The outer eastern Melbourne electorate of Aston was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984 and held by Labor in the early years of its existence, since which time it has steadily strengthened for the Liberals. It covers the Liberal-leaning suburbs of Wantirna in the north and Rowville in the south, along with naturally marginal territory in Wantirna’s eastern neigbours Bayswater and Ferntree Gully. The redistribution has effected an eastwards shift at the northern end by moving 16,000 voters in Liberal-leaning Vermont to Deakin and adding a similar number in marginal Boronia from La Trobe, reducing the Liberal margin from 1.8% to 0.7%.

Aston was held for its first two terms by Labor’s John Saunderson, who had won the neighbouring seat of Deakin for Labor in 1983. Saunderson inherited a notional Labor margin of 4.1%, which rose to 6.5% in 1987. Saunderson then copped the full force of Labor’s statewide battering in 1990, when it was one of three Victorian seats to record double-digit swings to the Coalition and one of nine to be gained by them. The seat was then held for the Liberals by Peter Nugent, a noted moderate who at times bucked his party’s line on indigenous issues. Nugent’s sudden death in April 2001 resulted in a by-election three months later which delivered the Howard government a morale-boosting win that predated the game-changing Tampa episode by a month, Labor managing a swing of only 3.7% swing in the face of a 4.2% Liberal margin.

The member for the next two terms was Chris Pearce, a Knox councillor and managing director of an IT company. Pearce picked up a 7.1% swing at the 2004 election, the biggest in the state in the context of what was a strong performance by the Liberals throughout suburban Melbourne. It was widely noted that this left the seat with a bigger Liberal margin than the famously blue-ribbon Kooyong, which was seen to typify the hold the Howard government had secured in middle-class outer suburbs. However, it equally joined many such seats in swinging heavily to Labor at the 2007 election, when an 8.1% swing reduced Pearce’s margin to 5.1%. Pearce meanwhile became closely associated with Peter Costello, and his announcement he would bow out at the 2010 election came hard on the heels of Costello’s.

The hotly contested preselection to choose Pearce’s successor was won by Alan Tudge, a former staffer to Brendan Nelson and Alexander Downer, ahead of Neil Angus, a chartered accountant who would go on to win Forest Hill for the Liberals at the November 2010 state election. Labor was vaguely hopeful that Pearce’s retirement would help add Aston to a list of Victorian gains compensating for expected losses in New South Wales and Queensland, but the 3.3% swing fell short of the 5.1% margin. Labor has again endorsed its candidate from the 2010 election, Rupert Evans, deputy secretary of the Left faction Community and Public Sector Union.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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