The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal 7.2%
Region: Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: Held since 2001 by the Speaker of the House, Tony Smith, Casey flowed with the electoral tide from its creation in 1969 until 1984, but has since strengthened for the Liberals.
Candidates in ballot paper order
The eastern Melbourne seat of Casey has been held by the Liberals without interruption since 1984, the current member being the parliamentary Speaker, Tony Smith. The electorate covers Melbourne’s eastern suburban fringe at Lilydale, Kilsyth and Monbulk, together with the Yarra Valley townships of Yarra Glen, Healesville and Warburton and unpopulated Yarra Ranges areas further afield. The suburban areas are Liberal-leaning, middle-income and culturally homogenous, with an above-average number of mortgage payers. Outcrops of Labor support further afield coincide with lower incomes at Healesville, a “tree-changer” tendency around Monbulk, and a combination of the two at Warburton (the Greens outpolled Labor at the 2013 election at the Warburton booth and The Patch just south of Monbulk). Healesville and Warburton were added with the redistribution before the 2013 election, which further cut the Liberal margin through the transfer of Croydon and Ringwood to Menzies and Deakin.
Casey was oriented further to the west when it was created in 1969, extending northwards from Ringwood to Kinglake. The bulk of the modern electorate remained in La Trobe, the area having previously been divided between it and Deakin. Casey assumed approximately its current dimensions when the expansion of parliament in 1984 pushed it further east into the Yarra Valley, and the 1990 redistribution added some of its present outer suburbs territory. The seat has been in Liberal hands outside of two interruptions, from 1972 to 1975 and 1983 to 1984. The inaugural member was Peter Howson, who had previously held the abolished inner urban electorate of Fawkner since 1951. Race Mathews won the seat for Labor with the election of the Whitlam government, and after being unseated in 1975 entered state politics as member for Oakleigh in 1979. Peter Falconer held the seat for the Liberals through the Fraser years, before being unseated by Labor’s Peter Steedman when the Hawke government came to power in 1983.
Steedman was in turn unseated after a single term by Robert Halverson in 1984, with some assistance from redistribution, and the seat has been in Liberal hands ever since. Halverson’s retirement in 1998 made the seat available as a safe haven for Howard government Health Minister Michael Wooldridge, whose position in Chisholm had been weakened by redistribution in 1996. However, Wooldridge only served a single term before quitting politics at the 2001 election, at which time he was succeeded by Tony Smith. During Smith’s tenure the Liberal margin broke double digits for only the second time at the 2004 election, but he went into the 2013 election with a margin of only 1.9% following successive swings and an unfavourable redistribution. He nonetheless retained the seat easily on the back of a statewide Liberal swing that pushed his margin out to 7.2%.
Smith’s entry to politics came via a staff position with Peter Costello, with whom he remained closely associated. After the 2007 election defeat he won promotion to the shadow cabinet in the education portfolio, but Malcolm Turnbull demoted him to Assistant Treasurer when he became leader in September 2008. Smith formed part of the front-bench exodus in the final days of Turnbull’s leadership, together with Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin, in protest against Turnbull’s support for an emissions trading scheme. He duly emerged a strong backer of Abbott in the ensuing leadership contest, and returned to shadow cabinet in broadband and communications. However, Smith was widely thought to have struggled during the 2010 campaign and was demoted after the election for a second time, this time to parliamentary secretary level. With the election of the Abbott government he was dropped altogether, making way for the promotion of fellow Victorians Josh Frydenberg and Alan Tudge. His loyalties appeared to have shifted by September last year, as he was listed as having supported Malcolm Turnbull in his successful challenge to Tony Abbott’s leadership.
Smith was elected the Speakership last August following the resignation of Bronwyn Bishop in the storm of controversy that followed her use of chartered helicopter to travel to a party function. He won the final round of a party room vote by 51 to 22 over Boothby MP Andrew Southcott, McMillan MP Russell Broadbent and Bonner MP Ross Vasta having been excluded in earlier rounds.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.