime Minister in March 1971, before indulging in a quixotic bid to win one of the Australian Capital Territory’s newly acquired Senate seats as an independent in 1975. Roger Shipton subsequently held the seat until 1990, achieving prominence only in 1988 when he stood firm against maverick businessman John Elliott’s designs on his seat. Shipton stared down Elliott only to lose preselection to Peter Costello, who was at no stage troubled in Higgins through his 11 frustrating years as Treasurer and Liberal deputy.

On the morning after the November 2007 election defeat, Costello made the surprise announcement that he would not assume the leadership. Speculation that he might later do so lingered until October 2009, when he announced his resignation from parliament. The Liberals had at this time just completed their preselection for the following election, which was won by Kelly O’Dwyer, a National Australia Bank executive who had earlier spent four years as an adviser to Costello. O’Dwyer was chosen ahead of Toorak businessman Andrew Abercrombie by 222 votes to 112, with candidates earlier falling by the wayside including Tim Wilson, then a policy director at the Institute of Public Affairs and now a Human Rights Commissioner, and the IPA’s executive director John Roskam, whose bid reportedly suffered from an article he wrote for The Punch which had put Costello’s nose out of joint. Tony Abbott said in April 2011 that O’Dwyer was “knocking hard on the door of that Shadow Cabinet”, but she is nonetheless yet to have won promotion.

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