Margin: Labor 0.9%
Location: Outer Geelong/Western Coastal, Victoria
In a nutshell: Once a rural conservative stronghold, Corangamite has been steadily transformed not only by the “sea change” phenomenon (which took its name from a television series set in the electorate at Barwon Heads), but also by creeping urban sprawl in outer Geelong. The watershed moment arrived in 2007 when veteran Liberal member Stewart McArthur was unseated by Labor’s Darren Cheeseman.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: Corangamite was one of Labor’s two Victorian gains at the 2007 election, producing their first win here since the Great Depression. Created at federation, the electorate has covered a shifting area around Colac 150 kilometres west of Melbourne, but urban expansion in Geelong’s outskirts and the towns of the Surf Coast have boosted Labor by altering the seat’s traditionally rural complexion. This process began in 1955, when a redistribution added the outer Geelong suburbs of South Barwon and Belmont. Labor’s only wins prior to 2007 were in 1910, when future Prime Minister Jim Scullin became member for a term (he would return as member for the inner Melbourne seat of Yarra in 1922), and at the 1929 election when Scullin’s short-lived government came to power. The Country Party held the seat for one term from 1931, after which it was held by the United Australia Party and then the Liberal Party. The enlargement of parliament in 1984 cost Corangamite its most conservative rural territory in the west, but it took another 23 years before Labor was able to realise its hopes of gaining the seat.
In its current form the electorate includes the Geelong suburbs south-west of the Barwon River, the Bellarine Peninsula and Great Ocean Road coast as far west as Apollo Bay, along with rural areas to the west and north. The Geelong area contains a little over a third of the electorate’s voters, and is distinguished from the remainder by its younger demographic profile and preponderance of mortgage payers. The coast is a “sea change” area in more ways than one, encompassing the coastal town of Barwon Heads where the ABC TV series of that name was shot. Torquay and the Bellarine Peninsula are demographically of a piece with outer Geelong, but the fast-growing towns of Lorne, Anglesea and Apollo Bay to the west include large numbers of older voters and fewer houses being purchased. As shown on the map of two-party booth results from 2007, the Geelong suburban areas encompass Liberal-leaning Highton and marginal Belmont and Grovedale, while the non-urban territory encompasses the Labor-leaning towns of the Great Ocean Road and solidly conservative rural areas.
Corangamite was held for the Liberals from 1984 to 2007 by Stewart McArthur, who was 70 when he sought another term in 2007, to the dismay of some in the party. McArthur’s Labor challenger Darren Cheeseman, an official with the Left faction Community and Public Sector Union, was just 31. Cheeseman won a hotly contested preselection over Peter McMullin, the Right-backed mayor of Geelong and candidate from 2004. The result surprised many observers in view of the Right’s recent ascendancy in Geelong-area preselections, the most notable example being Richard Marles’ win over incumbent Gavan O’Connor in Corio. Cheeseman went on to overwhelm McArthur’s 5.3 per cent margin with a 6.2 per cent swing that was evenly distributed throughout the electorate.
The new Liberal candidate is Sarah Henderson, a former host of The 7.30 Report in the days when it was made on a state-by-state basis. Henderson is the daughter of former state Geelong MP Ann Henderson.
According to VexNews, Sarah Henderson won preselection with the backing of the Ted Baillieu-Jeff Kennett faction and “business elements in Geelong”, prevailing in the final round vote over Rod Nockles, an internet security expert and former Howard government adviser backed by the Michael Kroger axis. Earlier rounds saw the progressive eliminiation of funeral company owner Michael King, Victorian Farmers Federation president Simon Ramsay, policy adviser Robert Hardie and former Stewart McArthur staffer Simon Price. Price reportedly had the backing of McArthur and his party activist wife Bev, who threw their support behind Henderson after he was eliminated.
Corangamite was one of four Victorian marginals covered by a Galaxy survey of 800 respondents in the second last week of the campaign, and it showed a collective swing to Labor of 1.6 per cent. The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted during the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents in the electorate with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had the Liberals leading 50.5-49.5.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.