The Poll Bludger
Margin: Labor 7.7%
Region: Geelong, Victoria
In a nutshell: Once an electoral bellwether to rival Eden-Monaro, the Geelong-based seat of Corio is these days safe for Labor.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Geelong has been the focal point of the electorate of Corio since it was created at federation, its name being derived from the bay on which the city is situated. However, it originally extended northwards to encompass areas beyond Melbourne’s limits including Sunbury, Melton and Bacchus Marsh, became more strongly focused on Geelong after the expansion of parliament in 1949. The continuing growth of Geelong has been such that the its south-western suburbs of Highton, Belmont and Grovedale are now accommodated by Corangamite, a once rurally oriented and safe Liberal seat that has more lately been highly marginal. Corio nonetheless extends south to cover the Bellarine Peninsula, and north to encompass Lara 20 kilometres to Geelong’s north.
Now a safe seat for Labor, Corio was a litmus test electorate early in its life, having changed hands along with government in 1910 (to Labor), 1913 (to Liberal), 1914 (to Labor), 1917 (to the Nationalists), 1929 (to Labor) and 1931 (to the United Australia Party). It fell to Labor ahead of schedule at a 1940 by-election after Richard Casey was appointed ambassador to the United States (he would return to parliament in 1949 as member for La Trobe), a result that played a crucial role in Bob Menzies’ defeat on the floor of parliament the following year. Cycling hero Hubert Opperman recovered the seat for the Liberals with the 1949 election win, eventually serving as Immigration Minister before taking up a diplomatic post in 1967. Bob Hawke unsuccessfully contested the seat for Labor in 1963, and newly arrived Labor leader Gough Whitlam encouraged him to do so again when Opperman departed mid-term in 1967. Hawke preferred to pursue his designs on the ACTU presidency at that time, and the by-election was won for Labor by engine driver Gordon Scholes, in an early electoral success for Whitlam. Scholes consolidated his hold over time, managing to survive by just 20 votes in 1975, and the seat had become fairly safe for Labor by the time he retired in 1993.
The next member was Gavan O’Connor, who rose to the front bench in 1998 but became increasingly imperilled as local Labor branches fell under the control of the Right. This enabled ACTU assistant secretary Richard Marles to unseat him at a preselection vote held in March 2006, winning 57% of the local party vote. O’Connor registered his displeasure by running as an independent, complaining that Kevin Rudd – who had not in fact been leader at the time – had told him he lacked the power to prevent Marles’s union backers from rolling him. O’Connor managed only 12.7% of the vote, with the Labor vote falling only 1.2% and increasing by 3.3% on two-party preferred. Without the complication of O’Connor in 2010, and with Labor performing well across the state, Marles added 5.3% to his margin, before a 5.7% correction in 2013 reduced it to its present level of 7.7%.
Marles was quickly promoted to parliamentary secretary in June 2009, but took a further four years to attain ministerial rank. After remaining in the Julia Gillard camp during Kevin Rudd’s first leadership challenge in February 2012, Marles came out in support for Rudd during his abortive second bid a year later. He resigned as parliamentary secretary when the challenge failed to eventuate, joining an exodus that also included Chris Bowen, Martin Ferguson, Kim Carr and Simon Crean. When Rudd succeeded in toppling Gillard in June, he won promotion to cabinet as Trade Minister, a position that had been vacated by the resignation of Craig Emerson. Since the 2013 election defeat he has held the position of Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.