29 February 2024
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Aston is blue ribbon Liberal

Malcolm Mackerras
14 February 2023

Back on August 30 last year I had an article posted on Switzer Daily titled “Cook and Higgins: A study in contrast”. It wrongly predicted that the first by-election of the present federal term would be in Cook (NSW), created by the resignation of Scott Morrison. The article drew a contrast between Cook and Higgins, Cook having been a Labor seat when Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister but now the bluest blue-ribbon Liberal seat in the country. On the other hand, Higgins was the bluest of blue-ribbon Liberal seats when its member, Harold Holt and John Gorton respectively, was Prime Minister – but is now held by Labor.

A better article would have been “Aston and Higgins: A study in contrast” since Aston and Higgins are both Melbourne metropolitan seats. Aston is now a blue-ribbon Liberal seat having been won by Labor when first created in 1984 and won again by Labor in 1987. It contrasts with Higgins very nicely. The one thing they have in common is that a blue-ribbon state seat (Malvern in Higgins and Rowville in Aston) lies within the federal division.

Although there was a Victorian federal redistribution during the last term Aston was unchanged in boundaries. However, more interesting than that fact is that it has changed relatively little since Hawke’s day – as has Higgins. Demographic change, not boundary alteration, has changed Aston from Labor to blue ribbon Liberal and Higgins from blue ribbon Liberal to Labor. As in those days Aston includes the suburbs of Bayswater, Knoxfield, Rowville, Scoresby and Wantirna.

Back in Hawke’s early days as PM yours truly was Australia’s only noted psephologist and I drew up a pre-election pendulum published on November 27, 1984, based on statistics from the March 1983 election adjusted to new boundaries. The Liberal Party’s Melbourne seats had these percentages of the two-party preferred vote: Kooyong 59.3, Higgins 58.9, Goldstein 53.3, Menzies 53.2, Bruce 50.7, Deakin 50.2, Casey 48.9, Chisholm 47.4, Dunkley 46.9, Streeton 44.9, Aston 44.2, Isaacs 42.8 etc. Today only Aston, Casey, Deakin and Menzies are Liberal, and they are all outer-metropolitan seats. At the May 2022 federal election the Liberal Party performed well in rural Australia and in outer-metropolitan Australia – except in Western Australia where it performed disastrously everywhere.

Shortly before the May 2022 federal election I drew up a pendulum and the equivalent Melbourne seats, adjusted to new boundaries where they needed to be, had these percentages of the two-party preferred vote with Labor: Aston 60.1, Goldstein 57.8, Menzies 57.1, Kooyong 56.2, Deakin 54.7, Casey 54.6 and Higgins 53.7. Aston was the only seat in metropolitan Melbourne with a Liberal share above 60 per cent.

The media now describe Aston as marginal Liberal which it is technically – but only because Alan Tudge carried so much baggage into the most recent election. Remember that he was forced to stand aside from cabinet in 2021 following revelations of an affair with former staffer Rachelle Miller and disputed allegations about emotional and physical abuse. Remember also the dishonourable role he played in the illegal robodebt scheme and the car parks pork barrel – yet Aston was so blue ribbon it returned Tudge again!

I give the detailed statistics. In 2019 they were Tudge 60.13 per cent, Labor 39.87 per cent. In 2022 they were Tudge 52.81 per cent, Labor 47.19 per cent. So, the swing to Labor was 7.32 per cent, exactly twice the national swing of 3.66 per cent.

Make no mistake, therefore, the woman the Liberal Party chooses to be its candidate will win the by-election – and then Peter Dutton will claim that win as a massive endorsement given by Victorian voters for this Queenslander who leads the party today. But understand the reality. Once the disgrace that was Alan Trudge is out of the way Aston will revert to its true status as a blue-ribbon Liberal seat.

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