Margin: Labor 8.9%
Location: Geelong, Victoria
In a nutshell: Covering the greater part of Geelong, Corio was a bellwether seat until it fell to Labor in a 1967 by-election, and stayed with them through the debacles of 1975 and 1977. Richard Marles unseated the previous Labor member, Gavan O’Connor, in a messy preselection stoush before the last election.
Electorate analysis: Geelong has formed the basis of the electorate of Corio since it was created at federation. The Eden-Monaro of its day, Corio changed hands along with government in 1910 (to Labor), 1913 (to Liberal), 1914 (to Labor), 1917 (to the Nationalists), 1929 (to Labor) and 1931 (to the United Australia Party). It fell to Labor ahead of schedule at a 1940 by-election following Richard Casey’s appointment as ambassador to the United States (he would return to parliament in 1949 as member for La Trobe), a result that played a crucial role in Menzies’ defeat on the floor of parliament the following year. Cycling hero Hubert Opperman recovered the seat for the Liberals with the 1949 election win, eventually serving as Immigration Minister before taking up a diplomatic post in 1967. Bob Hawke unsuccessfully contested the seat for Labor in 1963, and newly arrived Labor leader Gough Whitlam encouraged him to do so again when Opperman departed mid-term in 1967. Hawke preferred to pursue his designs on the ACTU presidency at that time, and the by-election was won for Labor by engine driver Gordon Scholes in an early electoral success for Whitlam. Scholes consolidated his hold over time (surviving by just 20 votes in 1975), and the seat had become quite safe for Labor by the time he retired in 1993.
The next member was Gavan O’Connor, who rose to the front bench in 1998 but became increasingly imperilled as local Labor branches fell under the control of the Right. This enabled ACTU assistant secretary Richard Marles to unseat him at a preselection vote held in March 2006, winning 57 per cent of the local party vote. O’Connor registered his displeasure by running as an independent, complaining Kevin Rudd – who was not in fact leader at the time – had told him he lacked the power to prevent Marles’s union backers from rolling him. O’Connor managed only 12.7 per cent of the vote, with the Labor vote falling only 1.2 per cent and increasing by 3.3 per cent on two-party preferred. Marles took little time to win promotion, being appointed parliamentary secretary for innovation and industry in June 2009.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.