The Poll Bludger
Margin: Nationals 15.8%
Region: East Gippsland, Victoria
In a nutshell: For as long as there has been a federal parliament, there has been a seat of Gippsland, and for as long as there has been a National/Country Party, the seat has been theirs.
Candidates in ballot paper order
The electorate of Gippsland has covered the eastern end of Victoria since federation, and has been in National/Country Party hands since the party was founded in 1922. It is held for the Nationals by recent cabinet appointee Darren Chester, who came to the seat at a by-election held in June 2008 upon the retirement of Howard government minister Peter McGauran, the member since 1983. The electorate extends as far westwards as the Latrobe Valley towns of Morwell and Traralgon, and includes the centres of Sale, Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance further to the east. The Nationals’ hold appeared to be in serious jeopardy for the first time when the Latrobe Valley centres of Morwell and Traralgon were added to the electorate in 2004, but these areas have proved to be a declining source of strength for Labor due to the decline of the local electricity industry and the influence of climate change politics. McGauran was able to increase his notional 2.6% margin by 5.1% in 2004, and the swing against him in 2007 was a modest 1.8%.
McGauran was the first member of the Howard government to leave parliament after the 2007 election defeat, resulting in a three-cornered by-election contest that provided a spur to talk of a coalition merger. After a campaign dominated by the Rudd government’s “alcopops tax” and local concern over an emissions trading scheme, the seat was easily retained for the Nationals by Darren Chester, who outpolled the Liberals 39.6% to 20.7% and gaining a two-party swing against Labor of 6.1% – a surprisingly poor result for Labor given the strength of the Rudd government’s polling at the time. Labor’s primary vote fell 8.1%, and was down particularly heavily at the Latrobe Valley end of the electorate.
Darren Chester came to the seat after serving as chief-of-staff to state Nationals leader Peter Ryan, and had earlier run unsuccessfully against independent incumbent Craig Ingram in the state seat of Gippsland East in 2002. He then sought Senate preselection for the 2004 federal election against Peter McGauran’s incumbent brother, Julian McGauran, who went on to defect to the Liberal Party in January 2006. After his strong win at the by-election, Chester’s margin was little changed at the 2010 election, and he picked up a 4.4% swing in 2013. Chester was promoted to shadow parliamentary secretary for roads and regional transport after the 2010 election, and became parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister when the Abbott government came to power in 2013. He attained cabinet rank as Transport and Infrastructure in February, filling the vacancy available to the party after the retirement of Warren Truss.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.