The Poll Bludger
Margin: Labor 16.5%
Region: Western Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: Tim Watts succeeded Nicola Roxon as member for the uninterestingly safe Labor seat in Melbourne’s inner west at the 2013 election.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Located directly to the west of the Melbourne city centre and the mouth of the Yarra River, the safe Labor seat of Gellibrand encompasses the Vietnamese community centres of Footscray and Sunshine in the north along with bayside territory in the south. The latter includes gentrified Williamstown at the city end and working-class Altona further to the west. The seat was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, prior to which Williamstown was accommodated by Melbourne Ports, Footscray by Maribyrnong, and Altona by Corio. Support for the Liberals is low throughout the electorate, and the Greens’ strength nearer the city is balanced by weakness around Sunshine and Altona.
The only interruption to Labor’s hold on Gellibrand came with the party split of 1955, in which inaugural member John Mullens was one of seven Labor MPs who sided with the ALP (Anti-Communist) and then lost their seats. It was held for Labor by Hector McIvor until 1972, then bequeathed to Ralph Willis, who would eventually serve as Treasurer from John Dawkins’ resignation in December 1993 until the defeat of the Keating government in March 1996. Willis was succeeded upon his retirement in 1998 by Nicola Roxon, who emerged through the Right faction as an organiser with the National Union of Workers and an industrial lawyer for Maurice Blackburn. After serving as Health Minister from the election of the Rudd government until December 2011 and as Attorney-General thereafter, Roxon resigned from cabinet in February 2013 and announced she would bow out of politics at the election.
The hotly contested preselection that followed was won by Tim Watts, a Telstra executive who had backing from Right faction powerbroker Senator Stephen Conroy, for whom he once worked as a staffer, along with further support from the Socialist Left under the terms of the “stability pact” that has dominated Victorian Labor’s factional politics in recent years. His opponents included Katie Hall, a former adviser to Roxon who ran with her backing, and Kimberley Kitching, a former Melbourne councillor who was then acting general manager of the Health Services Union No. 1 branch. Kitching reportedly hoped to prevail with support from Turkish community leaders, but was thwarted when the “Suleyman clan” (referring to an influential family in western suburbs politics) defected to Watts as part of a deal that delivered support to Natalie Suleyman in her bid for a seat in state parliament.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.