The Poll Bludger
Margin: Labor 0.2%
Region: Melbourne Fringe, Victoria
In a nutshell: McEwen has had some nail-biters over the years, the most recent example being Labor member Rob Mitchell’s 313-vote winning margin after a 9% swing in 2013.
Candidates in ballot paper order
DOROTHY LORRAINE LONG
Extending from the northern fringes of Melbourne at Sunbury, Craigieburn and Doreen to the Macedon Ranges and the Goulburn Valley centre of Seymour, McEwen recorded the second biggest swing of any seat in Victoria at the 2013 election, reducing Labor member Rob Mitchell’s 9.2% post-redistribution buffer to a winning margin of just 0.2%. This continued something of a tradition of the seat recording close results, with the margin also landing inside 2% in 1993, 1998 and 2007, the difference on the latter occasion coming down to 31 votes.
McEwen was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984 and held for Labor by Peter Cleeland until 1990, when Fran Bailey gained it for the Liberals as part of a statewide swing that cost Labor nine seats. Cleeland recovered the seat with a 0.7% margin in 1993, but was again defeated by Bailey in 1996. It was one of a number of marginal seats which registered a below-par swing to Labor at the 1998 election, a circumstance that allowed the Howard government to win re-election from a minority of the national two-party vote.
Bailey’s margin built up to 6.4% at the 2004 election after two consecutive swings and a 1.0% adjustment in her favour at a redistribution, but such was the swing in 2007 that she needed every bit of her 6.4% margin to hold on. The result at the end of the initial count was a seven vote victory to Labor’s Rob Mitchell, but this turned into a 12-vote winning margin for Bailey after a recount. Labor challenged the outcome in the Federal Court, but the determinations the court made regarding individual ballot papers actually increased Bailey’s margin to 27.
Bailey retired at the 2010 election, disappointing Liberals who hoped the esteem she gained during that year’s bushfire crisis would help her retain the seat. The party appeared to do well in preselecting Cameron Caine, a Kinglake police officer credited with saving several lives during the emergency, but he was swamped by a 5.3% swing amid a weak showing by the party across the party. That made it second time lucky for Labor’s Rob Mitchell, who had won preselection with the support of the Right sub-faction associated with Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy. Mitchell had earlier won a seat in the state upper house province of Central Highlands at the 2002 election, before being frozen out by the upper house reform that took effect in 2006.
Mitchell’s position appeared to be secured before the 2013 election when the redistribution added Sunbury to the electorate, at the expense of the western Yarra Ranges and rural territory to the north. However, the often volatile urban fringe went on to swing with unusual force to the Liberals, whose candidate was Donna Petrovich, a member for Northern Victorian region in the state upper house and former mayor of Macedon Ranges. Mitchell has been on the back bench throughout his three terms in parliament, although he gained the position of government whip as a Julia Gillard loyalist in May 2013, after three Kevin Rudd supporters resigned from whip positions after his abortive leadership challenge in March. His Liberal opponent at the coming election is Chris Jermyn, a Wallan-based political staffer.
Chris Jermyn gatecrashed a visit by Bill Shorten to a health centre in Sunbury two weeks into the campaign, but hadn’t reckoned on being asked basic questions about health policy by a News Corp journalist at the event, which he proved unable to answer. Jermyn refused to answer questions posed to him as he left the event, saying: “This is why I hate journalists.” Footage of Jermyn trying in vain to flee the journalist’s questioning made national news, and the Victorian Liberal Party’s administration committee considered, but ultimately decided against, disendorsing him.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.