Update (3/9/12): Essential Research. The weekly Essential Research report has fallen into line with other pollsters in giving Labor its best result since March – up two on the primary vote to 34% and one on two-party preferred to 55-45. The Coalition is down a point to 48%, a result it last recorded in April. The poll has 52% thinking female politicians receive more criticism than men against only 4% less and 40% the same, and very similar results (51%, 6% and 38%) when the subject is narrowed to Julia Gillard specifically. A question on which groups would be better off under Labor or Liberal governments find traditional attitudes to the parties are as strong as ever, with wide gaps according to whether the group could be perceived as disadvantaged (pensioners, unemployed, disabled) or advantaged (high incomes, large corporations, families of private school children). Respondents continue to think it likely that a Coalition government would bring back laws similar to WorkChoices (51% likely against 25% unlikely).

Deakin is centred on the eastern Melbourne suburbs of Blackburn and Nunawading, extending eastwards along the Maroondah Highway to Ringwood and Croydon. At the time of its creation in 1937, it extended far beyond the city limits to Seymour and Mansfield, before gaining its wholly urban orientation in 1969 and assuming roughly its current dimensions when it lost Box Hill in 1977. A trend of increasing Liberal support as the electorate extends eastwards is better explained by diminishing ethnic diversity than by income: in its totality, the electorate is demographically unexceptional on all measures. The redistribution has cut the Labor margin from 2.4% to 0.6% by transferring 18,000 voters in the electorate’s south-western corner, at Blackburn South, Burwood East and Forest Hill, to Chisholm; adding 8000 voters immediately to the east of the aforementioned area, around Vermont South, from Aston; and adding another 10,000 voters around Croydon in the north-east, mostly from Casey but partly from Menzies.

For a seat that has been marginal for most of its history, Deakin has brought Labor remarkably little joy: prior to 2007 their only win was when the Hawke government came to power in 1983, and it was lost again when Hawke went to the polls early in December 1984. The seat presented a picture of electoral stability from 1984 to 2001, when Liberal margins ranged only from 0.7% to 2.5% (although the 1990 redistribution muffled the impact of a 4.3% Liberal swing). Julian Beale held the seat from 1984 until the 1990 election, when he successfully challenged controversial Bruce MP Ken Aldred for preselection after redistribution turned the 1.5% margin into a notional 1.9% margin for Labor. Aldred accepted the consolation prize of Deakin and was able to retain the seat on the back of a sweeping statewide swing to the Liberals. He was in turn unseated for preselection in 1996 by Phillip Barresi, who held the seat throughout the Howard years.

Barresi emerged from the 2004 election with a margin of 5.0%, the biggest the Liberals had known in the seat since 1977. The substantial swing required of Labor at the 2007 election was duly achieved with 1.4% to spare by Mike Symon, whose background as an official with the Left faction Electrical Trades Union had made him a target of Coalition barbs amid controversies surrounding union colleagues Dean Mighell and Kevin Harkins. Symon’s preselection had been achieved through a three-vote win over local general practitioner Peter Lynch, the candidate from 2004, who reportedly won the 50% local vote component before being rebuffed by the state party’s tightly factionalised Public Office Selection Committee. Andrew Crook of Crikey reported that Symon had backing from the Bill Shorten-Stephen Conroy Right as a quid pro quo for Left support for Peter McMullin’s unsuccessful bid for preselection in Corangamite. Symon was re-elected in 2010 with a 1.0% swing in the face of an attempt by Phillip Barresi to recover his old seat, which was perfectly in line with the statewide result. He was rated by one source as undecided as Kevin Rudd’s challenge to Julia Gillard’s leadership unfolded in February 2012, but soon fell in behind Gillard.

The Liberal candidate at the next election will be Michael Sukkar, a 30-year-old tax specialist with Ashurt, the law firm previously known as Blake Dawson. Sukkar emerged a surprise preselection winner over John Pesutto, a lawyer and Victorian government adviser said to be closely associated with Ted Baillieu. VexNews reported that also-ran candidates Phillip Fusco, Terry Barnes and Andrew Munroe were eliminated in that order, at which point Pesutto was in first place, state government staffer Michelle Frazer was second, and Sukkar and former Melbourne candidate Simon Olsen were tied for third. After winning a run-off against Olsen, Sukkar crucially managed to sneak ahead of Frazer, who unlike Sukkar would not have prevailed against Pesutto in the final round due to a view among Sukkar’s backers that she “wasn’t up to it”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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