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Federal Election 2016

Jun 1, 2014

Seat of the week: Gorton

Labor front-bencher Brendan O'Connor is securely ensconced in what remains Labor's sixth safest seat, despite a 7.5% swing to the Liberals at last year's election.

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Red numbers indicate size of two-party majority for Labor. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Gorton is located at Melbourne’s strongly Labor-voting western edge, covering the rapidly growing fringe suburbs of Derrimut and Deer Park in the south, Caroline Springs and Kings Park in the centre and Hillside in the north, and from there extending westwards through semi-rural areas to the satellite town of Melton. The latter area was gained with the redistribution that took effect at the 2013 election, adding 32,000 voters who had previously been in Lalor. This was counterbalanced at the city end through transfers of 33,000 voters at Sydenham, Keilor and Taylors Lakes to Calwell in the north, 9000 west of the rail line in St Albans to Maribyrnong in the centre, and 13,000 in Ardeer and Sunshine West to Gellibrand in the south. This boosted the ample Labor margin of 22.2% to 23.6%, which was then cut at the election by a 7.5% swing to the Liberals.

The electorate was created at the previous redistribution ahead of the 2004 election in place of abolished Burke, which furnished it with 12,000 voters around Sydenham and also included Melton and areas beyond the city to the north. This area was covered by Corio prior to pre-war urbanisation and the expansion of parliament in 1949, after which it was accommodated by shifting aggregations of Lalor (created in 1949), Burke (1969) and Calwell (1984). With the exception of one defeat in Lalor at the Liberals’ statewide high water mark in 1966, each of these three seats has been won by Labor at every election since their creation. Gorton’s inaugural member was Brendan O’Connor, who had entered parliament as member for Burke in 2001. His exchange of the predominantly rural outskirts seats of Burke for one anchored in outer suburban Melbourne was a welcome development, boosting his margin from 5.5% to 20.2%.

O’Connor rose through Labor ranks as an official with the Australian Services Union with factional backing from the Ferguson Left, which is now more likely to be identified under its formal name of the Independent Left. He was promoted to shadow parliamentary secretary when Kevin Rudd became leader in December 2006 and then to the junior ministry after the 2007 election victory, serving first in employment participation, then in home affairs in June 2009. Justice was added to his workload after the 2010 election, and in December 2011 he was shifted to human services. O’Connor stood by factional colleague Julia Gillard during Rudd’s leadership challenges in February 2012 and June 2013, and won promotion to cabinet as Small Business Minister on the former occasion. Further promotion to the troublesome immigration portfolio followed in February 2013, and he did well to be moved to employment after Rudd assumed the leadership the following June. Since the September 2013 election defeat he has served in shadow cabinet in the employment and workplace relations portfolios.

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