The Poll Bludger
Margin: Labor 9.1%
Region: Eastern Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: A once marginal seat now safe for Labor, Holt in Melbourne’s south-east has provided a home for Gareth Evans, and more recently Anthony Byrne.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Holt covers a Labor-voting area of Melbourne’s outer south-east, extending from Endeavour Hills and Narre Warren south through Hampton Park to Cranbourne. This area was accommodated by Flinders before urban expansion caught up with it after the war, then by Bruce from 1955 until the creation of Holt in 1969. The electorate was considerably larger at that time owing to the area’s lighter development, extending westwards through Dandenong to Springvale and eastwards to Emerald. Progressive redistributions reduced its area thereafter, but it continued to encompass Dandenong up to the redistribution that took effect at the 2004 election. It then assumed roughly its current dimensions, with Dandenong divided between Bruce and Isaacs, and Holt gaining Cranbourne from Isaacs.
As the balance of semi-rural areas and low-income outer suburbs tilted increasingly towards the latter, Holt transformed from highly marginal to safe for Labor. It was won for the Liberals on its creation in 1969 by Leonard Reid, then held for Labor during the Whitlam years by Max Oldmeadow, with William Yates winning it back for the Liberals in 1975. The watershed came when Michael Duffy won the seat for Labor with an 8.7% swing in 1980, and the margin was in double figures by the time Gareth Evans transferred to the seat from the Senate in 1996. Evans announced his intention to resign on the night of the 1998 election defeat, and while this ruffled feathers at the time, it did not cause trouble at the ensuing by-election for new candidate Anthony Byrne, who won easily in the absence of a Liberal candidate.
The loss of Dandenong in the 2004 redistribution cut Labor’s margin from 13.3% to 7.9%, which was followed by a further swing to the Liberals of 6.4% at the ensuing election, typifying Labor’s poor performance across Victoria. Reflecting the sensitivity of interest rates in a heavily mortgaged electorate, it then recorded a particularly forceful swing to Labor of 10.1% in 2007, joining Calwell in Melbourne’s outer north as one of two Victorian seats to record double-digit swings to Labor. The Labor margin was further boosted by 1.6% amid a generally strong result in Victoria in 2010, before a 4.9% swing in 2013 pared it back to 9.1%. A redistribution in the interim increased the margin by 0.8% through a transfer of over 14,000 voters in Narre Warren, Narre Warren South and Berwick to La Trobe in the east, a result of rapid growth in the outer suburbs generally, and around Cranbourne in particular.
The member throughout this period has been Anthony Byrne, a member of the Right faction who was widely noted as a supporter of Kevin Rudd throughout the previous government’s long-running leadership saga. Byrne won promotion to shadow parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs when Kevin Rudd became leader in December 2006, then became parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister after the 2007 election, with the trade portfolio further added in February 2009. He reportedly switched support from Rudd to Julia Gillard for the June 2010 coup only when it became apparent that Rudd was headed for a heavy defeat, and was demoted to the back bench after the 2010 election, where he has since remained. In April 2014 he made headlines after accusing Bob Carr of “narcissism, self-indulgence and immaturity” on the occasion of the latter’s book being published.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.