The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal 3.2%
Region: Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: The eastern Melbourne seat of Deakin has been on a knife edge for over three decades, and was among the three seats gained by the Liberals in Victoria at the 2013 election.
Candidates in ballot paper order
GARY JOHN COOMBES
One of three Victorian seats gained by the Liberals from Labor at the 2013 election, Deakin is centred on the eastern Melbourne suburbs of Blackburn and Nunawading, from which it extends eastwards along the Maroondah Highway to Ringwood and Croydon. When created 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. The electorate in its totality is demographically unexceptional on all measures, although ethnic diversity tends to diminish towards the eastern end of the electorate, which is reflected in lower support for Labor.
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 with the election of the Hawke government in March 1983, and it returned to the Liberal fold 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%. The biggest swing in this period was a 4.3% shift to the Liberals amid Labor’s statewide rout of 1990, but this served only to cancel out the effects of a redistribution that turned a 1.5% Liberal margin into a notional Labor margin of 1.9%. That redistribution caused sitting member Julian Beale to successfully challenge controversial party colleague Ken Aldred for preselection in the safer seat of Bruce, causing Aldred to reluctantly accept the consolation prize of Deakin. After retaining the seat for the Liberals in 1990 and 1993, Aldred was unseated for preselection in 1996 by Phillip Barresi, whose tenure as member precisely coincided with the Howard years.
Like many marginal Liberal seats, Deakin crucially failed to swing significantly when the Coalition retained office from a minority of the two-party vote in 1998, and a 3.4% swing amid a poor result for Labor in Victoria at the 2004 election boosted the margin to its highest level since 1977. Labor was nonetheless able to overcome the 5.0% margin at the 2007 election, when Mike Symon gained the seat with a swing of 6.4%. Symon had previously been an official with the Left faction Electrical Trades Union, which had made him a target of Coalition barbs during the campaign amid controversies surrounding union colleagues Dean Mighell and Kevin Harkins. Phillip Barresi attempted to regain the seat for the Liberals in 2010, but a generally strong result for Labor in Victoria was reflected in a 1.0% swing to Symon.
Symon’s margin was cut from 2.4% to 0.6% at the redistribution before the 2013 election, mainly due to the electorate’s absorption of Liberal-voting territory around Vermont South, and he was then toppled by a Liberal swing of 3.8%. The seat has since been held for the Liberals by Michael Sukkar, formerly a tax specialist with law firm Ashurt (previously known as Blake Dawson). Sukkar had emerged a surprise preselection winner over John Pesutto, a lawyer and Victorian government adviser who has since found a safe berth in state parliament as the member for Hawthorn. He has recently been identified as part of a conservative “resistance movement” that remains loyal to Tony Abbott.
Labor has preselected Tony Clark, manager of Vision Australia and unsuccessful state election candidate for Ringwood in 2014. Mike Symon again sought preselection and narrowly defeated Clark in the local party ballot, but this was overwhelmed by support for Clark in the 50% of the vote determined by the state party’s Public Office Selection Committee. It was reported in Crikey that the Left abstained from the POSC vote, as it wished to let “the Right factions fight out between themselves”.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.